By Dana Chamberlain.
College was hard for me. I came in not really knowing what I wanted to do and am graduating still not fully knowing what’s next for me. But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the past four years at UConn, it’s that success isn’t linear. Some people enter college knowing exactly what they want to do, never change their mind, and end up happy in a successful career. Other people spend many years trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do, trying out a bunch of different paths until stumbling upon something they love. So, all of this is to say, you don’t need to know exactly who you are and what you want to do at 18 or even at 22. The most important thing is that you never stop learning or growing. Things will hopefully fall into place when you are honest with yourself about what you want in life and put in the work to get it.
As I reflect on my time here at UConn, there are a few things I wish I fully understood earlier on. To the incoming first-year class, here are some things I wish I knew my first year:
Mental health above all
I am no stranger to depression and anxiety. I know how hard it can be to get out of bed when all you want to do is sleep the day away or to work on an assignment when your mind is elsewhere. Trying to stay on top of your academics while maintaining friendships, participating in extracurricular activities, and worrying about your future can be really overwhelming and stressful.
At the end of the day, you are not a robot and can only do so much. It is so unbelievably important to put your mental wellbeing first. Take time each day to care for yourself and rest. Set boundaries when you can. If you have a ton of assignments all due on the same day and know you won’t be able to finish it all without depriving yourself of sleep, reach out to your professors to see if you can get a deadline extension. Or if you agreed to hang out with a friend on the weekend but are feeling drained after a particularly hard week, text them to see if you can hang out another time. Most people will understand as long as you communicate with them and are honest about when you think you can get things done.
UConn has quite a few resources to help you out too. You can reach out to SHaW-Mental Health for counseling services, the Dean of Students Office to receive extra academic support, and the Center for Student Disabilities to receive housing and/or academic accommodations to support any learning differences or different abilities you might be have. And don’t underestimate the value of a friend who is a good listener! You’re not alone and you will get through this!
Grades are important, but not as important as you might think
Grades are important, so you should try to attend all class sessions, develop good study habits, go to office hours, make friends with your classmates, form study groups, and reach out to your professor with any concerns you might have. However, your grades don’t define you, and one bad grade isn’t the end of the world. It’s more important that you continue to improve throughout the semester and your college career and develop good relationships with your professors.
If you’re worried about future jobs or graduate school, you can always explain why you received the grade you did in a cover letter or interview (whether it’s because you were attending to a personal issue or math just isn’t your strong suit, for example.) Also, having formed good relationships with your professor means that they can vouch for you when you need it. Ultimately, letters of recommendation speak louder than grades.
I know that everyone says this, but it’s so important to get involved. College is supposed to be fun! Go to the Involvement Fair each semester and sign up for any and all clubs that interest you. I met so many cool people through attending club meetings and events. Getting involved helps you make friends, learn more about your interests, and feel connected to your campus.
I didn’t really understand how important networking was until my junior year. Job hunting can be rough. Sometimes a familiar face is all you need to get your foot in the door. So, develop good relationships with your professors, TAs, advisors, mentors, classmates, coworkers, etc. You never know who might know of a great opportunity for you or who can speak highly of you in spaces you don’t have access to.
Be open to trying new things and take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. I applied to a summer research program for undergraduates (REU) my freshman year on a whim and got in. Now, I’ve been doing research for three years, have had so many doors opened for me, and am planning on a career in research. You never know what could come from saying “yes!”
UConn has a lot to offer. Reading “The Daily Digest” every day is a great way to find out about what’s happening on campus.
Be your own advocate
Last but not least, it’s important to be your own advocate. With so many students on campus, sometimes your professor or advisor won’t notice that you’re struggling. Ask for what you need. Reach out. Remember: closed mouths don’t get fed.