What I learned about the transition from high school to college

As soon as I went down the escalator to the Terminal B baggage claim at LaGuardia Airport and spotted my parents, I blurted out, "I survived my first semester of college!"

I am a first-year student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., but I was born and raised in New York City. Tbh, going to college in a town a whole plane ride away from home has been challenging, especially compared to my hometown friends who stayed local for school. And the transition from high school to undergrad hasn't exactly been a piece of cake. But it's been an amazing learning experience—and I'm here to share what I learned about enduring my first semester away from home.

Learning is up to you.

During my first semester of college, I was *so* excited about my newfound freedom. I was able to plan my own schedule—but with that came a lot of extra responsibility. You're expected to attend class, but studying and homework? It's all up to you.

During high school, teachers would check in if a student was performing poorly or not handing in homework. But in college, you're responsible for talking to your professor about any academic difficulties. That might mean attending their office hours or reaching out for additional help after class.

Getting along with your roommate(s) is key.

In high school, you choose your friends based on your personalities and similar interests. But in college, you might get placed with a random roommate. (DW, at most schools, you have the option of picking your roomies—but in case you get placed with someone you don't know, it's good to be prepared.)

Look, you don't need to be best friends with your roommates, but you should at least try to be on friendly terms. Respect each other's personal space and boundaries. Always try to be flexible.

I'm in a triple dorm, so I have two other roommates. We are really careful about staying away from each other when we're sick. We also are aware of our different schedules and stress levels. Being compassionate and understanding about your roommate's situation is super important.

Clubs are not the only way to get involved.

True, joining clubs is a great way to make new friends and learn new skills. But in college, it's just one way to get involved in campus life (which is v. important). My college has lots of clubs ranging from sports to environmental protection. That being said, I also am involved in off-campus activities in the Nashville community.

Similar to high school, college can kind of feel like a bubble. But it's important to meet adults and peers who don't attend your school—and who have wildly different experiences. By joining other organizations and activities in the community (like volunteering at your local animal shelter or signing up for the recreational soccer team), you'll be able to make more connections.

COVID-19 has made the typical college experience atypical.

When I was a freshman in high school, my friends and I used to fantasize about the college life we saw on TV shows. But COVID-19 has thrown a bit of wrench in that. Last year, many colleges limited social gatherings and residence life offerings.

While it's a little frustrating to feel like you're missing out on the romanticized college experience, it's important to follow the rules at your school—and realize that you can still have an *amazing* time. For example, even though you can't gather a giant group in the caf for Sunday brunch, you can still organize a small study soirée at the local coffee shop.

Not everything is going to be easy...but you've *so* got this.

I attended one of the eight specialized public high schools in New York City. Many of my teachers and friends assumed that college would be "easier." And, yeah, while the workload at college is more bearable due to only having four or five classes, there are also *so* many unexpected obstacles.

For example, many clubs at my college have an insanely low acceptance rate (as compared to high school, where you simply sign a sheet at an extracurricular fair). You have to participate in several rounds of interviews before you're allowed to join. My peers and I were disappointed when we didn't get accepted to a club we wanted—but the important thing? Keeping your head up and looking for other opportunities to get involved together (think: volunteering at the local soup kitchen or even starting your own club).

I also didn't expect to be placed in such a tiny dorm room. Living (and studying) in such a small space can be hard. That's why it's crucial to find other spaces on campus to socialize and wind down, like the library or your dorm's common area.

The bottom line? College (like everything else in life) doesn't come without its hardships. It's absolutely a tough transition from high school, and it's v. valid if you feel overwhelmed or anxious. But when you have the tools to succeed and a dependable crew by your side? It'll be four memorable years of your life.

Want more college tips? Check out these related posts:
📚 9 things you need to know before applying to college
📚 Things *every* girl needs to hear before her freshman year of college
📚 Here's the stress-free way to prep for college

Got questions about college? Let us know on Twitter @girlslifemag...and we just might answer them!

Slider image: Brooke Cagle (Unsplash)
Top image: Tim Gouw (Unsplash)
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by Ilana Drake | 1/23/2022