Some words of advice for incoming college freshmen

OPINION: The first year of college can be nerve-wracking and scary, so we spoke to some upperclassmen about the things they wish they’d known when they were incoming freshmen.

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Attending college can be one of the most transformative periods in a young person’s life. For some, it’s a chance to taste the freedom of early adulthood and make memories that will last a lifetime. 

But that first year of college can be particularly nerve-wracking and scary—attending a new school without the comfort of those friendships cultivated over four years of high school; competing with students who are just as smart, if not smarter than you; or navigating dorm life and learning to live with a roommate who may have different study—or party—habits than you.

Sometimes the best advice comes from those who’ve already walked the path you’re about to take. So we reached out to upperclassmen from several HBCUs and PWIs (predominantly white institutions) to ask about the things they wish they had known when they were incoming freshmen. Here’s what they had to say.

Jasper Smith

(Courtesy of Jasper Smith)

School: Howard University
Class: Junior
Major: Journalism, minor in Sociology

Upon coming to Howard University, I wasn’t sure of the type of student I wanted to be. In high school, I was a go-getter. I was always involved in clubs and extracurricular activities, the first one to show up at school and often the last to leave. 

However, I wasn’t sure if the lifestyle I had in high school was going to be sustainable for my time in college. I didn’t want to join 10 organizations and not be able to dedicate real time or commitment to them. My advice to incoming freshmen is to find two to three clubs and organizations that connect with your values. 

For me, I was able to find a sense of community and support through the friends I made in my organizations. I felt like I was able to give real commitment without spreading myself thin. Your college years will be an extremely transformative time in your life. It is so important to use this time to foster real connections and explore different activities and opportunities that you may carry with you for the rest of your life. 

Jordan D. Brown

(Courtesy of Jordan Brown)

School: Morgan State University
Class: Senior
Major: Multimedia Journalism

Dear Freshman,
I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of advice about your first year of college, the typical “be on time to class” and “join student organizations” and “make new friends.”

While all of those are helpful tips, I think the best piece of advice for someone entering this new chapter is to give yourself some grace. College can be a huge transition in terms of academics, social life, or just the fact that you’re away from home for the first time.

It’s OK and totally normal to be scared. Whether you’re nervous about classes, making friends, or the idea of college in general, any worries or fears during this transition are completely valid.

I personally struggled my first semester of college with adjusting to the new lifestyle, but with time and grace, I grew more comfortable and could truly flourish at school.

So, of course, I advise freshmen to get active on campus, go beyond your dorm room, reach out to your classmates and make new friends; but I think the most important of all is to give yourself time to adjust to this new journey in your life, and once you are, things will start falling into place. 

Llewellyn Dortch Jr.

(Courtesy of Llewellyn Dortch Jr.)

School: THE Ohio State University
Class: Senior
Major: Finance

There are actually a few things I wish I had known when I was a freshman. Time management and taking a manageable workload to start. I graduated from a college prep high school, and while some of our classes were preparing us for what we could expect in college, I quickly realized that college was very different.

What I really wish I had known when I was an incoming freshman, especially as someone on a full academic scholarship, was how crucial having a relationship with your professors is. As I have progressed through college, I have learned how to reach out to my professors for help with all of my classes. 

I believe that as a freshman, I was naïve and overestimated my abilities to perform well without any help from others. With these past few years overshadowed by COVID-19 complications, I found out how important reaching out to my professors was. I was able to get extensions with work if needed or even set up zoom calls outside of scheduled office hours if I needed the assistance. If I had this knowledge and put it into practice during my freshman year of college, I believe I would be further ahead in my studies and suffered fewer setbacks in my classes. 

I would implore any freshman entering college to set up at least a basic connection with their professors so that they are aware of who they are. Professors are more willing to help students that create that connection and less so for students who reach out towards the end of the semester when they need assistance.

Also remember to have some fun because, after all, college is about the books AND the experience.

Amal Essa

(Courtesy of Amal Essa)

School: Rutgers University-New Brunswick
Class: Senior
Major: Double major in English, Journalism and Media Studies; minor in Political Science

Going to college has definitely been an interesting experience for a first-generation Black girl. Walking into my classes, knowing that each day was foreign to me and my family was another day of life for my peers. 

Some of the things I wish I knew prior to going to Rutgers University as a minority is that not many of my peers would take college as seriously as I did. Knowing that it was being paid out of my pocket was a completely new experience for me. Since I was the first in my family to even experience college, I had extremely high pressures to succeed. Figuring out everything from class schedules, to meal plans, to who to ask for help, and even learning how to ask for help was extremely difficult for me.

I struggled with feeling like I truly felt represented or seen by my predominantly white peers during my first semester on campus. What I learned was that I needed to connect with those around me to really feel seen. I needed to see myself in others, find the right group of people to surround myself with and learn to be vulnerable in order to succeed. 

While competition comes along with going to university, learning from and with others is the only way to be truly successful in life as well as college.


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