Student Perspective on Freshman Year of College Realities

Student Perspective on Freshman Year of College Realities

Jack Kleese, University of Memphis student

Freshman Year of College Realities: The Unedited, Gritty Truth

Starting college this fall? Here’s a firsthand perspective from our son Jack, who just finished his freshman year at the University of Memphis. This is Part 1 of a two-part blog. Next week, you’ll get Mom’s firsthand perspective on freshman year: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly.

As with any life experience, there’s how you THINK it will be and then there’s how it ACTUALLY GOES. We’ve left Jack’s comments unedited, so this may read a bit like a Rolling Stone interview, but we hope it will resonate with someone about to enter their freshman year of college.

Overall, how would you describe your freshman year of college?

JACK: I had a great first year and I can’t wait to go back in the fall. It’s actually hard being home this summer, because I miss my friends at college. That said, freshman year was really, really hard a lot of the time. It wasn’t at all like I thought it was going to be. And it took a long time for things to work out.

How did your expectations about your freshman year of college compare with reality?

“Freshman year was great, but it was also really hard, and pretty lonely for a while.”

JACK: It was lonelier than I expected. High school wasn’t a great experience for me. I figured going to college was the absolute solution to all my problems. It was going to be the life I’d always wanted. But it was super hard. The first week was great. My roommate was from Memphis. I hung out with him and his friends from high school who also went to college at Memphis. I met a ton of people. It seemed like I was off to a great start. Then things settled in and I got lonely. I met a lot of people, but I didn’t feel connected or close to anyone. No one really knew me, and I felt isolated. It takes a long time to sift through all the people to get to the cool ones. In the beginning, I hung out with people I didn’t feel that connected to because I didn’t have anyone else.

It sucks, because you feel like you’re the only one in that situation. It seems like everyone around you is surrounded by friends and already has their group. Like you missed out somehow. It seems like everyone else has it figured out. Especially if you go out of state, like I did. People all around you seem to be hanging around with their best friends, and I didn’t have that. They may be in the same boat, but that’s not how it looks.

Was dorm life what you expected it to be from a social perspective?

Freshman year of college can be lonely at first, but hang in there and be patient.

JACK: I thought I’d meet a lot more people in my dorm, but I didn’t. Or if I did, I’d meet them through other things and then end up finding out they live in my dorm. Maybe it’s not this way everywhere, but in my dorm, most people kept their doors closed most of the time and kept to themselves. There were often people out talking in the common areas. But I’m not the type of person to just go and inject myself into that conversation. My roommate and I got along great the first month, but then ended up not getting along. He was having some personal issues, and he actually moved out pretty early on first semester. So it was even lonelier then, but the good news was that I had the room to myself.

How did social media affect you at that time?

Social media can deceive you into thinking you’re the only one who’s not surrounded by friends and parties. Beware of believing social media.

JACK: Social media totally sucks in terms of your sanity. Don’t use it. All you’re going to see is people at parties, and it’s not going to make you feel good. You’ll see people having fun and who knows, maybe that’s the one time they ventured out of their dorm room all semester and they quick snapped a picture of the one happy moment. But social media makes it seem like that’s what they’re doing all the time, and it makes you feel like a loser. I’d recommend only using social media for staying in touch with specific people. Don’t look at Snapchat stories. Don’t look at Instagram feeds, because it will make you feel like you’re the only one who’s feeling lonely. That’s not the truth, but that’s how it will feel.

So how did you plug in socially?

JACK: I tried anything and everything and most things didn’t work out like I planned. But a few did, and I think that’s just how it goes. So, I guess I would say you should expect the majority of the things you try to connect socially to fail. But you have to keep trying, because eventually something’s going to click.

College is all about just sifting through the bullshit to find the diamonds. Socially and organization-wise and all that, you have to just expose yourself to a bunch of stuff, so you can sort through it and find what works. Shit’s just not going to work out like you think it will. You’re going to be let down.

Getting involved at college can be challenging, and finding true connections may take time.

For example, I went to a student involvement fair, signed up for a bunch of stuff and only got one or two calls back, which seemed like a great way to deter making the effort to get involved. I mean, if you’re going to invite student involvement, you’d better be prepared to respond to those who say they want to be involved. So that was a fail for me.

Also, I went to this open house where all the fraternities were supposed to have tables set up to provide information. It was supposed to be from like 7-9. I got there 15 minutes into the event, but there was only one fraternity with their table still up, out of like a dozen. It was cool because I got to know them and hung out with some of those guys first semester, but it also sucked, because I was there to learn about all the different fraternities and only ended up talking to one.

I went to a lot of things once or twice and then stopped going, because I realized that group wasn’t for me. It was exhausting and kind of demoralizing because I thought I’d never find the right connections, but eventually I did. I felt like giving up a lot, but now I’m really glad I kept putting myself out there. It eventually paid off. It just took a while. Like forever.

You’ve said that in terms of making social connections, you think it’s harder for guys than girls. Talk a little bit about that.

Experiencing loneliness is normal, and most people experience it at some point during their freshman year.

JACK: Yeah, it sucks extending yourself. At first, especially if you’re a male, it’s way harder. I’ve talked to girls about this, and they agree that they’re able to be way more open with each other and happy and bubbly and whatever. But with guys, we are expected to play it cool. Meanwhile, we’re really lonely inside and just want someone to care about us. If you’re a guy, a lot of people you meet that are guys will act like they don’t care about you, because we’re guys and that’s how we are, which is stupid. It’s harder for guys to put themselves out there because the chances of rejection are so much greater. With girls, to me, it seems like it’s just so open and ridiculously easy. I’m sure I’m wrong, but to me, it seems easier for girls.

But I think the whole freshman year loneliness is common to everyone to a certain extent. I’m in Student Government Association (SGA) and I was talking to this girl who’s the president of SGA in her senior year. She knows everyone on campus now and she’s totally plugged in. She told me that the only thing she did her freshman year was go to class, eat, go to her room and study. She was super lonely her first year. Now, she’s the president of SGA. The point is, even for someone who looks like a rockstar, it took a while to meet people.

So how did things eventually turn around for you?

JACK: I think the most amazing and frustrating thing to me was how incredibly long it took to feel like I fit anywhere. It eventually clicked halfway through second semester. It was literally like a night and day difference for me between January and March. By March, I’d met one really close friend I could truly connect with and hang out with. With academics, career stuff, student organizations, social stuff, it takes a long time to really find your place. And you don’t know what your place is when you get there. It takes just about the whole first year to really figure out, ‘Oh so this is who I’m going to be in college.’ Shit takes time, G.

Most of the stuff you try just won’t work. I spent all first semester hanging out with a group of guys whose fraternity I planned to join second semester, and then they didn’t extend me a bid. So that felt like a big old waste of time, and it was painful being rejected. But I ended up joining another fraternity that did work out, and now I know that’s exactly where I’m supposed to be.

My best friend from first semester, like the only guy I really connected with, decided to transfer to another college, so that sucked. In fact, I can’t think of anyone that I hung out with first semester that I’m still hanging out with.

The turning point for me didn’t happen until about March. I met the person I’d call my closest college friend now through a mutual friend. We started hanging out most days. About that time, I also started finally plugging into my music classes and started doing shows around town. That made me feel more like I belonged and it was like, this is pretty cool. For some reason, finding one person to connect with that I felt really knew me made all the difference. It’s just sort of built on from there.

So how do you feel sophomore year will compare with your freshman year?

Jack and his college friend Brandon

JACK: Second year is going to be way different. I already have friends and stuff. I’m going back to something I know instead of heading into something completely unknown. I already have a solidified system of living. Freshman year you get there and you have no one, nothing. The first year of college is just a game of waiting and perseverance. You can’t let yourself get to a point of “I’m tired of putting myself out there. I’m tired of being lonely.” Keep at it and it will work out.

The point is everyone is in the position that “Damn, college is not like I thought it would be. I’m actually on my own and I have to find ways of occupying my time that aren’t depressing.” You really have to think of yourself as an invincible squid, putting your tentacles out into different parts of the ocean and if you don’t like that part, you just pull your tentacle back. If you find some waters that are the right temperature, you leave a tentacle there and maybe move more toward that way. But the point is, eventually that squid will find some waters that are just right.

What did you learn about yourself through this last year?

JACK: That I can make a bad day into a good day and that I can be happy even in bad circumstances. I knew that intellectually before, but this past year, I really proved that to myself because I didn’t have a choice. I just did it. There were quite a few bad days, but I really learned to look for the good parts of even a bad day. I also learned firsthand that if you persevere, better days are coming. I’m also just really glad I stuck it out. Based on how I felt in October, November, all the way through even early February, I never would have guessed that by the end of March and into the end of second semester, I’d be in as great a position as I am now. I actually said when leaving for the summer that it was bittersweet, because I was excited to come home for the summer, but I was really going to miss Memphis and I was really going to miss all my friends. It took a while, but everything worked out. And I know that next year, it’s going to be even better.

What did you learn about others this year?

Be open to meeting and getting to know many different types of people at college. First impressions can be deceiving.

JACK: I learned not to be fooled by my first impression of someone, to give people a second chance. You have different types of friends and different circles of friends. College is about putting yourself into as many different circles as possible and finding the ones that you fit into.

Overall, I ended the year with a good number of acquaintances I really like, and two really close friends. They’re the people that I can call anytime and really be myself with.

If you only go looking for one type of person, you’re closing the door to a lot of really good types of people. I would not be looking for any specific type of person when I get there. Don’t automatically count somebody out because you put them in a certain group.

There have been people that when I met them I thought this dude’s a complete dork, but then when I got to know them I realized, “Damn, this person’s cool.” Or you might meet someone who comes off as anti-social, but then you find out they’re in a ton of clubs. You just don’t know. Getting to know someone takes time.

So was it worth it, all that pain, to be where you are now?

JACK: Yes, it was all worth it. I’m glad I stuck it out. And I feel like I really “grew up” in the process. So I guess I’d call it a really successful first year of college.

College Planning Priorities and What You Need To Do Now Grade-By-Grade

College Planning Priorities and What You Need To Do Now Grade-By-Grade

Another school year is winding down. Freshmen, sophomores and juniors, here’s what you need to do this summer and next school year to put your best foot forward for college. In this article, we’ll use the term “rising” to indicate the year of school you’ll be going into in the fall of 2018. For instance, “rising sophomores” are those students who will enter their sophomore year of high school in the fall of 2018.

Rising Sophomores Focus on Solid Academic & Extracurricular Performance

As a rising sophomore, your top three college planning priorities in order should be:

  1. Curriculum planning and academic performance: On the list of Top 5 Things Colleges Look For, #1 is “A rigorous high-school curriculum that challenges the student and may include AP or IB classes.” (GPA is a close second, at#2 on the list.) Check out the full list here. Many high school students forget that when you apply to college, the GPA you’ll submit is based on three years of high school curriculum and grades – not four. Freshman, sophomore (and of course, junior) years are critical years for demonstrating your ability to perform well in challenging classes. For your sophomore year, consider AP courses and push yourself academically. Solid study habits are key. If freshman year went well, great! Keep pushing. If you have ground to make up, now is the time to establish better study habits and improve your academic performance. OnCampus College Planning offers a Better Student Program for this very purpose.
  2. Deep (versus Broad) High School Involvement: The age-old myth that “colleges are looking for well-rounded students” is false. Colleges aim to create well-rounded freshman classes, a diverse body of individuals who represent unique talents and interests. Focus on 2-3 activities that truly interest you and dig in deep. It’s much better to demonstrate full engagement, leadership or involvement in a few things, than it is to have your name on 10 different membership lists with nominal involvement in each. I work with students who are genuinely interested in 10 different things and WANT to be deeply involved in all of them. That’s fine. But ease up if you’re signing up at the expense of academic focus (and your own sanity). Pick your thing(s). YOU DO YOU. And do it well.
  3. Campus Visits to get a feel of what “College” is like. Visit college campuses long before you have any idea what you want to major in or where you want to go to college. Getting on campus early on gives you an idea of what College is like and shows you how one college is similar to or differs from another. Take a day to visit a college campus near you, for the official tour or just to walk around. At this point, it doesn’t matter which college you visit, since you’re not picking schools yet. Tack campus visits on to family vacations. Tag along on an older sibling’s, cousin’s or friend’s college tour. Getting the lay of the college land long before you’re ready to choose colleges gives you a familiarity about College in general that will serve you well when you’re actually choosing what’s important to you and selecting colleges you want to explore.

Rising Juniors Get Ready For Your Heavy Lifting Year for College Prep

I call your junior year of high school the “heavy lifting year” of your high school career in terms of college prep. This is typically a challenging academic year. It’s also when you’ll tackle the ACT (or SAT) and begin thinking about which colleges you want to put in your shopping cart.

As a rising junior, your top three college planning priorities should be:

  1. Prep for the ACT: While public high school students in Wisconsin will take the ACT in February of junior year, I encourage students NOT to have this be your first attempt. My recommendation is that by holiday break of your junior year, you’ve taken your first official ACT exam. If you earn the score you want by then, great! If not, you can use the state-mandated February ACT date to improve upon your score. Many of the students I work with choose to spend summer before junior year prepping for their first ACT in July, September, October or December. Summer’s great, since you don’t have school activities and school competing for your time. At a minimum, rising juniors should take a baseline practice ACT this summer. Schedule yours FREE anytime by giving me a call and scheduling your baseline practice exam at my office.
  2. Prepare for your College Search: Another service I typically provide for students who are entering or in their junior year of high school is College Search. This helps students systematically identify what they want, need, don’t want and don’t need in a college. It helps students with self-discovery, in order to then identify which colleges fit their unique definition of their Best Fit Colleges (their “University of You”, as I call it). While some students wait until the start of senior year, I find that starting much earlier makes the process more enjoyable and effective, and helps students sharpen their focus while they can still impact the last two years of their high school career in terms of academics and extracurriculars. It’s also helpful to make progress on your college search in tandem with ACT or SAT prep, so you know what the colleges you’re interested in require. Then you can know what you’re shooting for in terms of test scores for acceptance and merit aid.
  3. Understand “College Applications Math” and recommit yourself to academics. As you enter your junior year, it’s critical to remember the “math” realities of college applications. You are now 2/3 DONE with the GPA you’ll submit for college applications — not 1/2 done. Because you apply the fall of your senior year, colleges you apply to will actually be looking at three years of high school classes and grades – not 4. Junior year is critical for maintaining (or improving) your academic record. And chances are, your classes will be more challenging your junior year than they were your freshman or sophomore year.

Rising Seniors It’s All about College Applications Prep

If you are wrapping up your junior year, consider this: Twelve months from today, you will have decided where you’re going to college and will probably have mailed your high school graduation invites already! Set time aside this summer to put yourself in a good position for stress-free college applications this fall. As a rising senior, your college prep priorities this summer should be:

  1. Figure out which colleges you might want to put in your shopping cart. Mostly I work with juniors on College Search. But frequently, students entering their senior year need assistance with the College Search process. If this is you, great! Give me a call and let’s schedule time to define your University of You criteria, those things you want, need, don’t want and don’t need in the ideal college experience. I can then guide you on compiling a list of colleges to research and/or visit. Summer is the ideal time to devote time and energy to shopping for colleges, while your schedule’s a little less hectic and you aren’t feeling pressed for time.
  2. Prep for college applications this fall. Summer is ideal for developing college essays, lining up your sources for recommendations and outlining your timeline for college applications. Essay development coaching is available from OnCampus College Planning if you want to sharpen your skills and get some guidance developing compelling college essays.
  3. Shore up your ACT (or SAT) score. You may already have earned the ACT score you want and have checked this off your list. If so, congratulations! If you’ve not yet earned the ACT score you’re happy with, there’s still time. This year for the first time ever, the ACT will be offered in July. You can also choose from test dates in June, September and October, in time for fall college applications. Set a date, register for the exam. And let me know if I can help with ACT prep this summer.

Whether you’re a rising sophomore, junior or senior, knowing what your college prep priorities are will hopefully help you focus on what you can do this summer to put your best foot forward. If you’d like to talk more or have specific questions, schedule a free consult with OnCampus College Planning anytime.