Ahh, freshman year: your first gulp of freedom and your first load of responsibility. Like anything in life, much of the beauty and delight of that first year of college can occasionally feel overwhelmingly eclipsed by the duty and tasks that are now set before you. While you’re now free to shop for the groceries you want to buy, go to bed as late as you want to, and get involved in whatever activities tickle your fancy, there’s a certain amount of maturity that must come along with this new authority you have over your life.
Most college students have at least one or two instances throughout their college career where they had to learn the hard way: sleeping through an alarm, missing a final, and failing a class. Or, there’s always the classic occurrence of forgetting to save a fifteen-page paper and losing hours of work the night before said paper was due.
College can be incredibly fun and rewarding, but there are some key steps you can take to dodge making mistakes that could have easily been avoided with a little preparation.
1. Start some helpful habits
This is a broad category, but getting in the swing of things and taking precautionary steps is important for fueling your success. This could look like making sure you set two alarms every night, in case one of your alarm batteries die. Or it could look like making sure you pause every five minutes as you write your paper to make sure you’ve saved the file.
Cleaning your dorm room on a regular basis, writing thank you notes, and practicing maintaining healthy eating choices and frequent exercise are all habits that will benefit you in the end and keep you on the right track.
2. Get involved with a campus ministry or church group
Not only are campus ministries and a solid church a good place to make lifelong friends, but getting involved in activities that will help you grow your faith will truly make all the difference. Your college years will shape the rest of your life, and the relationships you cultivate—both with people and with the Lord—can greatly impact your future.
College can be a tough place to maintain your faith and values, and many will make a decision about what they believe and why for the very first time. Getting involved with a campus ministry can be an open door to making sure you have mature mentors you can go to with questions, people to pursue or be pursued by in the wake of occasional loneliness, and opportunities to help and care for others.
3. Cultivate a teachable spirit
You’re at college to get an education—so why does it seem challenging to stay humble and learn from mistakes?
You’ll be learning a lot more than just academics while you’re at school. Once you’re in college, you essentially are acting as your own boss, and the decisions you make can change the course of your future. Not only are you learning the ins and outs of your chosen field of study, but you’re also learning how to be an adult, approach life, and make responsible decisions.
Connect with older students who have been there before you, or ask your RA if he or she will mentor you. Consider getting together with a professor during office hours and asking for clarification on a subject you didn’t understand in class. If your roommate confronts you about how you never take out the trash, pause, consider their side, and respond humbly. Cultivating a teachable spirit will take you a long way, and you won’t get stuck behind the wall of pride and shame that so easily springs up around the mistakes we make and the challenges you’ll undoubtedly face.
4. Engage with extracurricular activities, but don’t overcommit
College is a great place to join clubs and get involved with activities or sports you didn’t have a chance to participate in while in high school. It’s healthy to try new things, and there’s doubt that you’ll meet people and make friends you wouldn’t have otherwise.
Keep in mind, though, that it’s easy to overcommit yourself. If you suddenly find yourself without time to do your homework, or your stressing out about the next activity you have to attend, or you no longer have time to spend with the Lord, consider dropping an activity or two. Moderation is critical, and it can make the difference between a fun college experience and a stressed-out one.