By Elizabeth Jones
The first year of college is a time of great change that can be daunting for many students. Adjusting to life away from home and the amount of newfound freedom is both exciting and a challenge to first-year students. Embracing college life is key to getting the most out of your experience, but it’s important not to neglect your responsibilities. I found that maintaining a school-life balance was especially important to success, and I wish I had learned that early on in my collegiate career. So, if I had the chance to write a letter to myself for when I first started at UIUC, here’s what I would tell her:
Dear first-year Elizabeth,
It’s taken a lot of hard work but you’re finally here, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign! These next few years, you’re going to learn so much more than you could’ve imagined. There’s a lot of thoughts racing through your mind right now and you’re feeling scared, excited, nervous, overwhelmed, optimistic and so many other emotions all at the same time. Starting life at a new school that has more students than there were people in your hometown can be intimidating, but you don’t need to worry. Even though it’s a big university, you will find your niche and create lasting friendships. You may struggle a bit making friends in the beginning as you bounce around a few RSOs trying to find one that works, but you’ll find one that is a great fit. You’ll also come to realize that a larger student population brings so much more culture and diversity that will help you become a more knowledgeable, empathetic, and well-rounded person. Coming to a large university will be an experience that you do not expect to love but will be very grateful for in the long run.
During your first year, you may have a hard time breaking out of your shell and assimilating to life at Illinois. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Explore your interests and see what else is available to you now that you’re at a big school. Develop a solid support system on campus and talk to your friends about your struggles. Don’t be afraid to go to the Counseling Center or McKinley Health to make sure you are in good physical and mental health. Connecting with these resources will actually help you find other people with similar interests and RSOs that help you realize your passion for mental health.
Look around and explore all the resources that Illinois has to offer and take advantage of them while you can. Go to the Illinois Abroad and Global Exchange office and see what opportunities exist for you. Talk to a peer advisor at the Life and Career Design Lab who will help you plan out your first few years at Illinois. Take the chance to study abroad as soon as you can, even if you think your third semester is too early. Sometimes things just work out, and in this instance, it definitely will (as it will be the only semester when you have the opportunity).
Take chances. Always go out on a limb and apply for that internship or position even if you don’t feel qualified. The worst thing that will happen is a no. Even if you didn’t decide to apply until the night before, there’s always a chance that your last-minute decision might work out in your favor. Do what interests you and get out of your comfort zone. Take classes solely because you like the topic, even if it’s not in your curriculum. It will help you realize that you want to change the major you started in and declare a double major in chemistry and psychology.
While you may be coming into college with no clear direction or plans for the future, somewhere along the way you will find your calling and learn who you are as a person and what you want to do with your life. You are coming into UIUC unsure if you’ll fit in and if the campus is right for you but trust me, it will be one of the best decisions you ever make. Don’t worry about the small things or have any regrets. Remember, sometimes things work out for the best in a way you never expect, so don’t resist the change.