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Welcome to college, the golden years — or something like that

A letter to my freshman-year self — and a guide for all the newbies


Welcome to college, the golden years — or something like that

A letter to my freshman-year self — and a guide for all the newbies

"Make sure you don’t study too hard," they say. "Go out sometimes — have fun!"

"They" being the countless adults giving 18-year-old me the sage, grown-up advice they wish they had during their college days. 

"This will be the best time of your life, I promise," they told me time and time again. 

Despite this, I truly believe college was never supposed to be the "best time of my life." At least, I never entered freshman year with that thought process. I wanted to get in and out of university as quickly as possible. 

But instead, I learned that while college is not supposed to be a golden era, no time in your life should be a blip. 

For me, the best part about college is that it’s a trial run of adulthood. I go grocery shopping. I work. I clean my apartment on Sundays. But I know I have my parents to fall back on whenever I need them. 

I'm figuring it out as I go, and so is everyone else. There's no one right way to navigate the dense jungle that is college — no tour guide, no map. 

I just turned 21, and for the first time, I feel like I'm finally settling into myself. But I can't lie — that has been far from easy. If I could talk to my bright-eyed and bushy-tailed freshman self, I'd want her to know a few things. So listen up, incoming freshmen: You might have a few things to learn from me because, whatever you're worried about, I’ve probably been there.

1. Yes, college is hard

For me, the first semester of college was easy academically, especially because I had been conditioned by a demanding high school whose curriculum was stuffed with Advanced Placement and honors classes. My first-semester workload was fairly light, granting me a lot of free time outside the classroom. 

But this breeze of a semester veiled the reality of a typical college workload from me. I was falsely convinced that it'd be smooth sailing from here on out, and I’d graduate college in no time. 

When my second semester came around, school started to weigh on me. Suddenly, classes were more demanding, and I could no longer rely on my adviser to hand-pick my schedule. I can admit that at that point, I was putting myself through too much. 

I hyper focused on making the most out of college — meaning that I had to juggle frequent outings, making hordes of friends and maintaining stellar grades — to the point where I started to feel overwhelmed all the time. Slowly but surely, these pins I was juggling slipped from my grasp, and I was left scrambling to pick them up from the ground. 

I was sad, and I felt like I could only watch as my friends flew past me. 

The pressure I had imposed on myself was suffocating me, and every missed assignment and poor grade scarred the high achiever in me who was once on top of everything. Shame burned through me, and I felt stuck in time, defined by these errors. 

But the best part about this experience was that it wasn’t forever. I realized the seemingly world-ending mistakes you think you're making will become distant memories with time. I promise you that. 

Know that when you think you’re falling behind, most of the time, no one else can tell. In fact, they might think you're doing really well while being terrified that you know they're failing. 

So keep pushing forward. Do what you can to improve your academic situation but know it's not forever. Stewing in anger and self-hatred won’t do you any good in the long run.

2. Put yourself in situations to meet people. Keep trying — some will stick

Finding friends in college may not be easy, but it is important. 

I met one of my best friends, Ava, after propping open the door of my dorm room freshman year. I taped a scrap of paper to it that read "Come in!" (Little did I know, this broke a fire code, but damn it! I just wanted to meet people!) 

Ava happened to see my open door while walking down the hallway, and thank GOD she came in. 

Ava and I grew close — but not immediately. There were bumps in the road, but at the end of the day, we both wanted friends at the same time. And with time, we became so close that she's now my roommate. 

This simple act of putting myself out there isn’t entirely why we're friends now, but it is the reason why we stumbled upon each other's paths. The beginning stages of friendship, I've found, are particularly difficult for many of us in college, especially as freshmen. But remember that you're not going to make new friends if you don’t try, and at the end of the day, everyone in college wants to find someone. 

So join an extracurricular or cultivate a new hobby. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there at any opportunity, and maybe you'll meet people with the same interests. 

In particular, try to force yourself out of your comfort zones in places where there are people outside your major or faces who aren’t in your classes. College is not supposed to be an echo chamber — so don’t make it one.


I know everyone says this, but you really should talk to your professors. Don't just be a fly on the wall in the back of the class. But also don’t take this advice as an encouragement to answer every single question in class. No one likes a know-it-all who dominates the class conversation. Just saying. 

Take the time to connect with professors who have made an impact on your college experience. It’s these small interactions — not the obligatory ones — that matter and show you care. Be authentic, and your connection with your professor will be authentic too. 

If it's necessary, go to office hours. If you know an answer, raise your hand. If you're able to, show up early to class and strike up some small talk. You really never know when you might need a connection or a recommendation from your professor. 

This is a lesson that took me a while to learn. While I'm still figuring it out, I realized as I've put more effort into the dozens of hours I spend in the classroom each semester, my professors have noticed. 

Once, a professor for one of my larger classes crossed the lecture hall and sat next to me to ask how I was doing. I had missed the past two class sessions, one due to sickness and another because my car wouldn’t start. 

I had gone to his office hours one time very early in the semester, and I participated enough that he knew who I was. 

He had no idea why I missed those classes, and he didn't seem as concerned with knowing why I had been absent as he was with how I was doing. For me, his small gesture proved that my absence in the classroom made a difference. 

At the end of the semester, I sent him an email thanking him for the class — it was challenging, but wonderful. He told me my words would stick with him for a long time. 

When it comes down to it, it's not just the impact that your professors have on you. It's equally, if not more, the potential impact you can have on them. But you'll only know if you take the time to make one.

4. Be honest with yourself and everyone else

Despite what you may think, you're not doing yourself any favors by pretending to be okay all the time. 

In October, I got into a crash on the highway in which I totaled my car. It added a new stressor on top of the weight of my heavy, difficult course load. 

There was insurance to deal with, and I needed a new car, and I was struggling with the pulsing weight of neck pain, and, and, and, and, and, and. 

This cacophony of seemingly infinite "ands" to deal with fell squarely on my shoulders. 

The thing about car crashes is that if you are not severely or visibly wounded from one, I learned the people around you stop caring after a while. 

Every time I'd get in a car, I'd feel sick to my stomach. I'd imagine every single scenario involving every car around us and how it'd cause my untimely death. They ran a red. I ran a red. A pileup. A rear-end collision. A T-bone accident. 

Unfortunately, this line of thinking doesn't fade away forever after a car crash — it just comes and goes in waves, as every other type of thought does. 

But I didn't let anyone know that: For a while after the crash, I did pretend I was okay being in cars. However, I was so secretly upset at the person driving me sometimes. They’d speed or swerve or text, and I'd get so angry: How could they do this to me when they knew what I had to deal with after the crash? 

The truth is it wasn't their fault. They couldn’t know how I actually felt because I didn't express it. 

It's important to be honest with how you're feeling and to express it when the time is right. Although being honest with yourself doesn’t just mean confronting your feelings. It also means removing yourself from situations that you know will make you upset or uncomfortable. 

In the end, your college experience will be defined by what you put into it. That’s because there is no one "right" way to do college — there's just your way, and that's enough.

Edited by Camila Pedrosa, Savannah Dagupion and Madeline Nguyen

This story is part of The Best of ASU, which was released on April 30, 2024. See the entire publication here.

Reach the reporter at and follow @abbygisela on X.

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