The college experience is vast and diverse, varying from person to person. Depending on whom you ask, going to college could be the best time of your life, and it tends to fly by before you even have the chance to process it; or, going to college could be the most stressful, mentally-taxing period of your life – especially depending on what you’re planning to study. Everyone’s college experience is different, and everyone is fed different information about what they should expect out of their experience.
Because of this, most people come out of college and reflect on what they were told to expect, and what they actually experienced. For instance, after an insomniac goes to college and chooses to place themselves into an 8am class, they might wish that someone told them it wasn’t wise to do so unless you actually plan on waking up early. Or, maybe a freshman who decides to study computer science might wish that someone told them they actually needed to have a baseline understanding of computer hardware in order to be successful (the only C on my transcript speaks to this point).
Whatever the advice may be, all incoming college students could use some knowledge to tuck under their belt. I’ve gathered a group of recent graduates and asked them to share what they wish they knew about college before they went in, and what advice they would offer to people heading into college. Maybe some of it will resonate with you.
Blaise Erker, Civil Engineering (University of RI ‘19)
“I wish I was more aware of life after college because it comes and goes so quickly, but life has a way of working out. For someone starting college, enjoy every moment. It’s quite the change in pace from years prior, but take the unknown excitedly.”
Miren Arambarri, Communication Studies & Public Relations (University of RI ‘23)
“Thinking about putting myself into the mindset of freshman year is interesting. I remember becoming so insanely hyper-focused on … wondering if I was going to enjoy college, feel comfortable, and find my place. Of course, as it was only the beginning of my experience you would hear people around you consistently speaking about how you ‘have nothing to worry about’ and that ‘everything happens for a reason.’ In the moment it was so hard to accept that because it felt like nothing more than a cliché.
Looking back at the past four years, I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that trusting those simplistic statements is the best thing I could’ve done. Realizing that there’s no stopping time makes it easier to start enjoying the little moments of day to day. I wish I knew my first time going to the library, getting coffee with roommates, joining a new club, and finding a new routine, though it seemed overwhelming, was an experience that I’d eventually look back on and remember fondly.
I would have to say my number one thing I would recommend to any college freshman is that finding a routine early on will make your college life much easier in the long run. Finding time to push yourself to get up earlier, rather than sleep in, actually go to meetings for the new club you decided to join, and regularly getting yourself to be productive, whether it be going to the gym, spending a certain amount of time in the library, or spending some time outdoors prioritizing your wellness, will help immensely in making … what feels intimidating – much more doable.”
Garrett Pilgrim, Psychology (Colorado College ‘22)
“Freshman year grades count, and everything can change really quickly. So get involved with all sorts of different groups and things on campus. Try out things, even if you don’t think you’d like them.”
Ian McCallum, Public Relations & Applied Math (Roger Williams University ‘22)
“A big thing I would’ve worked on in the junior and senior high school years leading up to college is definitely time management. It was a pretty big eye-opening moment for me going from middle school to high school, the differences in terms of expectations and class loads, and I definitely should’ve anticipated that same sort of adjustment going from high school to college, which I feel I didn’t really do a great job with. You’re starting your major, and you have to start loading on 6, maybe 7 classes a week – the homeworks and assignments add up quickly. I definitely think I should’ve spent more time getting comfortable with that before taking on so much.
Soak up as much of college as you can, because it will be gone literally in the blink of an eye. I know four years, or five or six depending on the program you’re doing, sounds like a really long time, but freshman year you get through the stress, and before you know it you’re a senior picking out your gown sizes and what you want to put on your cap. It definitely will blow right by you if you don’t savor every moment you can, make as many friends as you can, and be involved. The connections you build and the relationships you make are definitely all worth it. These should be priorities going into your freshman year, especially if it’s somewhere in a different state or city where you may not be as comfortable. Bust out of that shell as quickly as you can.”
Jason Regan, Political Science (Roger Williams University ‘22)
“I wish I knew that everybody makes mistakes and adjusts to life as a freshman over time. I tried too hard to be careful with what I was doing, and I feel as though that limited me.
My biggest advice by far is to enjoy college while you can. It is truly the best time of your young life for being social and educated – embrace it, know it will end, and get as much out of it as you can.”
Julia McGettigan, Marketing & History (Roger Williams University ‘22)
“Going into college, I wish I had known that everyone was trying to be friends and wanted to ‘fit in.’ I feel like at the beginning of college, I was so desperate to find a singular group of people when there were random friendships you could make outside that one group. Now, after figuring that out, I’m still friends with people I met freshman year but also still met new people all the way through senior year.
JOIN CLUBS! I think it’s really important to find at least one club that you enjoy going to and keep going weekly. By the time graduation rolls around, chances are you’ll find you have lifelong friends.
Build a relationship with at least one professor in your field. When the time comes to enter the real world, you’ll be glad when they have connections and a network of people to help you get a job.”
Isabel Cioffi, Cell and Molecular Biology (Tulane University ‘23)
“I wish I had known how important it was to balance my time academically and socially. Don’t take yourself or anything too seriously. It goes by so fast and I never could’ve imagined how fast it would go by.
Don’t be scared to talk to new people. Everyone’s trying to make friends those first few weeks and you’re all in the same boat. Some of my best friends are so different from me and I think that’s what makes our relationships so strong and special.”
Jill Tereshka, Business Administration & Theater Arts (Salve Regina University ‘19)
“I would say not to rush to go into college, because I felt like that’s what a lot of me and my friends did, and we don’t even necessarily use our college degrees – the generations that came before us pressure us to go to college because you need to go to college and need to get a job from your degree, but college education is kind of a scam. It’s just so much money, and then we go into these careers that can’t even pay for rent, or pay us enough to pay for rent and to pay back the debt that we owe from college.
So, I would say not to rush into college and take a year to figure out what you want to do. Take your time and really focus on what you want to study, because most of the time you don’t even need an education – it’s all about who you know and how confident you are in what you want to do. If you want to do something, you can get it. You can do it. Don’t rush into getting a degree. It definitely wasn’t worth it on my end – I owe about $45,000 and that’s not a lot compared to most people. If you [go and] find that you can’t really figure out what you want to do in your first year, I’d take a gap year.” •