Dennis Trittin is a retired investment executive and now an author, educator and mentor committed to helping young people succeed in life. He can be found at www.dennistrittin.com.
10 Things Every Freshman Needs to Know
The year was 1972, and I felt just like Dorothy must have when she took those first steps into the Land of Oz. I was entering a new world at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, surrounded by 12,000 complete strangers—and my whole life ahead of me.
I remember having such mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was awestruck by my new surroundings and all the adventures and people that awaited me. On the other hand, I realized my life would never be the same—my family and friends were far away, and I had so many decisions to make on my own. Was I up to the challenge?
As you face your freshman year, you’re likely experiencing the same mixed emotions. You’ve just begun a personal adventure called “life in the real world” and are about to experience the most significant time of change, growth, personal discovery, social adjustment and decision-making you’ll likely ever face—all in a compressed time period. Life as you know it will never be the same.
With all this change, you’ll inevitably experience some discouragement and self-doubt. To guide you through the turbulence, we’ve selected 10 of the most common concerns students face in college—as well as encouragement and practical wisdom to conquer them.
What if I’m not accepted into the college of my choice?
In today’s globally competitive world, colleges are far more selective than ever in their admissions process. They’re inundated with applications but limited in the number they can accept. The end result is that students—even those with 4.0 GPAs—are increasingly rejected by their “first choice” universities.
The good news is there are many paths to your eventual career and your success is not dependent upon whether you begin at a specific college. Life will always consist of Plan As, Plan Bs and so on, and your college selection is a perfect example. Successful people are flexible and make the most of the opportunities they’ve been given. They’re forward-looking and not haunted by “what if’s.”
As your career plans develop, they may require transferring to another college if yours doesn’t offer the major and qualifications needed to land a great job in your chosen field. Most colleges accept transfer students who have demonstrated good academics, and this may open up opportunities to reapply to your first-choice college after your first or second years. That said, most students grow to love their college and find it an excellent choice after landing there.
Finally, it always pays to remember God has a plan for your life. Trusting Him for direction means accepting that your path may look different than you’d hoped (Proverbs 16:9; Jeremiah 29:11). So, who’s to say your first choice was really the best choice after all?
What if I can’t find a good church?
If you’re relocating to a new area, one of your top priorities will be developing new connections to grow your spiritual life. This might involve finding a new church, participating in campus faith-based organizations or discipleship groups, or even starting a Bible study or accountability group yourself. A thriving spiritual life involves participating in community with other believers, and there are many avenues waiting for you.
When it comes to finding a new church, remember it may take time for one to grow on you. Pray about it. Talk to friends and the leaders of your campus faith-based organizations about your beliefs and denominational preferences, and try a few of them. Chances are, it’ll take more than one visit to know if a church is a good fit. See if they offer special evening programs specifically for college students and young adults.
A number of college transition organizations and websites are designed to help students find churches in their area. It pays to research these sites before you arrive at college so you have a head start on finding your new worship home.
If you need to, take advantage of the many sermons available on podcasts and websites. Technology is making it easy to stay spiritually nourished, no matter the distance. But, of course, you’re meant to be in community with other believers, so finding a new worship home should be a top priority.
What if I’m having a hard time making new friends?
For most people, the greatest social adjustment comes after leaving high school. After years spent building friendships, now everyone is scattered. Two things will guide you through this transition and help you make great new friends: the right attitude and the right methods.
Starting with attitude, it’s important to remember that everyone is going through the same adjustment. You are by no means alone, and God is there to guide you. Your current friends appreciate you for your qualities and your shared interests, and new ones will do the same. Remember, it took years to build the friendships you now hold dear. And besides, all of this takes time.
Some of us are naturally more outgoing than others, but there are methods to gaining friends regardless of personality. First, put yourself out there. Get plugged into clubs, organizations, groups and recreational activities that fit your interests and values. In time, you’ll find this mega-place feels a lot smaller than it does right now.
Challenge yourself to become more outgoing and proactive. Be positive, fun, inquisitive and a good listener. See where other people’s values and interests intersect with yours. If nothing surfaces, that’s OK; some people are meant to remain acquaintances.
Too much indecision and change will extend your college career and multiply your costs.
What if I can’t find the right major?
Selecting your major is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in college, and everyone has a unique timetable. Many enter college with a major in mind, only to change it soon after. In fact, the average student changes his or her major several times in college. Your best bet is to enter college with your ideal major written in pencil.
Because this decision is so important, though, you’ll need to do intensive research to get it right. Your major and your eventual career will determine your livelihood and how you spend much of your waking hours. Here are some helpful suggestions to find a major that will fit you like a glove.
Thoroughly examine your interests, skills, and passions. Select a job you’ll excel at and enjoy.
Research career opportunities and job outlooks for the majors you’re considering. Avoid majoring in something that has little career value—college is too expensive for that.
Consider your lifestyle and work-style preferences. Is it a good personal fit?
Assess the training and qualification requirements. Are they realistic and achievable? There’s a world of difference between becoming a brain surgeon or a clerk, for example.
Talk with professionals in those careers to understand the plusses and minuses. Actively pursue job shadowing and internship opportunities. Learn about the income potential and how people are paid and rewarded.
And remember, you can always change your major, but do so with great care. Too much indecision and change will extend your college career and multiply your costs.
What if I get homesick?
Since leaving for college is one of life’s greatest transitions, there’s a good chance you’ll indeed get homesick. And as you look ahead to a bright future with new adventures, you’ll also realize life will never be the same. There’s a sense of loss in what has passed. You are now in control of your future, and your support network assumes the role of an advisor. It takes time to adjust to this new normal.
As you develop new friends and deeply engage in college life, your homesickness will subside. College will become your second home. In the meantime, focus your attention on making new friends while keeping in touch with your current friends and family. Visit home during key holidays and breaks, but avoid coming home more than that. Immersing yourself in college life will help you navigate this period of social adjustment that much better.
It’s important to remember this is a major transition time for your parents, too. Their role is changing from “control” to “influence,” just as your role is changing from “reliance” to “independence.” They’ll miss you and will probably struggle with how much contact is too much or too little. Walk through this new transition together, and give them the gift of your understanding. It will be a tremendous blessing and will help your relationship evolve in a mature and loving manner.
What if the college social scene challenges my values?
If the U.S. military describes its wartime strategy as “shock and awe,” the college social scene can be termed as one of “awe and shock.” Many songs and movies have portrayed the social goings-on at college—and no, they’re not always fictional.
Sooner than you can imagine, you’ll be faced with new social opportunities and activities that could have profound, long-term consequences. College is a bubble full of thousands of young people with newfound freedom and widely diverse values—and don’t think that isn’t the case at Christian colleges, too.
The fact is, far too many college students have been derailed (or worse) because they got into destructive situations with destructive people. Bad choices can be made when it comes to sexual relationships, drugs, alcohol and more, and these can have devastating long-term consequences. Choose wisely.
So, how do you stay true to your beliefs and values when presented with potentially harmful situations in college?
Avoid getting yourself into these situations in the first place. There’s no better strategy than risk avoidance.
Honor your values and choices ahead of time so that when invited to participate, it’s easier to say “No, thanks” and leave. Flee from morally compromising situations, and engage in healthy living.
Preserve your reputation and integrity at all costs. You’re the one who has to live with the consequences.
Think of your life as a student like it is your job. You’re there for a specific purpose: to learn, explore and set a course for your future career.
Remember, you are the one responsible for your actions and decisions. Be selective and patient with yourself.
What if I’m struggling to develop good disciplines?
Gone are the days when you were clothed, fed and shuttled to school and activities by your parents. They aren’t there to bug you about your homework or monitor your grades on a daily basis anymore. You’re now in the driver’s seat of the rest of your life.
Think of your life as a student like it is your job. You’re there for a specific purpose: to learn, explore and set a course for your future career. You’re investing substantial time and money in this life endeavor, and you’re expecting a future return. Therefore, you need to take your job as a student seriously and be disciplined in how you live during this time.
Many students struggle because they’re presented with so many opportunities and so much new freedom at college that they forget why they came there in the first place. But focusing on the target and prioritizing accordingly means academics come before a social life.
Manage your time as a precious asset. This involves keeping prioritized to-do lists of key tasks and devoting your time accordingly. It also means blocking your time to allow needed focus and avoid repeat distractions. It means doing the most important things first. It means saying no to fun when the work isn’t done.
Discipline also mean staying healthy, exercising, eating right, sleeping enough and regularly washing your clothes. It isn’t rocket science. More than anything else, it’s a matter of how seriously you’re taking your college mission. In the end, it’s about your priorities and focus.
What if I don’t have enough money?
Money, money, money. Oh, the new ways you’ll find to spend it! Money problems are one of the most common reasons students get off track and prematurely end their college careers.
Until you’re in college, it’s hard for you and your parents to truly know how much it will cost. Tuition is one thing, but what about books, fraternity/sorority fees, entertainment costs, student fees for sporting events, furnishing your dorm and so on? It’s a learning process for you and your parents, and you should discuss this together.
Thankfully, you have several options if money gets tight. First, pray for guidance and wisdom. Speak with financial aid counselors. If you can, get a part-time job, work-study position or paid internship, and work during the summer as well. Apply for more scholarships and grants. Create a budget to ensure you’re living within your means. You’ll soon learn the value of frugal living and determining needs versus wants.
Did you notice that taking on credit card debt was not on the list above? Unfortunately, far too many students ruin their college careers by abusing credit cards and treating them like free money. While getting a credit card is a decision to make jointly with your parents, it pays to use debit cards in the early college years. If the time comes for you to get a credit card, commit to paying off the entire balance each month rather than allowing the balance to build. An easy rule of thumb is: Only use a credit card if you would have paid cash for the same item. Don’t let yourself fall into the credit-card trap.
What if my faith is tested?
During your college years, you’ll encounter people of all faiths—and some with none at all. Everyone is on a faith journey (whether they admit it or not), and you’re no different. You’ll inevitably confront people who disagree with your specific beliefs throughout life.
Your college years are a great time to explore and strengthen your faith. This time provides great opportunities to model your faith and respectfully share it with others. Your actions will speak volumes to the unbeliever, and your words should be presented with humility and without harshness. When challenged, respond with conviction but in a welcoming manner (1 Peter 3:15).
Finally, the courses you’ll take, the people you’ll meet and the experiences you’ll gain will trigger new spiritual questions. Exploring the answers can deepen your faith and expand your understanding of God. Plus, God desires you to ask questions, explore your doubts and get to know Him better.
What if my grades suffer?
There’s more at stake with college academics, so the pressure is greater. It doesn’t help that there are fewer grading opportunities and so every exam counts much more. Midterms and finals are clustered over short periods, demanding excellent advance planning. The competition is that much stronger, and there are tons of distractions.
It’s no surprise, then, that even the most successful high school students struggle in college. If that happens to you, here are some helpful hints to get you on track.
Determine the source of the problem. Are you studying enough? Attending classes and taking sufficient notes? Reading the assignments? Understanding the material? Taking enough time to prepare for exams? Avoiding all-nighters and parties the night before?
Be sure to study the lecture notes. Different professors focus on different things when testing.
Take each class seriously. Inevitably, you’ll be bored with some classes, and the tendency will be to study less for those. Give each class your best.
Develop a strong study discipline, and plan ahead before exam time. Complete all assigned readings at least four days before the exam date so you have ample time for review. This will help you enter the exam with confidence that you’re well-prepared for whatever comes.
Don’t hesitate to discuss your situation with your professor. He or she might give you some helpful study pointers for performing well in the course.
Be sure to take advantage of tutors who are available in your dorm and elsewhere.
Finally, cut yourself a little slack in the beginning. Remember, your academic life is going through a major transition. But do what you can to enter your exam fully prepared. That’ll reduce your stress and build your confidence.
While this is a time of major personal transition, it’s also filled with excitement and opportunity. You’ll discover ways to use your unique gifts and talents in a career suited just for you. You’ll meet amazing people and develop a new network of friends and contacts. You’ll experience the diversity of ideas and cultures like never before, which will give you new perspectives on life. And you’ll learn to trust the Lord in deeper ways as He guides and prepares you for your future.