Lessons From My First Semester at Vanderbilt
First of all, CONGRATULATIONS VANDERBILT CLASS of 2023! We’re so excited that you will be on campus in a short nine months and can’t wait for you to start your journey here. I know it seems like a long time until you throw your caps in the air, but try to enjoy your last semester of high school because it goes by so quickly.
Speaking of first and lasts, I recently finished my first semester at Vanderbilt. Yayy! Finals are over, Christmas is right around the corner, and the new year is on the horizon. I can’t believe how quickly it went; it feels like just yesterday I had no idea how to get to Rand. After reflecting on my first semester, I’ve come up with a list of things that I learned in the past few months and some general advice that I think would benefit other college freshmen.
OVERALL LIFE LESSONS:
- DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHER PEOPLE. They are not you, and you are not them: you are on your own journey. Especially at a school like Vanderbilt, you’re probably no longer the top of the class anymore and that’s totally fine. Your self value does not depend on your skills or intelligence – other things like your character are far more important.
- NOT EVERYONE IS HAPPY ALL THE TIME, AND IT’S OKAY IF YOU’RE NOT, EITHER. People are really good at pretending that everything is going splendidly, while they secretly are crying to their parents every night. With the rise of social media, it’s easy to think that everyone else’s lives are going fantastically, but college – especially the first semester – is tough, and everyone is going through their own struggles. Some are just better at hiding it at than others.
- IT’S OKAY IF YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING, BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE DOES EITHER. I really want to emphasize that college freshmen basically have no clue what they’re doing. Moving out on your own and living with a bunch of strangers in a new place is scary, challenging, and uncertain. You will make mistakes, be sad sometimes, and experience major growing pains. In the end, it’s all worth it, though, because you’re challenging yourself to experience new things and invest in your own future.
- REACH OUT FOR THE HELP YOU NEED. This semester was definitely hard for me: I struggled with difficult classes (shout out to Gen Chem and Multivariable Calc!), had to live alone for the first time, felt homesick, and experienced lots and lots of anxiety and insomnia! How fun! Fortunately, I was able to take advantage of some of the resources available on campus, which helped me to not only feel better but also figure out how to tackle my problems and gain some clarity. Remember, you’re not in this alone. The university wants to help you to succeed in any way possible.
Okay, okay. I’ve made college seem pretty hard, and it is, but it can also be really fun and a very special time of your life. Everyone is in it together, which creates a sort of shared understanding between people. Plus, you have your whole life ahead of you and you’re surrounded by a bunch of intelligent, kind, funny, and driven people. It’s pretty awesome.
SOCIAL LIFE ADVICE
- SAY HI, BE NICE, AND INVITE PEOPLE TO THINGS. Everyone wants to meet people and make friends during freshman year. You just need to put yourself out there; the only way to get to know people is to hangout with them. It may seem a little awkward, but everyone is waiting for someone else to do so. People are naturally drawn to those who put in the effort, so take the initiative!
- KNOW PEOPLES’ NAMES. Ask them a million times, and make it stick in your brain. Practice greeting them with their name, and clarify if you’ve forgotten. Don’t be embarrassed to. Chances are, they probably forget your name too. You meet a lot of people in college. (I’ve met people from Hawaii, Uzbekistan, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Nigeria, Taiwan…and from my hometown!)
- YOU DON’T REALLY KNOW PEOPLE YET. People will surprise you in good and bad ways. On one hand, you might not click with people who you want to befriend. On the other hand, you might connect with people who you’d never think to talk to. It’s confusing and weird, but it’s all part of the experience. Everyone is still trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be, and that’s totally fine.
- TRY TO HAVE MEANINGFUL CONVERSATIONS WITH PEOPLE. You will get tired of asking these same three questions: What’s your name? What’s your major? Where are you from? (Trust me, that’s literally ALL you ask people the first few weeks, or months, really). Having deeper conversations is really rewarding and can make you feel more connected! Finding people you can really talk to is worth it.
- GO OFF CAMPUS WHEN YOU CAN. There’s always something cool to do in Nashville with your friends if you are feeling stressed and just want to escape the bubble of college life once in a while. One awesome memory I have is going to the pedestrian bridge downtown with some of my friends from West House and taking a bunch of cool pictures! We went to the candy kitchen afterwards and took the bus back. And the concerts in Nashville are awesome. This semester I saw Beyonce for the freshman party and then Twenty One Pilots in October! I also tried out a bunch of different restaurants around campus, went to the water lantern festival at Centennial Park, and ate LOTS of sushi.
<– my view from twenty one pilots’ first date of their bandito tour
photoshoot at the pedestrian bridge in downtown Nashville —>
- A LITTLE CONTINUITY GOES A LONG WAY. Studying at least a little bit of one subject every day is way more efficient than cramming it all in at the end of the week. Chunking your studying also gives your brain a chance to say, hey, I remember doing this yesterday, instead of wait what’s a triple integral?
- ASK FOR HELP IF YOU NEED IT. I know I said this earlier, but that just means it’s doubly important. I went to my TA’s (teaching assistant) office hours for most of my classes and it was really helpful: I had one on one time with them and they helped me work through material I had trouble with. I also signed up for a tutor a few times and asked my friends to help me with difficult concepts. The nice thing about students here is that they are usually pretty willing to help you out, which I am so grateful for.
- SCHEDULE, SCHEDULE, SCHEDULE. You’ve heard it all before, but keep a calendar and plan how much you’ll do every day. Prioritize. Manage your time. Organize. Don’t procrastinate. ‘Nuff said. (Also I recommend the app tick tick for you digital planners. It’s amazing). If you do all these things, you may find you have more time than you think.
- IT’S OKAY IF YOU SWITCH YOUR MAJOR! (ONCE OR TWICE OR MANY TIMES). College is the perfect place to figure it all out. I personally came into college completely sure that I was going to be an engineer, and now I’m thinking of switching to neuroscience. The cool thing is that I have the opportunity to explore my interests and figure out who I want to be.
- LET GO OF PERFECTIONISM. It’s okay if you don’t get the same grades you did in high school. This is college now, and it’s a whole new field. Do your best, learn from your mistakes, and realize that you don’t have to be perfect.
one of my mind maps for PSY 3760 (mind and brain – a really cool cognitive neuroscience class) —>
I’ve really enjoyed my first semester here so far and think that Vanderbilt is definitely the right place for me. The community here has been amazing and I feel like the smaller size lets me get to know people on a more personal level (not just peers, but my teachers, faculty head of house, my RA’s, etc). School is tough but it’s pushed me to grow and made me think about the type of person I want to be. I’m looking forward to my second semester and am so glad to be home for a few weeks to just chill. Let me know if you have any questions about college life!
HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR :D
PS- YOU NEED TO SLEEP. JUST DO IT.