How to Avoid Feeling Overwhelmed as a College Freshman

In high school, I learned and lived my college application story enough times to convince myself that it was what I really wanted; as a first-generation Turkish-American who spoke three languages, I was ready to tell anyone that I wanted to spend the rest of my life studying comparative literature, preparing for a Ph. D after my undergrad years.

Three tips for every college freshman from a recent grad.

The convenience of a unique, perfectly coiffed application story made it difficult for me to realize that I was boxing myself into a field of study that I hadn’t really considered. I was defining myself and my focus before I ever took a college class, and to change course, I would have to come to terms with the fact that I had been wrong. The story I had learned and began to live wasn’t right for me, and I was burned out.

Here’s my advice for every college freshman to help them avoid some of the mistakes I made:

1. Don’t bother declaring your major right away

I’d be extremely wealthy if I had a dollar for every one of my peers who started college as pre-med. Sure, some seventeen year olds might have a genuine passion for medicine, but for the vast majority of us, it’s impossible to actually commit to a track that far in advance. The feeling that everyone around me had declared their major, figured out their career, and was already making inroads gave me a false sense of pressure that I wish I had dispelled at the time. It wasn’t healthy stress, and in the end, those friends who seemed the most sure of their paths are the ones who went through the most dramatic changes of heart when it came time to graduate.

[More on Finding Your Passion here.]

2. Don’t pretend you’re more prepared than you actually are

My first year at Wellesley, I took courses that were way too specialized and far too advanced, and as a result, I started off school feeling un-confident about my skills and questioning whether or not I had come to the right place after all. I was used to being pushed to take AP classes and place out of basic levels, but that’s not the approach I should have brought with me to college. I wish I had afforded myself more of an adjustment period as a college freshman, and not equated taking 100 level classes with slacking off. Entry-level classes are there for a reason, and trying to place out of them or convincing the department chair that you don’t need to take them really only hurts you in the end.

[More about College Readiness here.]

3. Don’t pigeonhole yourself with activities, either

It’s easy to keep doing the same activities you did in high school at college, but this is also truly a chance to start over and discover a new hobby. It’s also worth fighting the impulse to sign up for every possible commitment the second you get to campus, because you won’t really know how those things interact with your course load until a few months in (nor will you know how and when you like to get work done). Start off with one activity that will feel like your comfort zone and one you’re curious to try, and go from there.

Given how intense and stressful the college application process has become, it’s extremely easy for students (and parents) to lose sight of what the actual goal is: to have a successful, happy, exciting time at college. Give yourself time to mess up and change your mind as a college freshman, and stay mindful of the difference between applying to college and actually getting there. You don’t have to do something just because it’s what you thought you’d do when you were in the midst of all those application stressors, but you do owe it to yourself to be honest about your goals –– however often those goals might shift.

Related:

Professor Offers Best Advice to College Freshmen

Why You Shouldn’t Pressure Your Kid to Go to College

Dorm Essentials to Put at the Top of Your List 

Oset Babur is a recent graduate of Wellesley College and spent the last year working in democratic politics. Her writing has previously been featured in The Establishment, World Policy Journal, and Paste Magazine.

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