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The things they don’t tell you about first year

Harsh realities of the best time of your life

If I listened to Wes Walker’s “Jordan Belfort” for long enough, I’m sure memories of my first year would trickle in pretty quickly. The rap/singing crossover, along with the catchy and eloquently spoken hook, “I been gettin’ dirty money Jordan Belfort,” really takes me all the way back to 18-year-old Athena in Kellogg getting ready for a typical Thursday night out. If I think about first year too long, I’ll probably start getting in my feelings — after all, there may be nothing that rivals being able to swipe into O’Hill for shoestring fries at all times of the day.

I will be honest — I had a great first year. For someone who loves meeting new people and experiencing new things, I didn’t struggle particularly hard getting adjusted to college life. It’s the first year of pseudo-freedom, when the future is not quite yet a pressing matter. I was thriving.

There’s a lot to reminisce on, like the inexplicable bond I hold with everyone who had to endure the same unbearable hike up to Mount Kellogg, or my friend’s Cauthen dorm room that nurtured a friend group or maybe just the midday naps I could indulge in between classes. But this article is not for reminiscing. Instead, I want to reflect on what blindsided me coming in to the University in the hope that first years may be better prepared.

They tell you during orientation to expect hard classes, go to office hours, get involve and put yourself out there. By hour three, you just want to register for classes and go home to the high school friends you are about to leave.

And that’s fair, because most of what any college orientation will tell you is self-explanatory and something you might find in a “College For Dummies” book for $2.99 at the thrift store. Most of what I actually learned in college, I learned on my own.

And that comes with admitting that sometimes our beloved University isn’t so great. I didn’t know that come second semester, my decision to not join Greek life would end up putting a strain on some of my newly formed first-semester friendships or that I would feel left out of a certain social climate at the University because of my decision to stay “GDI.” Though the University emphasizes that the Greek community is smaller than you’d think, it definitely dominates the social scene at our school. Not having obscure letters to wear or a “big” to shower me with love upon the start of second semester, as ridiculous as it sounds, made me feel like a bit of an outsider.

Aside from the social aspect of things, my current rising fourth-year self is wishing I had made more of an effort to construct a plan that would help me hone in on my passions and future plans, because telling a first-year, “You have time to decide, take whatever classes you want for now,” isn’t always the most efficient and strategic way to go about things. I ended up in far too many “for fun” classes and not enough “for my future” ones. The laid-back role of my advisors also put me in an awkward standoff where I didn’t want to reach out to them, but they surely weren’t going to reach out to me either. Be active in reaching out to your advisors, and if they don’t help, seek other people and places for advice.

This place is big, so it can’t cater to all the individual needs and interests of every student. I don’t blame the administration, the Career Center or any part of our school for not being able to genuinely care about each individual student, but I do wish I had known to be more of a go-getter for myself. Most of my pre-enrollment advising sessions would be spent trying to locate my advisor’s office in the Architecture School, only to sit there for five minutes before hearing, “Sounds good, see you later,” followed by a few clicks on SIS and that was that. Hold lifted.

I probably learned a few advising sessions too late that you have to figure that out your college plan for yourself. Whether that means planning out your four-year pre-med track down to the MCAT date or finding internship and job opportunities as soon as possible, being proactive is necessary. In college, no one picks up your slack.

Finally, things will get hard. I know they tell you this, and you are probably four hours into orientation at that point, so you can’t help but get a little restless. I know college is challenging, but let’s just cross that bridge when we get to it. But really, college can be a trying time. As quite the optimistic and happy-go-lucky individual, there have been times when I have felt like the complete opposite of myself. My second year started off especially difficult — my friends didn’t quite understand why I was acting weird and why I wanted to go home every weekend. Cows and cornfields seemed better to me than whatever was happening on the Corner. Sometimes, during that year, I wish I had chosen another school to attend. I won’t bore you with the details, but I will let you know that now I so deeply wish I had four more years at probably the best University in the world — in my completely unbiased opinion.

Trying times may happen during your first year, and it’s not going to be easy. Sometimes the resources at school aren’t going to be helpful, and the new friends you make won’t always care or you won’t feel comfortable telling them. When that happens, it’s going to suck. I won’t sugarcoat it. Calling home or a good friend from high school might be the solution.

The list could continue with other things I wish I had known going into my first year of college, but unfortunately, I don’t really believe this article is going to be that impactful after all. The best knowledge always comes from experience, and though it is painfully cliché, it’s the main takeaway here. But despite some of these harsher realities, rest assured there’s nothing a little midnight Crossroads can’t fix.

Athena Lee is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at


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