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    An Inside Look at Freshman Year

    Student leaders offer advice for making the most of your freshman year.

    Interviews by Ann Swindell

    Freshman Year You know college will be different from high school. But just how different? Will studies be as hard as you've heard they'll be? What is dorm life going to be like?

    To find out, Christian College Guide talked to five college seniors who have various leadership responsibilities on their respective campuses. It is our hope that their insights and advice will not only help you adjust to life on campus, but also help you get the most out of your college experience.

    In the weeks before you left for college, what did you expect college to be like?

    Paul: I wasn't at all sure what it was going to be like. I had visited Bryan only once before, so I felt more uncertainty than anything, but I was really excited about the school and felt like it would be a good fit for me.

    Abbie: I was really nervous leading up to leaving for college, because I didn't know anyone at the school I was going to. It was a mixture of apprehension and excitement about meeting new friends.

    Matt: Abilene Christian University has a program called the "Junior Scholars Program" that I participated in during the summer after my junior year of high school. I took classes on campus and lived in the dorms. There were only 30 of us, so it was different from actual college life, but I got a general feel for what the campus was like. So in a lot of ways, I just expected to unpack my bags for a little bit longer than I had before.

    Is there anything you wish you'd known or done before leaving for college that would have helped you better prepare?

    Sara: It would have been really good if I had taken some college courses at a community college before I actually came to school. I didn't have to study much during my high school years, and then I came to college and had to study for everything! Not only would it have been nice to have had credits to transfer in, but I would have had a better understanding of how intense college was before I got there.

    Abbie: For me, I wish I had known about the space in the dorms and about how much to take and how much not to take. I felt like I brought so much stuff and had no place to put it!

    Chelsea: Me too. I wish I would have packed differently. I overpacked and when I got to school, I was like, Not all of this is going to fit in my room!

    How was college different from high school?

    Abbie: I went to a public high school, so the second I walked onto a Christian campus it was a totally different world—night and day. The whole atmosphere is different. For instance, I had never heard a prayer in high school and my very first class in college my professor prayed. That was amazing.

    Matt: I went to a public high school, and what I noticed the most is that ACU is a predominantly white university and in my high school I had friends from all kinds of backgrounds. It helped when I got involved in a group on campus called LYNAY—"Love Your Neighbor As Yourself"—which encourages community service through promoting cultural diversity.

    Chelsea: For me, it was a size difference. Coming from a big city, I graduated from high school with almost 800 people in my class, and the entire student population at Central is under 400. The size of the school and the town was a lot smaller than where I grew up, so the environment was a big change.

    Sara: The switch to dorm life for me was a very big change. It took me awhile to get used to living with a roommate every day. We had completely different upbringings, but my RA (resident assistant) helped me realize that those differences can help me grow. And they did. During the year, we found our groove and figured out how to live together.

    With all of these differences to adjust to, who helped you make the transition into college?

    Chelsea: My resident assistant helped me out a lot. When I got homesick, she prayed with me and reassured me that everything would be OK. I would encourage incoming freshmen to spend time getting to know your RAs, because they can be a big help to you. I'm an RA now, and we're not out to get you; we're here to help you grow spiritually.

    Paul: My RA was important to me as well, but being an RA now I know that RAs can't connect really deeply with every single person on their floors. I try to be available and pursue relationships with the guys I can. But if new students want to benefit from a relationship with their RA, they should pursue that relationship.

    Matt: Faculty and other staff on campus are great resources for new students. Mark Lewis, the director of spiritual life, has been really influential in my life. I met him during my freshman year and he's become both a mentor and friend to me. I would encourage other freshmen to get to know adults on campus. They can offer a lot of wise advice because they've seen a lot. They've seen what's worked and what hasn't worked for other students, and they're really looking out for your welfare.

    After you started getting settled, how did you go about finding and choosing friends?

    Finding friends at college. Sara: The major thing not to do is to hang with a certain group because they're "popular" people on campus—that's what a lot of students want to do because of the old high school mentality. Good friends are the ones who help you grow, and those are the people you want to be around. I also believe we should put ourselves around encouraging people.

    Matt: Before you spend much time thinking about choosing friends, it's important to figure out who you are. Knowing who you are, and who you want to be, will help you pick the right kind of friends. Not that you can't have any friends until you do this. But in the process of making friends, it's important to explore your own personal values and interests, seeking to understand how you fit into your new college community.

    Paul: You know, I think the best thing guys can do is to intentionally find some good guys and become friends with them. It might feel easier to become friends with girls or to form friendships with whoever is just around you, but I think it's important to get close with some good guys. Those are the relationships that will really last.

    Speaking of guys and girls, what's dating like on campus?

    Abbie: During the first semester, all of the freshmen want to start dating right away. But take your time! With all of the intensity and emotions in those first weeks of school, relationships can "seem right" because everybody around you is a Christian and you think that will make any relationship work. But don't rush into a relationship. I'm not saying "don't date," because I've dated in college and it's been a blast. Just give yourself time to meet people and don't limit yourself to one guy or one girl. If you enter into an "exclusive relationship," it's easy to cut yourself off from other relationships. It's easy to forget there's a whole other world going on around you. You need time to adjust.

    Chelsea: Yeah, don't date the first guy you find who is cute. During those early weeks, it's too easy to get infatuated with one another and then date for two weeks and then realize the other person isn't good for you. A lot of relationships happen in the first two weeks and fall apart.

    Matt: Get to know people as friends first, because when you date, you see the best side of someone. When you're friends, you see both sides of them, good and bad. And a friendship can grow into a romantic relationship if it has a solid friendship behind it. Besides, I have learned so much from my female friends. I'm sure I wouldn't have learned these things if I had approached them with the intention of starting a "romantic relationship."

    Paul: I went into college thinking I would not date my first year, but then I ended up dating about halfway through the second semester. But it started as a friendship and we had a lot of respect for each other. People we respected said our relationship was a good thing. Still, I'd say go in to college not expecting to date for quite a while. If you go in looking to date, you'll probably find a relationship but it won't be what you want.

    How did you handle the college workload?

    Abbie: The workload is definitely much heavier in college than it is in high school. Be ready to work hard. For me, handling the workload means I'm doing homework every single day. It means going to the library, it means turning off the TV, it means closing my door. I've learned that I just have to go to the library and get my work done. Living on a floor with 24 other girls who always want to do something fun means that I have to be intentional about finishing my homework.

    Paul: I was homeschooled, so the biggest change for me was getting used to the classroom setting. I did fine, but it was just something new and different for me. There was one funny experience I had, though. I remember around the second week of school, I was still adjusting to the classroom environment and our teacher announced a pop quiz. I started to scan through the notes on my computer as I held the quiz in my hand and then I realized I was cheating. In my head I was like, Oh no! I'm cheating! My first quiz and I'm cheating! So I put my computer away really quickly and took the quiz!

    Sara: For me it was that I had to teach myself how to study. I hadn't needed to study much in high school, and then when I came to college I realized I have a short attention span. I learned that I couldn't study for long periods of time, so now flash cards are my thing. The study methods that worked for half of my dorm didn't work for me; I had to learn how to study the way that worked best for me.

    What would you say is the most important thing for a new student to understand about college studies?

    Chelsea: Time management is the most important thing. If you manage your time well, you'll end up having time to do some things you'd like to do. Let's say your friends drop by and ask you to see a movie with them. If you've planned ahead and finished your studies, you'll have no problem joining them.

    Paul: I found that it works to have a clear divide between my study time and my hang-out time. If I can devote a good hour or two to studying, I get more done and have more fun than trying to do both at once. Then you can focus and work hard and later enjoy the freedom of the rest of the evening.

    Abbie: Overall, I think the most important thing for an incoming freshman to understand is that we are at college to get an education. I think a lot of the time people forget that. It doesn't mean you should lock yourself in the library, but you're not there for the social life and then academics on the side. I think the main focus needs to be getting a degree for the future.

    What are your thoughts about getting involved in extracurricular activities?

    Chelsea: Before I joined anything, I took time to find out about a lot of different groups on campus. I wanted to find out where I could really contribute and be committed to. So my encouragement to new freshmen: Join a group or club you'll be committed and dedicated to. You've got to be there wholeheartedly or you shouldn't be there at all. Also, you're not going to do anything to the best of your ability unless it's something you want to do.

    Sara: After a month on campus, I got involved in a traveling drama ministry team. It was almost too much right away, because I had a hard time balancing schoolwork and my social life. It's great to get involved on campus because you get to know people, but it would probably be better to start with a lower commitment level than I did.

    Abbie: I was a biology major when I started my freshman year, which was a lot of work, so I waited to get involved in extracurricular stuff. You have to find the right balance between your studies and your activities. I don't think I really got involved until I'd been in school for a full semester. So I don't think waiting to get involved is a bad thing to do. Those clubs will still be there next year. It's so easy to jump into everything and then struggle because you can't possibly do everything you've committed to.

    What's the difference between a student who thrives on campus and one who just survives?

    Matt: For me, the difference has been about realizing that life is not about me. I could shut myself off and get my degree and leave, but I don't think that's what I'm made for. You thrive on campus because you're involved in building relationships and growing in community with those around you.

    Paul: I think a lot of it comes down to the people you let influence you. A lot of students who are respected on campus have built mentoring relationships with faculty and staff.

    Chelsea: I think the difference is in what you really desire. If you desire to have a great college experience, you're going to do things to make it that way. But if you just want to go to college and get your degree and move on to your career, it's going to be boring.

    Abbie: You'll thrive if you just put yourself out there and make yourself vulnerable and be a part of the campus community.

    If you could give one piece of advice to an incoming freshman, what would you say?

    Matt: I think about the word "love" in 1 Corinthians 13, and the definition of love as Jesus says in John 15:13. Remember that all of the knowledge you can gain in college is meaningless without love. Loving others may require sacrifice, pain and some nights where you lose sleep, but in the end there is a lot of joy and true fulfillment in giving yourself to others.

    Sara: Soak in every single moment! If you focus only on your studies you'll never truly experience the social aspect. But if you're lazy and you don't work, you'll flunk out. I'm not an academic person; I'm a people person. But I have learned to really appreciate my classes.

    Chelsea: Know that you're at your specific college because God wants you there. Just be obedient to him, be who he has made you to be and do the right thing to please him and not people. If you try to please people, you're going to be disappointed every time. And then? Well, just have fun at college!

    Abbie: It's essential to be willing and open to what people are going to pour into you and what you can pour into people.

    Paul: Being at a Christian college isn't going to guarantee anything as far as your personal faith goes. It's important to know you're not going to be spoon-fed your spirituality. You need to discipline yourself and get involved. The purpose of education isn't just to know stuff, but to live differently because of what you know—to apply wisdom to your everyday life. Take things to heart and start living differently during your years at college. If you start living differently as a result of new knowledge and wisdom you gain as a student, you will probably continue to do so for the rest of your life.