Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 30, 2023

What I wish I knew freshman year

By JOSH FELTON | August 30, 2023



Felton gives incoming freshmen advice he wishes he had his freshman year.

Freshman year of college is a thrilling experience. As you begin this new chapter of life, you’ll be bombarded with opinions, expectations and responsibilities. Looking back, there are several crucial lessons and insights that many students wish they had known before stepping foot on campus. 

Embrace change and adaptability

Let’s be honest. College is often both nerve-wracking and exciting, because you are leaving an environment you’ve been accustomed to for 18 years. Transitioning from high school to college is a major life shift, especially if you go to college out of state. You'll find yourself in an unfamiliar environment with new people, routines and expectations. 

Embrace change and be open to adaptability. To do this, you have to know yourself. I’m not saying you have to know what you want to do with your future, but that you should implement a routine that works for you. Are you a morning person or a night person? What activities meant the most to you growing up that you hope to continue? 

Understand that it's normal to feel uncertain and homesick at first, but there’s nothing stopping you from making college your new home, because it will be for the next four years. Give yourself time to adjust, and remember that oftentimes growth occurs outside your comfort zone.

Seek a balance between academics and social life

Hopkins is not an easy school, academically. There will be late nights studying. It’s a part of life, but it isn’t something that should intimidate you. College is not just about reading books in Brody Learning Commons (BLC); it's also about forming lasting connections and creating unforgettable memories. 

It’s important to take time to have a social life. At the end of your time at college, you will want to reflect on the good times you had, so make the most of it. Go explore Baltimore with your friends. 

Time management is key

Perhaps the biggest thing I realized in my first year of college was how much free time I had in comparison to high school. For me, going from high school, where I was in class from 7 a.m.–2 p.m. and extracurriculars from 2–6 p.m., to college, where some days I’m done with classes by noon, is a massive adjustment. What do you do with all that extra time? 

I’m not going to give you a specific answer here, because, truthfully, it’s all up to you what you do in your spare time. Understand, however, that one of the most significant challenges in college is managing your time effectively. Unlike high school, college courses demand more independent studying and self-discipline. Avoid procrastination (I’m still guilty of this at times), as it can quickly lead to incredible stress. 

College will be demanding, and it's normal to feel overwhelmed at times, but managing the free time that you have will help alleviate some of this stress. 

Explore different academic and career paths

I realized late in my senior year of high school that I wanted to pursue sports journalism as a career. Choosing Hopkins was initially a massive leap of faith, since we don’t have a journalism major here. During my freshman and sophomore year, I spent a lot of time exploring different classes and majors that I could possibly pursue. 

The bottom line is that it’s perfectly normal to be undecided, and it's okay to explore different academic disciplines. There is no timeline for when you have to have life figured out. Some of your friends and classmates may have their paths figured out, but that shouldn’t discourage or rush you into making a decision you aren’t comfortable with. Take diverse courses and talk to professors and upperclassmen about their experiences. Your interests and passions might evolve during college, so give yourself the space to discover your true calling.

Prioritize self-care and mental health

Amid the excitement and challenges of college life, don't forget to prioritize self-care and mental health. There will be an article in Cover Letter that addresses this in greater detail, but I will always emphasize that it is important that you take care of your well-being; it is fundamental to academic success and personal growth. Remember, you are a person first and a student second. When you are in the right state mentally and personally, everything else about college will feel much better.

Freshman year is a transformative period filled with valuable lessons and experiences. Even though it's impossible to predict what the next four years will be like, embracing change and seeking balance can significantly impact your college journey. Remember that it's okay to be uncertain. By fostering a growth mindset and being open to new possibilities, not only will you survive freshman year, but you'll also thrive in this exciting phase of life. 

College will fly by. In the blink of an eye, it’ll be over, so, seize opportunities, learn from challenges and make the most out of this extraordinary time!

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