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  • Writer's pictureMadeline Kim

First years: You control your college experiences, so make them positive

Picture this: it’s 2 a.m. and you’re scrolling through Instagram. Your best friend from home is grinning widely with his new girlfriend he met at rush. The girl who sits next to you in 3-D calc took an impromptu visit back home over the three-day weekend while you’re trying to map out how to juggle the assessments your professors conveniently saved for that weekend. Sure, you realize that nobody lives a perfect life and has their fair share of struggles, but it can get difficult to realize that the image that they present is not necessarily the full picture.

I don’t say this to sound like a grouchy suburban parent (no offense to suburban parents) who believes that technology is the downfall of this generation. I say this to remind first years that your college experience is just that: yours. It’s unique to you, and while you have people who share this journey with you, ultimately it is you paving the road ahead. It’s you who gets to have the ultimate say in what you want out of it.

That’s not to say you should completely put up your blinders and ignore the world around you. Of course, be cognizant of things like events, grades, and career fairs. However, do not expect college to be like high school. As cliche as it is, it’s true; you were a big fish in a small pond. In college; you’re one of many big fishes in a great lake. Sure, you didn’t go through high school effortlessly. You obviously fought tooth and nail to get to earn a spot at one of the most prestigious universities in the world. However, college is a different boss to defeat. Being at the top of the class, earning honors, and balancing several extracurricular activities won’t be a “duh” thing. That very balance might not even be attainable. Find something that works for you. This is easier for me to put these words on this page than is for you to actually go out and find it. It might take a while; I’m entering my third year and am still finessing my schedule. Some people find these well over graduation. Again, go at your own pace.

On the tangent of high school, some friendships can fray. Even after trying to keep in touch, relationships can end and “best friends forever” can falter. That doesn’t devalue the time you spent with them in the past. If that does happen, cherish the memories but let your heart and our mind open up for new ones. Good friends might not come your way immediately, but if you keep doing what you love (or, at least, trying to find it), they will come.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends. Again, another cliche, but you’d be surprised that the kid who sits next to you in lecture who seems to get whatever is being furiously scribbled on the chalkboard is just as clueless as you are. Happiness doesn’t always lie in certainty where the destination is in clear sight; sometimes, happiness lies in the process of fumbling in the dark. The journey may end up being more important than the ending. Have a goal, but don’t get tunnel vision to the extent that you cut out anything that lies between you and that ending.

“Self-care” isn’t self-indulgence; it’s responsibility. As hard as it is to find a well-balanced meal on campus, find something more nutritious than fries and Coke for lunch. Know where the University Health Services and Counseling and Psychological Services are and how to schedule an appointment. Learn how to contact Title IX and save the emergency phone numbers you got during O-Week in your phone. Don’t get sucked into believing that you need to cut sleep in order to be a good student (and on that tangent, caffeine is not a substitute for getting adequate sleep). Get some fresh air; living exclusively inside Gates without seeing the light of day isn’t healthy.

Chances are, you’ll hear the phrase “fun dies at Carnegie Mellon” at least once before you graduate. Sometimes, that phrase seems true (read: late-night sessions in the Underground, crying over 15-112, and eating an Ultimate Brownie). However, these upcoming four years will fly by just as quickly as the past four years have. Let yourself have bubble tea afternoons with friends. Rent a projector from Hunt and put on a cheesy movie. Give yourself something to look forward to. There’s so much waiting ahead.

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