I Had a Miserable Freshman Year in College. How I Turned It Around

My freshman year of college was one of the worst years of my entire life. It seemed like everything was going wrong and it was nothing like I had imagined college would be. I wanted to leave and go to community college because I was miserable.

After my terrible freshman year, things started to change, and my life got much better. Sometimes things don’t always go as planned but it can often make you a stronger version of yourself. And let’s face it, beginnings can be really challenging.

My freshman year was nothing like I expected it to be. (Twenty20 @svetlaya)

My vision of freshman year

The college experience I had pictured included riding my bike to class, living in the dorms, joining a sorority, trying new foods at the dining hall, and exploring a new town. And making tons of new friends–everyone in the dorm would be one huge friend group. And friends in every class. Weekend trips! All while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. You know, living the life that you see in movies and on Instagram! 

My reality of freshman year

Let’s just say, from the outset, freshman year did not go as planned:

  • The roommate: I immediately realized my roommate and I were not a good match. She was loud and would come home in the middle of the night, turn on the lights, and make microwave popcorn. When I asked her, “What are you doing? I’m sleeping!” and she would reply with a flippant comment like “You are such a light sleeper!” In addition, we barely had anything in common and did not have much to talk about. I had hoped to become close with my roommate and felt very defeated that this was not going to happen. 
  • The skin condition: Only a few weeks into the school year, I contracted a horrible skin condition. I didn’t have a car and was forced to Uber thirty to forty minutes away to different doctors and even to the hospital. I even missed some of my classes the first week of school and could not do sorority recruitment. While everyone else was going out, making friends, and having the best time in college, I was bedridden, during the part of the school year where most college friendships are made. As a result, I didn’t have a big friend group like I had hoped and found myself eating alone at the dining hall a lot. 
  • Loneliness: No one prepared me for how lonely college can feel. It’s not like living at home where I could just go talk to someone in my family if I needed something. I had a lot of trouble finding friends as a freshman and just spent a lot of time alone in my dorm room. I thought I would instantly make friends because, in the past, I had never had trouble making friends. Even though I was meeting people, it took me a while to feel like I actually had friends. 
  • The car accident: That November, two of my friends and I went on a road trip one weekend. The trip was so much fun but, on the final day of the trip, a car collided with us head-on, totaling both cars. Luckily, all physical injuries were minor. However, I experienced horrible post-traumatic stress disorder and hated being in a car after that happened.
  • Academics: Some classes in college were much harder than I expected. I was not used to having tests make up the majority of my grade, which gave me anxiety because I am not a great test taker. Also, I realized I was not enjoying what I was learning and knew that my chosen major was not for me. I was genuinely considering dropping out and going to a local community college after my first year of college because I hated it so much. 

Lessons I learned from my less-than-stellar freshman year of college

1. It is okay to not have a lot of friends 

I realized that quality over quantity is so true for having friends. It’s much better to only have a few close, real friends than to have a huge group of surface-level friends. As long as you have people you can hang out with and be yourself around, that is what matters most. 

2. Don’t compare your life to anyone else’s 

I would often compare my high school friends’ college experience to my own. They would tell me about how much they loved college and all of the amazing friends they were making. I would feel discouraged because my freshman year was nothing like theirs and I was disappointed that I wasn’t having fun and enjoying college. 

3. Sometimes things don’t go as planned and that is okay

I had so many weird and bad things happen to me during my freshman year. The college experience was not what I expected it to be, but everything turned out okay in the end. 

4. Things get better with time

It really felt like things kept getting worse and worse, but after my freshman year, things really did improve for me. I think it is important to be patient and focus on things you can control rather than things that are out of your control. 

5. Set goals for yourself

After my freshman year, I knew something needed to change for me to be happier in college. I spent the summer thinking of what I could do to improve my life. I decided to sign up for sorority recruitment as a sophomore and made it my goal to go to every sorority event that I could. I also tried to get to know at least one person at every event I attended.

6. Change your major if you aren’t happy

When I was struggling academically, I really thought it was the end of the world and that I was not smart enough. I realized that I was not enjoying my major and switched it to something I truly liked. 

College sometimes doesn’t always go as planned and it isn’t quite as glamorous as YouTube, Instagram, and movies make it seem. I set an extremely high and, it turns out, unrealistic expectation for college. If you had a not-so-great freshman year of college, keep in mind that things will get better.

It can be hard seeing all your friends from high school having tons of fun at college when you are not enjoying your experience. You still have three years left, and this past year was a pandemic making things extra difficult.

The next three years will be so much better because school should be in person, making it much easier to meet new people and make new friends. I made some of my closest friends during my second and third years at college.

Not everything is going to be perfect, and it is important to make the best of every situation and work to improve your life if it is not going how you want it to go. I thought my whole college experience was going to be awful because of the disappointing first year, but things truly got much better with time. 

More Great Reading:

How to Help Your College Freshman When They’re Homesick

About Madeleine Korn

Madeleine Korn is a recent graduate from the University of California, Santa Barbara. In the 2019 to 2020 school year, she was the advertising director for The Bottom Line newspaper at UC Santa Barbara. Prior to that, she was an intern for United Airlines in both 2018 and 2019, where she was involved in projects to improve the customer experience. She loves writing and creating videos and really enjoys working for Grown and Flown!

Read more posts by Madeleine

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