The Freshman 15: What I’ve Learned (Year 3)

As of today, I am officially done with my junior year of college. It feels like just yesterday that I was a freshman myself, writing the original Freshman 15 post that started it all. 🙂 Since then, I have undergone many experiences I never could have possibly predicted, and learned a lot from every single one of them.

Every April, I share fifteen new lessons that I’ve learned throughout the year (see last year’s post here), and this month is no different. It has been an interesting year, to say the least! Feel free to share your own experiences in the comment section below, and if you would like to be a part of my next Freshman 15, please email for details.

The Freshman 15: What I’ve Learned (Year 3)

1. Running into faces from your past will show you how much you’ve changed. (Tweet this!)
Because I attend a state university, I’m bound to run into people from my hometown from time to time. I’ve only kept in touch consistently with a few people from high school, so I often forget about my life before college. However, when I do encounter old friends and classmates, I realize how much many of us have changed since then (and how much some have stayed the same!). The longer you go without seeing the people you used to see every day, the more you find that this is the case. Every so often, I feel like I’ve attended a one-on-one high school reunion, complete with “How have you been?” and an exchange of “Are you still dating _______ from high school/Are you still interested in becoming a ______/Have you talked to ______ lately/Did you know _____ and _____ stopped talking?” There’s nothing wrong with this – it might be a shock at first, but you’ll learn just how much you’ve grown since graduation.


2. The little things do matter.
In the workplace, in relationships and in life, the little things will set you apart. Write thank-you notes to the people who interview you – even if they don’t give you the job, they will recognize the gesture and associate your name with something positive. Take a moment to compliment someone on something that they didn’t think you’d notice. Don’t show up at a social function empty-handed; a plate of brownies goes a long way. Be kind and gracious. Class never goes out of style.


3. Birds of a feather don’t always flock together, but a lot of people are not aware of that.
Be careful with the connections you make — some could have a negative impact on your reputation. I am not telling you to be cruel or judgmental, but be aware of the situations you wind up in and the actions of the people around you. You may be hardworking and responsible, but if you spend too much time with people who are constantly in trouble, you could end up in trouble yourself. As we learn in public relations classes, it takes a lot to fix a damaged reputation, and if you’re seen with people who make a lot of inappropriate decisions, others will assume that you’re exactly the same.


4. A healthy dose of rejection isn’t always a bad thing.
Let’s face it – rejection sucks, no matter where it’s coming from. Whether your dream job just told you they “decided to go in a different direction,” or your crush is just not that into you, being rejected can make you doubt yourself and your abilities. A few months ago, I applied for a prestigious position at the university and was denied before I even reached the interview process, for reasons I didn’t fully understand. The elimination stung, and my self-esteem took a temporary nosedive, until I recognized that a) There are other options out there for me, b) I can still accomplish a lot without filling this particular position, and c) The school was missing out. Talk to anyone older than 30 and you’ll find that everyone has endured a form of rejection at one point or another. When it happens to you, be strong – don’t belittle yourself, but consider the areas in which you could improve, and realize that another opportunity will come again if you are open to it. (In the unsourced words of Marilyn Monroe, “Good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”)


5. Being negative and judgmental only hurts you.
When you accept others as they are, you find yourself surrounded by more friends and attract more positivity than ever. Don’t rule out a potential friendship for superficial reasons. When you’re constantly picking others apart, people don’t want to be around you — they begin to see you only as that grumpy classmate that brings others down.


6. It’s never too late to try something new.
People assume that if they join a club after their freshman year, they won’t be able to make an impact or fulfill an officer position, and that isn’t always the case. You can still get a lot out of the opportunities you pursue throughout your sophomore, junior and even senior year, regardless of your seniority or longevity there. If a student organization, elective or part-time job sounds fulfilling to you, try it out, even if it’s way different from anything you’ve done before.  This is how I became a cheerleader in high school, and it’s also how I decided to study Hospitality Management as a minor. Trying something new could be the best decision you’ve ever made, or it could reaffirm your beliefs in what you already do.


7. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
(Wow, I’m full of animal metaphors today!) It’s always a good idea to start working on a basic five-year plan for your life, but realize that things don’t always go accordingly. What if the on-campus position you wanted is offered to someone else? What if you decide you don’t want to be pre-med anymore? What if you and your high school sweetheart break up mid-freshman year? Of course you should be positive and take each day in stride, but if something doesn’t work out, it isn’t the end of the world. There are always alternatives, and you should make sure to keep those at the back of your mind in case your life changes.


8. The longer you’ve been away from home, the more you begin to appreciate it.
Now that my third year of living at university is over, I find my trips home to be a lot more important than they used to be. As you take on more and more responsibilities, you find yourself increasingly looking back on your childhood and start to wonder why you ever wanted to grow up so fast. I only live three hours away from home now, but with the knowledge that I may move out of state after graduation, I treasure my trips home much more now than I did as a freshman.


9. Most of what you worry about will work itself out.
The moments that felt like the end of the world last year have been reduced to distant memories of people and events that didn’t quite work out. You will go through all the normal emotions and doubt that you could ever possibly recover from that breakup/betrayal/job rejection/etc, but sure enough, in a year you will be able to laugh about it and you will probably even be thankful that it took place. So allow yourself to feel what you need to feel, but realize that this too shall pass. 🙂


10. Comfort zones are overrated.
Some of my proudest college moments took place when I did something that completely terrified me. For example, in high school, I was the girl who used to shake from fear before giving presentations, and yet since I have enrolled in college, I have hosted two open mic nights and a 100-person Triwizard Tournament, spoken publicly on behalf of my organization, given tours of the university and more, all because I overcame that fear and took a leap out of my comfort zone. Do something that scares you and do it with all of your heart.


11. Don’t postpone your life.
Oh, I’m a freshman — I have plenty of time to study abroad/find an internship/go on alternative spring break. Yes, as a freshman, you have the rest of college ahead of you, and several opportunities will present themselves throughout the next few years. However, you should keep a basic plan in mind so that you don’t wind up in the middle of your senior year, regretting that you never had time to [fill in the blanks]. Take advantage of new experiences as they arise, and have an idea of when you want to fulfill your goals.


12. Learn to take criticism.
Admit it, we live in a critical world. You might be wonderfully talented in your field of study, but the sooner you accept constructive criticism from someone who knows what they’re talking about, the better. One day you might be receiving not-so-constructive criticism from someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and being able to swallow your pride and learn from any mistakes you are making will allow you to improve upon your strengths and weaknesses. It will also prepare you for the harshness of the real world!


13. You can learn something from everyone.
Every person you meet has his or her own story and something they can teach you. I look to each of my friends for different advice and their own unique perspectives, and I feel fortunate to have such a wonderful group of people in my life. Everybody thinks about life a little bit differently, so talking to new people and asking their opinions will make you a more well-rounded person and help you expand your own views.


14. You deserve the best.
Don’t lower your standards in life just because you think you don’t deserve better. As Maureen Dowd says in one of my favorite quotes, “The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than what you settled for.” Never surround yourself with negative people who treat you poorly — realize that you choose whom you let into your life, and that you don’t need those types of people around.


15. Live in the moment.
Cliché as it may sound, I often lose sight of the proverbial “moment,” instead reflecting on past experiences or planning for the future. Because of this, I don’t always feel like a college student. At different times throughout the past three years in school, I have felt like a busy career woman, a tired mother of eight, a crazy recluse, and an awkward tween, but I find that I’m at my happiest when I’m able to act my age and experience life one day at a time. Does this mean you should get wasted every night in the shady part of town and make every decision without considering the consequences? No. But it does mean you should spend plenty of time with your friends, get a little boy- or girl-crazy once in a while, embark on new adventures and make the occasional non-life-threatening mistake. You may be in a weird transition period between adolescence and adulthood, but that doesn’t mean you have to grow up overnight.


Readers, let me know if there is ever a college topic you’d like to learn more about in the future!

4 thoughts on “The Freshman 15: What I’ve Learned (Year 3)

  1. gabriellan says:

    My favorite is number 10. I have to give a presentation as my literature final and am very nervous about it (I think I’m still scarred from my last presentation, which was a complete disaster). Here’s to moving outside comfort zones! Maybe I’ll even have fun 🙂

    • Valerie says:

      Best of luck with your literature final! You are a wonderful writer, so I’m sure you’ll do great. It can be terrifying, but worthwhile in the end. 🙂 Let me know how it goes!

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