3 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting My Freshman Year of College

Hint: Doing this in high school gives you options (and saves your wallet) once you’re at campus.

Danielle Isenberg, an undergraduate student at University of Pittsburgh, pictured in front of the Cathedral of Learning. She shares her top 3 things she wished she had known before going to college.

Hey! My name’s Danielle, and I’m currently an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. And yes, that photo is of me cheesin’ too hard in front of the Cathedral of Learning, one of my school’s main academic buildings. I can confidently say that I am really happy with my college experience so far. Not everything is 100 percent perfect (after all, nothing is), because trying to make the most of your time here can be stressful.

That noted, college can include some of the best times of your life, especially if you take these tips into account beforehand.

Here, 3 things I wished my younger self would have realized earlier:

1. How important is it to prepare in high school

We all know your standard test scores impact your ability to attend certain schools, but there is so much more that affects your college experience. For example, it wasn’t until I met with my college advisor that I realized how important my AP scores would be. I was fortunate enough to come into school with enough AP credits to allow me either to graduate an entire semester early or to spread out my classes into smaller course loads. This allowed me the flexibility to decide whether I wanted to save a lot of money in tuition or to have less hectic semesters so I could use my free time to build my resume through internships or jobs.

For me, I was able to spread out more courses and use my free time to pursue not one but two internships at the same time. These internships teach me far more than I learn in class and really makes my resume stand out.

Also, your work ethic in high school can wildly impact your college success. College courses are notoriously more intense, and if you aren’t ready for them, it can be extremely intimidating and stressful. However, if you cultivate a strong work ethic in high school, your transition will be a lot smoother and less stressful. This will ultimately allow you to enjoy your time in college more.

2. There’s more than academics when choosing a school

Even if your university is academically strong, if you don’t like its culture or are extremely burdened by expensive tuition fees, your academic performance and sanity can suffer.

It’s common knowledge that companies have unique corporate cultures—and so do universities. Even if your university is very academically strong, if you don’t like the university’s culture, or are extremely burdened by expensive tuition fees, your academic performance (and sanity) can suffer.

That’s why I can’t stress enough how important it is to tour the university or talk to other students currently enrolled. You want to be in an environment you are comfortable in and enjoy, and if you aren’t, it can fog your academic drive.

I was lucky because I loved my school from the very first day of orientation. However, not everyone is this lucky. In fact, two of my roommates are transfer students. The reason they decided to transfer? Because they just felt extremely out of touch with their university’s culture.

In addition, at the end of the day, there are costs associated with attending college. If you are constantly stressed about how you are going to manage these costs, it can consume you. Make sure to choose a college that makes sense for you financially. Because, at the end of the day, what you do with your degree is ultimately far more important than where you get it from.

3. Embrace the change

Going to university will be a crazy life change. It may involve moving to a whole new city, or even state, and living by yourself for the first time in your life. However, even if you are a commuter student, it will be vastly different from your high school experience.

For me, this change meant learning how to make mistakes. I can’t even begin to count the number of mistakes I made during my first few months as a freshman. From accidentally shrinking my clothes in the dryer to getting completely lost on city buses, if there was a silly mistake to be made, I succeeded in making it.

That being said, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the change. But I encourage you to embrace it and learn to love uncertainty. Because along with all the unknown comes a lot of opportunities.