Top Ten Ways to Survive—and Thrive—During Freshman Year of College
A blog post by North Park Sophomore Macayla Dowling
Transitioning into college can often be difficult, scary, and stressful—especially if you are moving far away from home. Last year, I moved seven hours away from my small, rural community; needless to say, Chicago’s urban lifestyle was a major change for me. While my first year at North Park was one of the most trying years of my life, it was also one of the most successful years of my life. That said, here are my top ten recommendations for surviving—and even thriving—during your first year as a college student.
1. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone
Moving so far away from home and everything I have ever known was a huge leap out of my comfort zone, but I would not change it for the world. My first few weeks at North Park were awfully difficult, but pushing myself beyond what I found comfortable led to a year full of growth and life-changing experiences, which, I’ve come to realize, is exactly what college is all about. Seize every opportunity that comes to you—especially the ones outside of your comfort zone. Try new things and attend events you do not typically see yourself participating in because you might end up finding something that you really enjoy or making new friends!
2. Stay organized
Assignments and activities tend to build up quickly; the best way to keep everything under control is to stay organized. I find keeping separate folders, notebooks, or binders for each class really helps me keep track of everything. I never felt the need in high school to keep an academic planner because my assignments were easy to remember. As a college student, my philosophy has completely changed; I would be so lost without my planner. Recording everything—such as upcoming assignments and meetings—in an academic planner or your phone calendar is an extremely helpful way to stay on top of things.
3. Get involved with programs, teams, and clubs
My first semester at North Park I participated in the Catalyst program, where I met so many friendly people and learned a lot about Chicago. I even found something I was passionate about through my practicum. Fortunately, North Park offers an abundance of ways to get involved on campus. Programs—such as Catalyst, CRUX, or COMPASS—are perfect opportunities to build close relationships and engage in the city of Chicago. Joining sports teams, intramurals, and clubs are also great for meeting new people while pursuing interests. In order to enhance your college experience, I highly recommend getting involved with at least one organization.
4. Go to class, take notes, and don’t procrastinate
I found that one of the best ways to succeed in classes is to actually attend them. Although going to class may become tedious (especially near the end of the semester), it is still important to be present. Taking notes in class benefits me greatly when it comes to essays and exams, but notes can only be taken while attending class. Another tip for success is to procrastinate as little as possible; I attempt to get assignments done early because it guarantees that they will be turned in on time and allows more time for fun or relaxing because I’m not stressing out about assignments.
5. Attend campus events
Campus events help break the monotony of classes and assignments, so I always keep an eye out for fliers posted around campus. From Catalyst on Campus to the Cram Jam (my personal favorite), North Park hosts tons of events throughout the year. Attending campus events is another good way to meet new people, hang out with friends, or even learn something new. The best part about campus events is that they typically provide some type of free food, which is every college student’s ultimate dream.
6. Get a job
Let’s face it, college students aren’t exactly the wealthiest demographic; fortunately, there are numerous jobs available both on and off campus. During my second semester, I found that I had huge gaps in my schedule and decided that getting a job would be an incredibly productive way to fill those gaps. I constantly searched Career Hub and found a position as a student writer for University Marketing and Communications. As an English major, I really enjoy my job and found that working with UMC has provided me with beneficial work experience and has especially strengthened my writing skills.
7. Dedicate time to have fun
During the week, I work diligently, but I always reward myself by declaring Saturday a homework free day. I often find myself getting ice cream, discovering new things in the city, or playing board games with friends. College is often stressful, but that does not mean that it cannot be fun; it’s all about finding the perfect balance between productivity and excitement. Don’t don’t be afraid to set aside time each week to do something that makes you happy.
8. Keep in touch with your friends and family
Every day, I make sure to at least text my friends and family to let them know that I am thinking of them no matter the distance between us. Maintaining relationships with people from home is just as important as establishing new relationships at school, because while your new transition may be difficult for you, odds are that it is also difficult for them. No matter how busy you are, be sure to connect with your friends and family at least once a week to update them on how you’re doing and find out what’s going on back at home.
9. Explore the city
My heart was set on Chicago while searching for where to further my education, so when I got to North Park, I utilized my newfound freedom to begin exploring. Whether it be through one of the programs that North Park offers or with friends, get to know the city you live in. No two neighborhoods in Chicago are the same, making it an excellent city to immerse yourself in different cultures. It seems as if there is always an event happening somewhere; not to mention, there is a plethora of free activities to enjoy and over 7,300 restaurants to try. When using your Ventra card and Google Maps, the possibilities are endless!
I have noticed that I always feel like I need to be doing something productive, so I often need to remind myself to take a breather. Sometimes college can feel like a tremendous balancing act between classes, assignments, social life, and extracurricular activities. While it is important to focus on all of those, it is also vital to your health to incorporate time to yourself into the mix. Know that it’s okay to watch Netflix or take a much-needed nap from time to time. Make sure you are allowing yourself to relax after working hard; you deserve it!