Things I Wish I Knew as a Freshman
August 2, 2021

Freshman year can be extremely stressful, especially when you’re at such a huge school like the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. My high school was relatively small compared to most, so the transition from 1,500 students to over 30,000 students during my freshman year was not easy at first. Being a senior now and having had time to grow accustomed to campus, I’ve learned a few things about college and campus that I wish I had known my freshman year.

You can make the campus smaller.

Yes, U of I is a huge school, and the campus seems almost endless sometimes, especially when you first arrive. Because many of us haven’t had in-person classes yet, some first-year students might still not completely know their way around the campus, which is totally fine. I’m a senior, and I still sometimes have trouble finding my way around campus.

What I realize now that I didn’t know as a freshman, though, is that the campus really isn’t that big once you create or find your circle of friends. You can shape your own, unique college experience by joining different clubs, meeting people who are studying the same thing as you, or by finding a group of people in your dorm. These are all ways I made the campus smaller for me, and even though online classes might be making this a little more difficult,* you can still work on creating and building friendships to help make the campus seem a little smaller. If and when you have* in-person classes, you’ll be able to explore campus and different clubs even more.

You don’t have to have everything figured out your freshman year.

Some of your friends might already know exactly what they want to do as a career, but the truth is that most people have no idea what they want to do, or sometimes even major in, when they’re freshmen. I was in a major I wasn’t 100% sure about, but luckily after taking a few classes I realized I was in the right major for me. For a lot of people, however, that isn’t the case, which is totally fine because you don’t have to have everything figured out, especially if you’re a freshman. What I didn’t realize as a freshman was that I had so much more time to figure it out than I thought.

I have many friends who have changed their majors a few times, and one of the great things about U of I being a big school is you can easily switch majors if you figure out something isn’t for you. You can also easily minor in different areas if you want some background on other subjects as well, so you can really tailor your studies to exactly what you want.

So, don’t worry if you’re still unsure about what you want to study, and don’t be afraid to diversify your schedule so you can explore classes from a several different majors you’re considering.

You don’t have to have to find all your friends freshman year.

Making friends can be really difficult right now, and socializing and seeing my friends was definitely hard for me to do last year. Luckily, if you’re a freshman, you still have three more years to build friendships and live the college life you probably expected.

When I was a freshman, I didn’t really put myself out there or try to meet people other than my roommate and a few people on my floor in my dorm building. This really put a damper on my college experience, and I’ve now realized that a good college experience isn’t always going to magically appear. Sometimes you need to foster that experience by meeting new people, joining clubs, and getting out of your comfort zone. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I really went out of my way to make friends and talk to the people in my classes, and now I have a really great group of friends who have been a huge reason why I love my college experience.

Of course, meeting new people is not the easiest thing to do right now but getting to know some of the people in your classes, even if they’re online, is a great way to put yourself out there if you can’t really physically meet someone. 

College is full of lessons, both academic and personal, and these are just a few of the things I learned later in college that I wished I had known as a freshman. Though this year may not be normal, hopefully these tips will help college feel a little more normal.

Carolina Garibay, is a senior majoring in journalism and minoring in public relations and Spanish. She is a writing intern in ACES’ Office of Marketing and Communications.

*Visit the university’s COVID site for the most current student COVID guidelines.