This is a sponsored post in collaboration with BabbleBoxx. All opinions are my own.
It’s that time of year again—all of my college posts have tripled in traffic and my inbox is full of questions from new college freshman who found my blog and are looking for guidance.
While I’m past the college chapter of my life, I was looking back at my freshman year and asking myself how I’ve changed and what I know now that I didn’t know then. While I’m not a college blogger anymore, I want to share the ten things I wish I’d known my first semester of college.
1. College is easy compared to the real world (but that doesn’t mean it’s easy)
College is the middle ground between high school and the real world. If your high school was anything like mine, college is going to be infinitely more difficult than high school, but as soon as you are out of college and entering the real world you’ll realize that college was significantly easier than the world adulthood throws at you.
With that said, don’t let anyone tell you college is easy. It’s not. You worked hard to get there and now you have to work hard to succeed. I had more than a few adults condescendingly say things like, “Well, if you think this is difficult just wait until you’re actually an adult and have real problems to worry about.”
As you grow more and experience more you’re able to handle more. College is easier than the real world, but it might be the most difficult experience you’ve faced yet and that’s because it is difficult. But the beautiful thing is you adapt and get used to the extra stress and responsibilities and you learn how to deal with it. Eventually, it becomes your normal and won’t seem so hard or overwhelming at all.
What to do when you’re stressed in college:
First of all, breathe. I’m not going to pretend I was the master of zen in college, because we all know that’s not true, but take this as a “do as I say, not as I do” situation.
Looking back on it, I can recognize what I should have done when I was feeling overwhelmed, and they’re tips I wish I would have known before college.
- Email your professors. Feel like you’re suffocating and overwhelmed with deadlines and assignments? Your professors are human, they’ll get it. There is no harm in asking for extensions or a mental health day. Of course you’ll always have those professors who like to play hardball and aren’t going to give you an inch without a note from your doctor. The good thing is if even one professor takes sympathy and extends a deadline or excuses you from class you now have some extra time to take care of yourself.
- Prioritize your work. Getting behind is only going to cause you more stress, but if there is something you can put off, it might be worth it. Look at your deadlines and do a sprint to get the imperative work done, and leave the rest for when you’re feeling better. This is where deadline extensions can really come in.
- Talk to someone. You might think what you’re feeling is normal – and more often than not it will be – but being diligent about your mental health is the most important thing you can do for yourself. Most colleges have dedicated counseling centers, make an appointment if you ever feel like things are spiraling out of control.
- Have a night in. Making friends in college isn’t always easy, so it’s tempting to want to be going out every night and socializing and trying to make something happen. But nights in by yourself snuggling in bed watching movies or reading can be so therapeutic.
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Your time is important
Piggybacking over the last one, it’s important to realize that your time is important. I totally get the resume building mindset that has you biting off more than you can chew over and over again even though you know it’s a bad idea.
In college I was on the exec board of three clubs, a chair on a non-profit (more impressive than it sounds, I promise), teaching swimming lessons as a volunteer, and running my blog in addition to class. Besides blogging and swimming lessons, I really didn’t enjoy any of what I was doing, I just wanted to look accomplished when applying for jobs in the future.
Now? I realize that my time is valuable and I’m not going to say yes to things that don’t fulfill me.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get involved in extracurriculars, because you totally should, but make sure you’re doing the ones that you enjoy.
If you find yourself falling in the trap of not respecting your own time, wear a watch as a reminder that your time is important. This beautiful gold vintage watch makes a fashion statement, but also can be that visual cue you need to make sure you’re not biting off more than you can chew. (Plus! It has an alarm so you can promise yourself you’ll only spend an allocated amount of time doing any given task. Once the alarm goes off, move on to the next!)
Don’t get addicted to coffee
Personally, I managed to avoid a coffee addiction all through college. In fact, the first time I tried to drink coffee studying for midterms, I ended up in the hospital. It was for totally unrelated reasons (my ovaries have been revolting since I hit puberty), but I associated the trip to the ER with the coffee and wouldn’t touch the stuff for a few years after.
And then I moved to New York to start my internship. Remember how I mentioned that college is easy compared to the real world? Well having to live the real world in a brand new city, in New York City was the most stressful, overwhelming, and amazing thing I’d ever done. I bounced around airbnb’s my first month and slept on a love seat in my apartment for the next month, so sleep wasn’t a thing I was getting a ton of.
And everyone in New York just loves coffee dates.
One thing led to another and I became addicted. As in if I didn’t have coffee within 30 minutes of waking up I’d get a pounding headache I wouldn’t be able to shake for the entire day. It took me a good 4 months to wean myself and now I’ve sworn I’ll never get addicted again.
The freshman 15 is a thing, but only if you let it be.
It was interesting living in an all girls dorm. It was just as catty as you might expect it to be, but there was a lot of camaraderie, too. Specifically, the camaraderie came in a weird manifestation of group dieting.
A few girls in my hall noticed they were gaining weight, so they ate dinner together to hold each other accountable. These were the girls I normally ate with and I saw them go from piling their plates with macaroni and chicken strips to eating only salads, and sad salads at that.
Avoiding the freshman 15 is easy.
Eat fruits and veggies, don’t drink in excess every night, and stay active. You don’t have to starve yourself of survive off of lettuce to stay lean. People gain the freshman 15 when they use their new found freedom to stop taking care of themselves.
You don’t have to rely on carrot sticks and celery and the stair stepper at the gym to keep your high school physique, you just need to maintain balance.
Finding balance is easier said than done, but it’s more than doable.
The first time getting sick is going to be the worst thing ever
Remember how I mentioned going to the ER my freshman year of college? Well, I’d never been in that much pain away from home before and I felt helpless. I didn’t have a car, I couldn’t afford to take an ambulance (plus, I’d have felt like a drama queen), and cab companies weren’t answering because it was 4:30 in the morning.
I might have been 18 years old, but at that time all I wanted was my mom and dad.
Luckily, I made it to the ER, got treatment and pain maintenance, and my parents even made the drive down to see me. That was the only time I got that sick in college, and I’m glad I got the big one out of the way first. But even after that, there’s something about being sick that makes you just want to be home in your real bed.
Personally, I grew up being given Luden’s Throat Drops every time I was sick. Having them on hand gave me a familiar, strangely nostalgic feeling every time I’d feel a sore throat coming on. Besides the feeling of nostalgia, they’re tasty and soothing. You can get $1 off 2 bags here!
Write everything down
Due dates, plans with friends, exams, doctors appointments. If you’re going write it down so you don’t forget. In high school my routine was: school, practice, work, home, repeat. It was simple.
In college your world will be flipped upside down and you’re going to have a million responsibilities, deadlines, and appointments. A good planner will go a long way in helping you keep your head on straight.
My Happy Living Planner 2017-2018 has detailed slots where I can write everything down, and even has inspirational quotes to keep me motivated.
In addition to using a planner, I loved having a white board in college. Every week I’d write down everything that I absolutely, positively had to get done and once it was finished I’d wipe it off. It’s an exhilarating feeling to be able to empty your board before the end of the week. (It’s the little things, amirite?)
Make time for positivity
College is a weird place where everyone brags about how little sleep they got the night before or how stressed they are. It seems like whoever has the worst mental state is the winner of an odd competition that really doesn’t make any sense.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of, “Oh, you think that’s bad? I have three exams next week AND a paper due. Plus, I haven’t gotten a full night’s sleep in a month.”
But that’s not doing anyone any good.
Instead, make it your mission to be more positive. Rewire your brain a bit to see the good in things. So instead of the above say, “After my exams next week I have nothing to stress over until midterms. I can’t wait to get them out of the way!”
Forced positivity is the biggest thing that helped me get out of my mental slump over a year ago, and it’s something I still try to practice.
Whether you find positivity in journaling or reading poetry, make sure you’re making time to think happy thoughts. I recently started reading a poetry book called “The Princess Saves Herself In This One.” It’s divided into four parts and it’s about taking control and writing your own ending.
In college you are going to have a lot of adjustments to make. One of the most difficult for me was getting used to not having a car. Getting to the grocery store meant spending nearly two hours round trip on the bus, or begging a friend with a car to have mercy on me and take me shopping.
One thing I wish I’d known about in college is EZneeds. They are a website where your can buy your everyday needs online, in bulk, and at a discount. Anything from snacks to deodorant. Even better, there is free shipping on orders over $50 and it’s fast.