College Freshmen Reflect On Their First Semester

Advice for high school seniors: trust the application process; manage time wisely in college; and temper your expectations.

College Freshmen Reflect On Their First Semester (Avery Stallings)

College can be a daunting time for first-year students. With the new school year comes a multitude of adjustments, from moving away from home to an entirely different environment and a new sense of freedom.

Four college freshmen discussed their changing expectations, the transition from high school to college, their favorite parts of the first semester and valuable advice they would pass on to high schoolers.

Katie Traw and Avery Stallings attend Emerson College as Visual Media Arts and Theater & Performance majors, respectively. Ian Brown is a business major at Loyola Marymount University and Leo Tesler is a journalism major at Northwestern University.

For Brown and Traw, most of their college expectations have been met. Traw noted that Emerson in particular has many students who are passionate about their respective fields.

“I didn’t really plan on going to an art school, so it was really cool to come here and be like, ‘Everyone has their own thing and is really good at it,’” Traw said. “A lot of things did meet my expectations, especially because I have an older sibling in college, so I kind of knew what to expect in that way.”

Tesler, however, had his expectations flipped on arrival in Evanston, Illinois.

“My initial expectations were that college would be a spontaneous, fun environment where you learn things you want to learn, instead of high school where it’s all structured for you,” Tesler said. “[As far as how they’ve changed], I’m spending more time doing work and alone than I thought I would be, and it’s a lot of effort to build and develop new friendships.”

Stallings also had ideas of what she thought college would be like. 

“Being a theater and performance major, I hoped it would be the weird group of people that I’m used to, but it’s even better than I thought. It’s been more accepting, a little less stereotypical crazy, but it’s been really comforting and nice,” she said.

All four said the transition to college life had its easy moments but was equally challenging. Brown stayed in the state while Stallings, Traw and Tesler moved to other parts of the country.

“I was mentally prepared to be homesick for the whole first month, but it was a lot easier. It relieved a lot of my stress being in the city, being at Emerson, and being with friends,” Stallings said.

Tesler said, “[It was] easy in the fact that I had been to seven-week sleepaway camps before, so living away from my parents didn’t bother me. The hard part was figuring out how everything works here: how is my day going to look like? Who are my friends going to be? What do I do after class? It’s just so different from anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s so different from high school, COVID or not.”

“Coming from the west coast, people will be like, ‘The culture is so different [on the east coast]’, and it is…You might hear that people aren’t as nice here, but they are nice if you give them a chance,” Traw said.  “There [are] a lot of similarities, so it’s not too crazy.”

Academically speaking, the adjustment in workload was noticeably different for each of them. All came from rigorous high school curriculums, but the spectrum of their individual college course loads has changed.

“My high school was notorious for having a huge workload,” Tesler said. “In some ways, my college workload is even less, because I’m not having class every day. It’s more on a weekly basis, where they’ll assign you stuff at the beginning of the week, and you have that week to get it done. It’s nice.”

“It’s actually pretty similar for me,” said Traw. “My high school was a college prep school, so they knew how to set it up in that way. What’s interesting in how college is set up is that it’s up to you to find time to do [your tasks]. You have a lot more free time in college that you have to learn how to work with.”

Brown, Traw, Stallings and Tesler agreed that the best parts of college have been the people and opportunity to meet new friends.

“The experiences and the late nights with people have been the most enjoyable part,” Brown said.

“It’s being surrounded by people who make me feel like I can be myself. It’s just so different from Mississippi that everything is really exciting. I go outside every day and can’t believe I live here and go to this school,” Stallings said.

“Finally settling in and having a group of people I like and getting to know them on a deeper level,” Traw added.

“For me, it’s the unlimited access to sporting events that I get,” Tesler said. “Anytime I want, I can go to a football game, men’s or women’s basketball, soccer, all that. It’s a great and easy way to hang out with people.”

Aside from their professors, college has taught the group a multitude of important life lessons.

“College is what you make it,” Brown mentioned. “The experience you have is solely up to you, and if you’re not having fun, it’s on you.”

“Take care of yourself,” Traw said. “It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the work you have to do, especially as finals are happening right now. It’s super easy to get caught up and stressed with all of that. There’s going to be times where you need to just stop and think about what you need to do for your mind and body, so that you can get through it.”

“Figure out what’s going to make you feel good throughout the week, and incorporate it into your schedule,” she continued.

As far as advice for current seniors, they all advise to trust the application process, and in college, time management is critical.

“The school, I would hope, ends up being as good of a fit as Emerson is for me,” Stallings said. “It’s really one of my favorite things about my life right now, is how much this has worked out.”

“It’s not going to be an easy transition at first,” Traw said. “There’s going to be a bunch of bumps in the road, but you’ve got to have faith that it’s going to work out in the end. Your hard work is going to be worth it.”

Brown said, “The best advice is to have great time management skills. Additionally, make sure you’re around all different types of people who are like minded but also diverse.”

Tesler recommends that high school seniors temper their expectations.

“People who have been in college tend to brag about how it’s the best four years of your life, but don’t expect that right away,” Tesler said. There are growing pains. Instead of feeling like you’re not experiencing college correctly, give it some time and you might experience those things you’ve been told about.”

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