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What I Wish I Knew as a Freshman

Emma boils down 5 things she would tell herself before starting college.

Emma boils down 5 things she would tell herself before starting college.

It’s that time of the year. Not a day– perhaps not even a few hours– passes without me having a conversation with someone about how quickly this year passed. It’s almost the end of my first year at Carleton. And that’s insane. 

Even just with one year under my belt, I can confidently say that I’m not even close to the same person I was last September. I learned a lot– academically, socially, emotionally, you name it. 

If I could go back, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m a firm believer that things happen how they need to. BUT, if I were given a time machine and said I could say five things to my New Student Week self, this is what it would be. 

1. Please stop stressing yourself out so much. 

Stress can sometimes be a healthy thing. It can be one of the only things that can get you to start working after procrastinating for a while (not that I speak from experience or anything…). But there can definitely be too much.

It’s normal to be anxious and stressed about how you will adjust to college life or the workload. But take it easy on yourself. Remember that everyone around you is going through similar experiences, and you’re not alone. Take breaks and find healthy ways to manage your stress. For me, that looks like meals with friends at LDC, walks in the Arb, and visiting the Rec! You’ll be surprised how much more productive and fulfilled you can be when you’re not constantly overwhelmed.

pastries at LDC
Friends + the pastries at LDC = less stress.

2. Change is so necessary. And it’s not a bad thing.

Your friends will change. Your routines will change. Your interests and music taste and style will probably change. But these things should be embraced. Allow yourself to evolve and embrace the new experiences and perspectives that life at Carleton offers. 

You really don’t need to be scared of it. Yes, initially, your body may react to change with a feeling of discomfort or fear. But the thing about change is that you’ll always come out a better person learning more about yourself and the world. I hope I’m not sounding too motivational-quote-esque. But it’s true!!

3. Actively study!!!!!

Oh my god. This one.

If you came from a high school that doesn’t tell you these things (…like me), please listen to me very carefully.

In order to really master the material in your classes, you need to spark those neurons with active studying. This means flashcards. This means practice tests. This means teaching content to a friend, a parent, or the mirror.

Writing notes and reading a textbook is always a great idea to get a grasp of what content you’re learning initially. But in my experience, that’s been only step one. Don’t passively consume information. Actively engage with the material by finding study techniques that work for you. By actively studying, you’ll actually retain information and perform so much better on exams and assignments. 

Also! Take advantage of the academic resources available at Carleton, such as (incredible) professor office hours, tutoring services, and prefects!

I've been hanging out in the libe a lot
The Libe, a great place to actively study.

4. Don’t be afraid. In fact, whenever you do feel afraid, that should be an indicator that you should go for it. Whatever it is. 

Here’s the thing: if you’re entering college, I assume you’re around 18 years old. That’s so young. If any risk is really going to be that bad, at least you have the rest of your life for any embarrassment to fade and to learn from mistakes (the good thing is that embarrassment fading never takes that long). But you can’t actually learn anything if you don’t make the initial move to expand your comfort zone. 

You’ve definitely heard this before, but here I am saying it again: college is a time for exploration. It’s normal to feel apprehensive or uncertain when faced with new opportunities or challenges. However, instead of letting fear hold you back, use it as a compass guiding you toward growth. Embrace stepping out of your comfort zone, whether it’s participating in a club, going to campus events, studying abroad, or pursuing a new interest

very cold
Consider this very out of my comfort zone.

5. Human connection is the best anti-depressant. This is proven by science. But we forget it sometimes. 

Adjustment is so weird. Especially something as big as moving to college. It is very normal to feel anxious, isolated, or scared sometimes. Our bodies like to protect us by handing us these fear and stress responses to external situations, but sometimes, it can be too much and feel very overwhelming. I’m sure you’ve been there before. 

But here is the thing: anything bad is never, ever definitive. No matter how much it feels like things are going to be one way forever, it never is. And in the times when it feels hard, at Carleton you will have a community that is there for you. 

Moving along the very long line to Sproncert.

Carleton students are so warm and friendly, and you will always find someone who loves talking to new people and making new friends out of nowhere. Connect with your professors, because they are inspiring, incredible human beings that will make time for you. Remember that there are also resources available to you, such as the counseling services provided by SHAC, which I am a huge fan of, as well as OHP


Don’t fret. You got this!!



Emma (she/her) is a first-year student from South Florida. She is interested in Cognitive Science, Psychology, and Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies. Emma is a member of TRIO and also works as an Event Manager at the Weitz. When not in class, she enjoys going to the Rec, riding her bike around campus, and drinking coffee.