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5 Unorthodox Tips for College Freshmen

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My first week of college at North Carolina State University was one of the most nervous and exciting times in my life.

It included everything from meeting tons of new people, decorating my dorm, finding my classes on campus, and not to mention the millions of free t-shirts I seemed to receive.

But during a time of change and unfamiliarity, things can get blurry. You’ve heard people tell you to be yourself and do your best, but let’s take that a step further.

Here are 5 tips you’ve probably never heard of for first-year college students:

1. The First People You Meet Don’t Have To Be Your Best Friends

The beginning of college is a social flurry. Starting on on move-in day, everyone’s talking in the elevators and meeting their new hall-mates. Then, slowly but surely, people start to clique up and go to the dining halls together and walk in groups to their classes. And this is fine. But, in the midst of all of t his chaos, there’s a certain amount of pressure to “find your people.”

Don’t feel scared or intimidated if no one strikes your fancy just yet. I found my true friends from joining clubs and organizations that interested me. I met one of my best friends through giving tours on campus and the other through teaching fitness classes. Joining clubs and organizations gives you the opportunity to surround yourself with like-minded people. So, don’t stress if you don’t find people that interest you during that first week of school. Join clubs that interest you and you’ll meet people with similar passions.

How Jessica Ekstrom is curing cancer with headbands.
How Jessica Ekstrom is fighting cancer with headbands.

2. You Are Not Your Academic Department

College isn’t necessarily about becoming an expert; it’s about becoming a professional. Being a professional doesn’t mean you have to excel in only one specific area. I studied Communications, but when I started my company during my junior year, I worked with all different areas of the university to help me get started.

The business school helped me create a business plan, obtain a tax ID and a business license. The textile school helped me find a manufacturer. Graphic Design students taught me Photoshop so I could build my website. I used every area of campus to help get my questions answered.

Just because you’re studying one specific major, doesn’t mean you can’t get your feet wet in other departments.

The secret skill you're not being taught in college but need to know before you graduate.
The secret skill you’re not being taught in college but need to know before you graduate.

3. Your Professional Career Starts Now

One of the biggest mistakes college students can make is thinking that their professional careers doesn’t begin until the day they graduate or the day they find a job. Your professional career starts the moment you set foot on campus.

Don’t wait until your junior or senior year to do internships or shadow professionals in your college town. People might try to tell you they’re looking for someone with more “experience,” but the way you gain experience is by putting yourself out there. Whether it’s on campus working in the admissions office or off campus interning at an accounting firm, stack up your credentials with transferable skills that you can apply to the workplace. Interview whenever you can, sit in on meetings, network with university staff or contribute to the school newspaper. Once it’s time to actually apply for jobs and do interviews, it won’t be your first rodeo and the employer will notice that.

Francis Lam copy
We asked, they answered. How 5 college students chose their universities.

4. It’s Okay If You Don’t Know What You Want To Do.

It can be intimidating to hear your roommate talk about how she knew she wanted to be an aerospace engineer since that day she was born (and if that’s the case, she’s definitely exaggerating). It’s totally okay to not know what you want to do when you arrive on campus.

Find out if your school has a first-year program for students who are unsure what direction they want to go. Or, instead of picking a direction with uncertainty, take general education classes that can be applied to anything.  

You probably won’t have your “aha” moment by Googling “dream careers” (but you never know so check this out). Instead, figure out how you can touch the surface of many different careers. You could do this through seminars on campus, shadowing local businesses, or even just talking to friends and family about their professional jobs.

Also, always know that no experience is a waste. There will always be room in your life to change directions. Whatever you choose now, you don’t have to be locked into forever.


5. College Isn’t The Best Four Years Of Your Life

You’ve probably heard dozens of times to enjoy college because it’s the best four years of your life. I disagree. If you play your cards right, you can use your time in college to create a foundation for the best years of your life. [Tweet this]

It’s not about how many friends you made or how much “fun” it looks like you’re having on Instagram. It’s about using your time in college to build who you are, figure out what you want and start taking the steps to get there. That comes with making a few mistakes (okay, maybe more than a few), figuring out what motivates you, surrounding yourself with positive people and understanding that life is dynamic.

Eat at the dining halls. Run for Student Body President. Start a ping pong club. Scream your head off at football games. Learn a new language. Camp out for tickets with your friends. And most importantly, learn from everything.

Jessica Ekstrom is the founder of Headbands of Hope, a college leadership speaker and a graduate of North Carolina State University. This is an excerpt from her book, The Freshman Fabulous: The Girl’s Guide to College.  

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