When I was a freshman, I was one of those types who wanted to do everything. For me, this was a great idea. I’m one of those types who fixates on one hobby per week. (This week is knitting, in case you were wondering.) What this ended up doing was helping me tailor my interests and focus throughout college. I later on picked up two minors in addition to my major, and some of the groups I joined as a freshman I am still in to this day. It also made me way, way cooler. (See Exhibit A on the left)
So what’s the secret to this lifestyle?
1. Does it sound fun? Try it. Does it sound not fun? Try it anyway.
If you had asked 17-year-old me what I thought about business, my answer would have been “Pfft. I’m going to law school.” That is, until I gave it a shot. The idea to pick up a business minor did not even dawn on me until second semester of my sophomore year. It sounded complicated and frustrating and, most of all, boring. My suspicions were only correct to an extent. While there were parts of business I could never find joy in, I realized that I really liked marketing and could easily apply it to my political science major. I learned a lot from my business classes that I could add to other classes, and vice versa.
2. Take classes outside of your major. Lots of them.
When it comes to math and the sciences, I am helpless. Equations that are supposed to be “soooo easy, Tracy!” usually don’t make sense to me, and I end up coming up with some crazy, astronomical number that isn’t related to what I’m studying. But I pushed through my gen ed requirements like I was supposed to and ended up pleasantly surprised with my grades. This encouraged me to take other classes that weren’t necessarily focused on what I was learning. After taking a religion class, I realized that something that was a huge part of my life could easily become something I actively studied in college. And so my religion minor was born. So don’t be so cynical with the “I’m never going to use this class in my life” line that a lot of people apply to gen eds. You might be proven wrong. In fact, most of the time, you will be proven wrong.
3. Join as many organizations your first year as you can.
I know you might think you don’t have time in college. In reality, more often than not, you do, especially in your freshman year. When I started off at IWU, I joined everything from a jazz ensemble to a Christian organization to a swing dance club. As the years go on, it’s harder to find time for stuff like that in your schedule, and if you start earlier, you can quickly get a better idea of which of those clubs you’d like to be a part of in the long run. So if it fits in your schedule, do it.
4. Start volunteering or interning
I’m sure you’ve heard that idea over and over again already, but it really is great advice. I started my first internship the summer after my freshman year, and I am so grateful that I did that early in my college career. I was able to get other opportunities because of my work experience, and because of some life situations my sophomore year, I was not able to handle a full-time internship that following summer. So if you for sure have a free couple of months, make sure you make the most of it. You never know if you’ll have that opportunity next year.
5. Get to know your professors
My professors are the best. I’m not just saying that. IWU is blessed with faculty members who truly care about their students, both in and out of the classroom. So don’t neglect the opportunity they give you to stop by their office hours. I would not have been able to survive tougher college courses if I didn’t have one of my professors teach me how to write more concisely. And I definitely would not have had as much confidence in my work either. So make time to do that! They really aren’t that scary. I promise.
6. Make your own life
At the end of the day, it’s up to you how to live your life. One of the most important things I learned in the last year is that what works for someone else may not work for you. While I absolutely encourage students to push their limits and realize that they can do even more than they’re doing right now, I’m a proponent of being honest with yourself. If you’re not living in a way you’re happy with, change something. And when all of your work is done, make time for yourself. You’ll go crazy otherwise. Trust me.
Freshman year is probably the most important year of your college experience. If you don’t have a good foundation, the other three years you spend at IWU will be more stressful than need be. This is the perfect year for trying new things, learning the hard way, and making mistakes. So make the most of it!