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Top 10 things I didn’t know before coming to U.Va.

Learning to grow when your expectations don’t align with your reality

<p>Elizabeth Parsons is a Top 10 writer for The Cavalier Daily.</p>

Elizabeth Parsons is a Top 10 writer for The Cavalier Daily.

With Class of 2028 acceptances starting to roll out, I couldn’t help but feel a bit nostalgic. I vividly remember my acceptance to the University three years ago, and the excitement and joy that accompanied my letter of admission. Halfway through my third year, I also now realize how little I knew about the realities of day-to-day college life. Here are some thoughts and reflections about my time at the University so far.

1. Get ready to triple your daily step average

Future first-year students — prepare for built-in exercise. The extra daily movement is certainly a positive thing, but it is not without its first few weeks of aching legs and feet. After attending online classes the entirety of my senior year of high school, the 20-minute walks to class felt like an extreme transition from the comforts of my bedroom. Expect mile-long hikes and notifications from your Apple Watch asking if you are working out. 

2. 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. exams are a normal thing — even on a Saturday 

As someone who is very protective over their bedtime, a Saturday final exam slot ending at 10 p.m. shocked my first-year self. How was I supposed to be alert enough at 9 p.m. to nail my French final? Rest assured, this experience was not nearly as bad as I anticipated, but it did make me savor morning and afternoon exams — or better yet, take-home exams that I can complete from the comfort of my room. I simply don’t think I am built for braving dark December nights for a three-hour exam, but planning for a midday nap beforehand is always a good strategy to make it easier. 

3. Housing can admittedly be a nightmare 

This is something that I heard about before coming to the University, but I did not understand the extent of the situation. As early as October — just two months after move-in — seemingly everyone is scrambling to arrange their housing for the next academic year. I always find this process to be stressful and overwhelming, but there are some resources to help with both on-Grounds and off-Grounds housing options. I do think the housing situation gets easier and less daunting as the years go on and as you become more familiar with the process.

4. Looking at the Rotunda truly never gets old 

Even on mornings when I am dreading the busy day ahead, looking at the Rotunda on my way to class invigorates me like nothing else. I feel connected to a sense of a shared history, and I feel encouraged to make the most of the day. After all, I will not be living and learning here forever. I will always be the person snapping a picture of the Rotunda while walking by — it feels like an obligatory component of being a student here. 

5. The combinations of majors and minors you can pursue is endless

I think the array of majors and minors available is one of the best things that I did not know before coming to the University. While you may come into your first-year with a solid plan for your major or minor, I hope you will experience some degree of change. To remain unchanged in your plans feels almost like a waste when there are so many opportunities to grow, learn and expand your interests. I was not sure about what I wanted to focus on during my time at the University, but I eventually landed on studying English and French.

6. Advising can be a frustrating experience

Despite the exciting variety of academic opportunities offered at the University, finding help to navigate your options can be a challenge — concerns about advising are certainly echoed by many. Before declaring your major, advising feels messy, unhelpful and even discouraging. You will likely be assigned to a professor outside of your disciplines of interest. You might even be more familiar with prerequisites and classes requirements than your advisor, which seems to defeat the whole purpose of advising. However, the upside of this challenge is that you gain the skills to advocate for yourself and be more self-sufficient as you plan your academics. 

7. You do not need to justify your interests to anyone — ever 

My journey to declaring an English major and a French minor required me to trust myself and tune out the noise around me, which is not an easy task. I was surrounded by people during my first year who believed that STEM majors were inherently better, and this external pressure took a substantial toll on my mental health. Accepting that everyone is on their own path with their own equally worthy and relevant interests is liberating, and I can finally say that I am beyond thrilled about my decision to study English and French — even when someone ignorantly asks what I plan to do with that after college.

8. It is unrealistic to love every part about life at the University

It is so important to embrace this idea, yet it took me some time to accept it. When I did not absolutely love everything about the University during my first year, I felt embarrassed and like an outsider. When friends and family asked about my first year, I threw on a huge smile to exclaim how much I loved it. Faking it is tiring. It is okay to not love everything about this school and still be proud and happy to be a student — the two do not need to be mutually exclusive. 

9. Being intentional with extracurricular activities is impressive

During my high school years, I took pride in having a schedule that was bursting at the seams. Being as busy as possible felt synonymous with success — and even my own importance. I have learned that being intentional with your involvement at the University is more impressive than filling it to the brim for the sake of a resumé boost. Learning to honor yourself, your time and your authentic interests will yield dividends far greater than that extra club meeting. 

10. Things can only get better

At risk of sounding cliché, things truly get better. I had my fair share of struggles when I entered the University — even as a third-year, I still struggle at times. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that each year at the University has improved for me. Reconciling the height of my excitement about starting college with the reality that it is not always the dream image I created in my mind was difficult, but it has been a necessary part of my journey. It is my wish that we can all embrace highs and lows together, remembering that your experience at the University might look different than you imagined — and that is more than okay. 


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