On Being a Freshman: High School vs. College

“Before you ask which way to go, remember where you’ve been.”

–  All Time Low, “Stay Awake”


Surprise! Just because I’ve been in college for almost a week doesn’t mean I’ve completely forsaken my blog. Only partially. I can already tell that I’ll be blogging less, but I most definitely will keep at it.

I’m sure there are at least a few readers who want the rundown of how I’m settling in, so I’ll give the quick version: everything here is great. My dorm is exactly the kind of place I want to be living in, and my roommates (I have three of them) are all seriously fantastic. Classes have just started up, and I’m busy, but even the homework doesn’t seem that bad. If I have trouble understanding a concept, my roommates and I study together. We coordinate where and when to go to eat, and let me tell you, the food is amazing. In fact, I have a separate post in mind to outline my college diet, because it’s worth sharing.

But! Right now I want to talk about a very general concept, which I wasn’t really smart enough to discuss before, but I think I am now: being a Freshman.

I say that I wasn’t smart enough to talk about it beforehand because I think you need to be a Freshman at least twice before you can get a good grasp of what it’s like. When you first start high school, everything hits you. The sense of being out of place, adjusting to the norms, and of course meeting new people.

That’s all there in college, trust me. But it’s a lot different.

In high school, for one thing, you’re still probably working on the whole self-confidence thing, and you think that if you aren’t sure where to go or what to do, you’re the stupid one. When in fact chances are, there are probably a lot other people with the same question.

By college, you’ve most likely learned enough to know to ask questions. You realize that a lot of your classmates are on the same page as you, and that if you aren’t sure where to go or what to do, it’s no big deal because a lot of other people are on the same boat. I know for me personally, that’s how it’s been. If I get lost, I don’t get nervous or freaked out. I just treat it like an adventure, find people who are lost too, and we figure it out together.

Second of all, adjusting to norms. Again, different than high school. In high school, I was crazy stressed trying to learn all the rules like where the busses parked, how hall passes worked and why you needed one, what you were allowed to do, and what you weren’t. College isn’t like that at all. I don’t know if that’s because I personally have become more relaxed since I was fourteen, or else because I’m more comfortable in unfamiliar situations.

But honestly, I know that as long as I don’t do anything illegal, then whatever problems that come up can be dealt with. If I go somewhere I’m not supposed to, people will tell me. Maybe even yell at me. But by now, I realize the concept of understandable mistakes. And more importantly, I’m in a place where they’re more forgivable. Let’s face it: in high school, it’s ridiculous how many rules there are. Most of them make sense, but there’s a few eye-rollers in the mix. Things like needing a signed paper to walk ten feet to the bathroom, or not being allowed to pull out your phone for something as small as checking the time.

In college, it’s more my kind of rules. Don’t threaten anyone, don’t do anything illegal, don’t drink, etc. I’m a full believer in taking responsibility for your own life. If you want to skip class to walk around for forty-five minutes, I don’t understand why anyone should stop you. I’m the kind of kid who never shows any work on homework unless it benefits me personally. If I can solve a math problem in my head without writing anything—which, quite often, I can—then I usually just write the answer and box it. That’s what the real world cares about, right? Solving problems?

That’s what college is like. It’s about “here’s what you need to do, get it done however you want.” I love that.

And, the final (but most important) difference: meeting new people, high school vs. college.

A lot of it is the same. There’s that same sense of picking a few people you already know and using them as anchors while you slowly-but-surely branch out. The same feeling of meeting a person, getting a feel for what they’re like, and forming a loose group.

The other night, my college had a dance party on the front lawn of campus. I went with a few high school friends, and we immediately met six new freshmen and formed a loose group. By the end of the night, we were all Facebook friends and talking to each other. That was one night, and that could very well become my central group of friends for the next four years. Only it probably won’t, because there have already been two more groups since then, with the same results.

I guess that’s the real difference. In high school, everyone is pretty nervous, and you slowly make friends. In college, everyone is primed to start up entirely new friendship groups. It’s considered normal to just walk up to someone, shake their hand, and strike up a conversation. Everyone does it. The other night, at said dance party, I became separated from my friend group. I was standing there texting and saw another kid standing by himself, too. So, I immediately walked up to him, held out my hand, and introduced myself. Then I held up my smartphone and asked if it would be okay to add him on Facebook. He said absolutely, and now we’re great friends. Simple.

One example in dozens, and that’s just with me personally. This place has an AIR of forming new relationships. In high school, the environment is a steady dose of nerves mixed with a dash of trying to fit in. You have to struggle not to conform to standards, but at the same time, you don’t want to stand out TOO much. In college, it’s the exact opposite. There are no standards. You just be you. And I think that’s so valuable, being allowed to remember where you came from, because that determines where you go from here. And what kind of people you decide hang out with.

So that’s one piece of advice I would give to high school freshman, though it’s much easier for me than for you: if you want to be the happiest person in the world, then just act like the kind of person you want to make friends with. If you hate drinking, say so! I’ve said so every day since I got here. And guess what? A lot of my friends hate it too. A few don’t. But that’s still okay, because even the people who I know that drink, don’t care that I don’t. In fact, they respect it.

And I’d say that’s a pretty darn important difference between high school and college.

So, bottom line: no matter where you’re starting school, just remember that everyone is as nervous as you, and that even if you think you’re alone, you aren’t. There are people out there with the same interests as you, who think the same and act the same and have the same definition of fun.

Go find them.


3 thoughts on “On Being a Freshman: High School vs. College

  1. This is so true! Looking back at my freshman year in high school, I really wish I had just gone up to people and introduced myself! A lot of my best friends in high school were people I didn’t really get to know until a year later because I was too shy to go up to them in freshman year.
    I’m glad college is going well for you so far. I move into my dorm this weekend!

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