Advice Column: Things I learned as a first-year

Michaela at the beginning of her first year at William Jewell College.

The end of the year is approaching and with it comes the end of my first year of college. I can honestly say that I have never learned more in a year than I have as a first-year at William Jewell College.

Yes, I’ve learned how to write papers fast and who John Stuart Mill was. I’ve learned about discrimination in the United States, how to calculate interest and I’ve studied a multitude of British literary works. If you want to learn those things, take the classes.

There’s another kind of learning that happens as a first-year – the kind that doesn’t always happen in the classroom. These are some of the lessons I’ve learned in my first year living away from home.

Growth doesn’t mean starting over

When I got to college, I felt like a completely different person. I mourned for all the activities I participated in in high school and for the life I used to live.

Then I realized that I still was that same person, I was just getting to experience a whole new aspect of life. I still possessed all those happy memories. I still had my old friends and my family – I was just getting to add to my circles. New experiences don’t delete the past – they just add to it.

People aren’t replaceable

On a conceptual level, people clearly aren’t replaceable. Everyone is unique – but it can be difficult to remind yourself of that in practice.

I hunted for people with qualities similar to my friends from high school. I attempted to find new friends who were like my old ones – but those people don’t exist. It can be difficult to make friends unless you keep your mind open and get to know someone as an individual, not as a replacement.

Once I started spending time with people with an open mind and quit comparing them to people I used to know, I started to value them for their own unique qualities and form true friendships.

Doing laundry is not difficult

This is a little embarrassing, but my mom always did my laundry in high school. Pop culture makes a big deal over college kids messing up their laundry once they get to college, so I expected it to be some complex art that I would have to master.

Then I got to college and I realized you just throw in your detergent, throw in the clothes and hit start. Then you dry what can be dried and hang dry what can’t. It’s not hard. Now driving in downtown Kansas City is a different story – I’m still working on that one.

Therapy isn’t just for depression

The transition to college is difficult for many people – I was no exception. I had been at school for about two months and I was sad frequently for no apparent reason. I felt like nothing was actually happening to me, like I was in a dream.

I don’t have depression or any other diagnosable mental health disorder, but I just didn’t feel right. I decided to take advantage of the free individual therapy that William Jewell offers. I am so thankful that I did – it helped me to process my emotions and I learned a lot of tips to deal with anxiety.

I always thought that I wasn’t “sick enough” for therapy. A lot of people don’t seek out counselling because they don’t want to deal with the stigma of mental illness or because they don’t have a mental illness. There shouldn’t be a stigma around something that can improve life quality so exponentially. Therapy can be helpful for getting through any kind of big life adjustment – there isn’t a measurement that determines whether or not your trauma is “severe enough” for therapy.

It’s okay to be alone

I came to college with my mind occupied by one goal: to make friends. Some of the most common college advice I got was to be extroverted in the beginning and go out of my way to meet people.

This left me feeling like I constantly needed to be talking to people, eating with people, and studying with people. I felt like being alone meant that I was failing at my task to make friends.

There is nothing wrong with being alone sometimes. Some alone time can be very beneficial when adjusting to a new situation. Go drive off campus to a coffee shop alone for an afternoon or – gasp – eat alone in the cafeteria. That is allowed – and nobody will think you are weird.

One of the best parts about college is the independence it provides. If you are constantly with other people, you don’t get to experience how liberating it is to have the freedom to do your own thing.

Friends are a crucial aspect of college life, but don’t force them. Get involved in a few activities and friends will come naturally – and don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen the first week of school. It might not even be until second semester, but friendships will eventually happen. For now, relish some alone time.

The world is full of talent, that doesn’t discredit your own

Jewell is teeming with smart and talented people. If you are the type of person who places their self worth in achievement, this can be terrifying at first. I felt like I was surrounded by geniuses who were valedictorians and student council presidents and played three sports in high school. I suddenly felt like I had no identity – the achievements in high school that I found my value in evaporated in comparison to my new peers’ accolades.

I soon began to learn that just because everyone else is an overachiever does not mean my skills are of any less value. I felt like the dumbest person in a lot of rooms, but that didn’t mean I didn’t have anything to bring to the classroom.

To be surrounded by talent is to be surrounded by people to learn from. Just because you have room to improve does not mean where you are at isn’t pretty spectacular.

You don’t need an end goal

College kids are asked pretty frequently what they want to do with their degree after they graduate. I am very much a planner and to not have an answer to this question used to scare me.

I’m learning, however, that an end goal is a rather unrealistic concept. Life is completely unpredictable. We can’t know what ideas will someday strike us or what opportunities we might be presented. I try to make decisions as they present themselves to me so that I will be the best prepared for a variety of careers that interest me.

It is okay to not have the future figured out – even if you did have it figured out, it would find a way to surprise you. Take classes that refine skills that you already possess or that teach you skills that you think could be useful in a career that interests you. Try to enjoy the learning itself without constantly concerning yourself with how the learning will apply. Involve yourself in things related to a variety of careers to test the waters and see if you might enjoy that field.

If you feel lost, that’s okay. College doesn’t need to be a step-by-step guide to the one job that you will have until retirement. College is a time that overflows with opportunity and learning, and while neither of these things will always tell you exactly what you should do, they can form your path towards realizing your passions and making an impact on the world.

My first year of college was a tumultuous time. There were moments that I hated and many more moments that I loved. I wouldn’t trade any of the experiences I had for anything. I learned so much about myself and about the world this year and I hope to have passed a little of that on to you.

4 thoughts on “Advice Column: Things I learned as a first-year

    1. Wayne Neufeld

      You are on your way. I’m glad you have learned a lot in such a short time. I never doubted that you would be able to figure it out! Stay the course….

  1. Sarah Fankhauser

    This is excellent! I’m pretty sure Maddie and Lindsey would agree with all of this as well! Lindsey told me she wished more people would have explained the transition to her better!

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