By Madison Gillespie
Dear Freshman Me,
I cannot believe how far we’ve come! It seems like just yesterday I was you, entering the University of Illinois with a burst of butterflies in my stomach, anxious but thrilled to start my journey as a college student. Now, with soon to be seven semesters of college behind me, I enjoy looking back with a smile and pride over how much I have learned and grown so far. Over how far you, Freshman Self, have come since those early days in the dorms!
That being said, there are so many things I know now that I wish I could have taught you three years ago – hence, the purpose of this letter. If there is anything I would want to tell you, Freshman Self, it would be this:
1.) You don’t – and I repeat, don’t – need to bring so much stuff to college.
I know what you’re thinking, and before you object, I will admit that this is something we still struggle with. But that being said… the way you somehow managed to fit ninety-nine percent of your wardrobe and an excessive amount of decorations into your box of a dorm room was not worth the hassle. The stack of novels you started reading over the summer and swore to finish them all during college? You didn’t finish any of them. The shirt you were unsure about bringing because of how fragile it was, but insisted on having “just in case?” You only wore it once, if at all. If there is any one piece of advice I can emphasize, Freshman Self, it’s this: if you have any doubts about taking something to college, then don’t bring it. In the end, you will survive without whatever it is, and it will take so much unnecessary stress out of your routine. When you have less stuff to account for, it will make cleaning your room and getting ready for the day easier, and you will be able to more fully appreciate what you do have.
2.) Develop better eating habits; you’ll be much happier in the long run!
Adjusting to dorm life does take time. Mapping out how to get to each class when your dorm is a twenty-minute walk from the Main Quad involves a bit of a learning curve, especially when it comes to mastering the bus routes. However, this should never involve cutting corners in order to make it to class on time. Compromising on too many meals in order to catch the bus will lead to very poor eating habits and lots of unneeded stress later on. Three years later, I can confirm that there absolutely is time to have a balanced breakfast and get to lecture with plenty of time to spare – you just thought it would somehow be impossible. At the end of the day, your health and wellbeing must always come first. Your body needs fuel to run properly, and your productivity and happiness will be monumentally higher with the proper nutrients.
3.) Apartment life is amazing.
Trying to maximize space in a tiny dorm, as mentioned before, is a challenge. It’s cramped, it’s stressful, and having to live out of the equivalent of half a shoebox can make you long for your bedroom back home. However, it does get better, way better. The difference becomes astronomical when you settle into an apartment after freshman year. While apartment living comes, as expected, with its own sets of considerations and challenges, the benefits make it all worth it. You will finally have a private bedroom to call your own; in-unit laundry; no communal hall bathrooms; a real kitchen; and much more room to breathe. Just make do with your lofted bed a little bit longer!
4.) Study smarter, not harder.
This is advice that I continue to follow today. Your grades are absolutely important, and the work ethic you establish freshman year will pay off later on. The sooner you can instill good study habits, the easier it will be to manage your time, get your work done, and keep building on these best practices. But, you also cannot overwork yourself in college either. As easy as it is to devote full nights to getting ahead on homework, making flashcards for exams, and becoming glued to your seat at the library, you are going to burn yourself out sooner or later. And when you do have so many assignments, projects, and tests to balance, you realistically cannot afford to devote multiple hours a night to any one thing. Try to focus on quality over quantity during your study sessions as soon as you can. Keep an eye on the clock and budget intervals of time in which to complete certain tasks, making sure to incorporate enough breaks in between to keep yourself refreshed and productive.
5.) But above all, make sure to take enough time for yourself.
In relation to the previous point of advice, it is so monumentally important to prioritize your own wellbeing as much as any homework assignment. Find time each day to step away from your textbooks and overflowing GroupMe chats to do something you love. Maybe that something is journaling, watching YouTube videos or Netflix, or even just finding time to fit in a power nap. Expecting yourself to solely devote your time to school isn’t realistic, as you will likely grow tired and struggle to keep up with your responsibilities. So always make sure happiness is always written on the top of your to-do list. Take care of yourself first, and you will find that everything ultimately falls into place.