What I Wish I Knew Before Freshman Year of College

This post, written by tutor and contributing writer Tiffany Sorensen, is part of our 2017 Back-to-School Series. Throughout the month of August, visit the Varsity Tutors blog for back-to-school advice, tips, and tricks for all ages.

You might think you’re as prepared as possible for college. Perhaps you have listened to the valuable advice of older siblings and high school guidance counselors, or you’ve read multiple blog posts about what to expect at college. The truth is, though, no matter how prepared you feel, there will still be certain aspects of college that surprise you once you arrive. I wish I had known more about changing my major, understanding the importance of networking, and recognized the reality about student loans.

Arriving at college freshman year, it can be frustrating to stumble upon things you aren’t prepared for. Have no fear—it will get easier. Here are a few things I wish I had known before freshman year of college:

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I wish I had known that I might change my major one or more times

Some high school students enter college with a pre-declared major. These students often feel confident when starting down this path, but there is no predicting what might happen throughout the four years of your undergraduate career. Your interests might evolve, or you might complete an internship that opens your eyes to a new and exciting field.

Perhaps you have dreamed of becoming a medical doctor, and you should certainly entertain that option if you feel a drive to in your heart. Somewhere along the tiring route to medical school, you may be dissuaded by intensive chemistry classes and decide that medicine is not right for you. If such a situation occurs, know that you are far from being alone; quite a few college students switch their majors at least once.

To find your true professional passion, take a variety of classes and keep an open mind. More importantly, do not feel discouraged if you need to submit a change of major form. It is far better to re-do a semester of college than to be discontent with your degree forever!

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I wish I had known that networking is key

In college, learning and socializing are equally important. At your school, aim to broaden your knowledge and to become an expert in your intended field. Meanwhile, create strong connections with like-minded individuals, including:

  • Classmates

  • Professors

  • Advisors.

A classmate could prove to be a treasured friend, a professor could guide you and write you a wonderful letter of recommendation, and an advisor could answer key questions about employment and graduate school.

A solid academic record is only one—albeit a very substantial—piece of the puzzle that potential employers consider in the hiring process. Networking and making a name for yourself in any organization you are a part of could help move your resume to the top.

I wish I had known that I should accrue as little debt as possible

According to USA Today, the average student loan debt in the United States is more than $20,000. Although this figure may not seem astronomical, college students should take care to keep their loan debt as low and as manageable as possible. There is only a six-month grace period for most student loans, and it may take six months or longer for college graduates to find employment.

It is critical that students be aware of the terms of their loans and whether their loans are subsidized or unsubsidized. With subsidized loans, the federal government pays interest so long as the student is attending college or the loan is in deferment. Unsubsidized loans, by contrast, start accruing interest immediately after the loan is disbursed. The difference between a subsidized and an unsubsidized loan can mean thousands of extra dollars in the long term, so be sure you understand the loan details before you sign any paperwork.

Starting college is both a frightful and a stimulating prospect. Consider the advice of seasoned college graduates, but also weigh in your own judgment and experiences as you open this next chapter. Best of luck with your freshman year!

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