Five Things I Would Tell My Freshman Self

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Dear Carlo,
I am writing to you from the year 2013. You’re about to start your six-year college career (whoops, I shouldn’t have told you that, but anyway…) I want to give you a heads-up on some advice so that you can get ahead of those other newbie freshmen. 

♪ ♫ We’re Going-Going, Back-Back, to College-College  ♪ ♫

For over two weeks, I’ve been walking the streets of Rutgers University. I am typically surrounded by a variety of students. Some of them are at bars, several are moving into their dorms, and only few are with me in coffee shops. Many of them, like me, are college graduates who have worked at full-time jobs. Naturally, I started conversations with them. They typically brought up their fond memories as undergrads and how they could have made it more fun & meaningful. Therefore, I compiled a list of things that I would’ve done if I were starting freshman year tomorrow.

1. Get involved, but do it early. I’ve been nicknamed “Van Wilder” during my junior & (super) senior years. One of my friends asked me how I knew so many people. I always answered by saying, “join a lotta clubs.” I was involved in over fifteen clubs during my time as an undergraduate. However, I was only devoted to three of these clubs. It was those three clubs that rewarded me  with quality friendships and positive growth. Therefore, my method of finding the right organization is to go for quantity during freshman year. Then, one can begin to discern which groups best help you become a better person. (For example, if you’re a social butterfly, I would probably lean more towards leadership clubs instead of say, the Organic Chemistry Society.)

2. Cook more, and stop eating out like a native New Yorker. My daily staples consisted of bagels, falafel, and pizza. Let’s break that down: Bagel ($3), falafel ($3.50), and pizza ($4). $10.50 x 7 = more than $70 per week. That amount can buy you a pair of cashmere socks! In response, I tapped into my inner Mario Batali and I began to cook my own meals. I usually prepare dishes that included spinach, lentils, and sweet potatoes. They’re all cheap and potentially flavorful. I save about $50 each week as a result. One can buy a gym membership with that money.

3. Register for “Intro” classes. I came to Rutgers majoring in nutrition. It was all math and science; I despised it. After one year of algebraic torture, I decided to make a change. I signed up for a variety of new courses: psychology, sociology, journalism, and human resource management. (Now, aren’t these the epitomes of math & science?) Had I taken these classes in my freshman year, I would’ve saved a lot of time and tuition costs!

4. Schedule your time off and go outside. For people like me, studying for long periods of time can become draining. It can be a relief to escape from schoolwork once in a while. Many people like to schedule meetings and classes, but not everyone considers planning their free periods. Remember recess? Imagine how restless a third-grader can get after four straight hours of academics. Attention span, gone.

5. To worry about what other people are doing can cause a lot of anxiety. It’s natural to feel like you need to “catch up” because everyone may be one step closer to graduation than you are. It is alright to step out of your comfort zone. You will have more than enough time to become successful after college. It would be prudent to understand that college itself is a growth experience.

Other Tips from successful college students:

“Treat school as you would a job. Work 9-5. Enjoy the rest of your [free] time.

-Azeem Khan, co-founder of Supshot, Boston University

“Unlearn everything your parents, teachers, and society have conditioned you into thinking about getting a job and making money. Find your passion, and love for your own happiness.”

-Chas Makkaraeng, Founder of CrossFit Fightworx New Jersey, Rutgers University-Newark

“Establish really strong friendships with people at your school. [It’s] never too early to start your networking.” 

-Camille Salazar, Student and Author of Secret Garden, University of Dallas

Everyone has their own experiences, whether they went to college or not.

What advice will you give your previous self?

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6 comments

  1. Amelia Scruggs · · Reply

    There’s that adage “1. Sleep 2. friends 3. GPA. Pick 2.” I always chuckle at that, but the habits you set up in these years are the habits that will follow you for your lifetime. I agree with the downtime scheduling.

    Also? Avoid heavy drinking, drugs, and sex. If you can’t pick a major, none of these things will help you find yourself, or make your problems go away. It will increase your problems and add a lot of unnecessary drama. You may be *old* enough, but not mature enough (and when you hit almost 25, you realize how wise your 18 year old freshman self was and say, “D’oh!”) to engage in any of these things. Peer pressure is pretty strong, and the sense of freedom easily makes a lot of freshmen get lost.

    I did avoid the party scene, but I still had a TON of fun and amazing relationships (dating too!) all through college as I learned who I was (and who I was senior year was EXTREMELY different than who I was freshman year). I also had a 3.9 GPA, which is really more important than making a million mistakes you will regret forever (and let’s face it, the party scene excessive lifestyle is not compatible with adulthood or holding a stable job and having a family). Think about the goals you have: to earn a degree, to find yourself and who you are, to learn things and expand your horizons, to make positive and supportive friends, to nourish yourself, and to have fun while doing it!

  2. Irina Limaico · · Reply

    Carlo great advice! I will sure consider this as I continue my college career!

    As to you other question: I would tell myself to never be afraid of meeting new people and stepping out of your comfort zone. I would definitely try to get to know professors in a more personal level. As they are the ones that can also give you guidance.

  3. I like the thing about seeing college as a job. So many people treat it like high school and complain, but you don’t need to be here! That has bothered me since i was a freshman. Good job on the article Carlo!!! Also, one of the commenters said to avoid sex…why??

  4. Nora Jean · · Reply

    I like the part about scheduling time for yourself. I wish I saw how important that was freshmen year. Also, I like how you encourage others to try so many different classes early on, because after all college is just one big life lesson! Some very sound advice you have here.

    So true too how you DO know practically everyone-like I said, I always find you coming up when I’m making conversation with random people.

  5. Carrie England · · Reply

    Intro classes all the way! Not only does it help you explore your interests (because so few of us REALLY know what we want to do for the rest of our lives when we are only 18 years old), but the diverse exposure to and familiarity with a diverse set of academic fields is (dare I say) crucial to a well-formed intellect. I also found it helpful for me to keep the perspective of being in college not for a degree, but for an education. And an education, as we all seem to agree, occurs just as much outside of the classroom as in it!

    1. Carrie, I couldn’t agree more! I am a proponent of experience. It’s great to be educated outside of the classroom! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
      “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” -Mark Twain

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