From A to Z: Everything You Need to Know For a Successful Freshman Year

From A to Z: Everything You Need to Know for a Successful Freshman YearIt’s hard to believe that just six years ago, I was packing up my childhood bedroom and moving to Orlando for college. At times, I still picture myself as that awkward 18-year-old girl who was so excited to take those first few steps toward adulthood. In many ways, mine was the traditional college experience: four years of changing majors, making friends, hosting theme parties, interning around town, cramming for finals, dating the wrong guys and joining more clubs than a sane person should. My undergraduate years still hold some of my favorite memories, and taught me more about myself than I ever cared to know.

For many of you, those first few days of freshman year are just around the corner, and you’re probably having a lot of mixed feelings. Whether you’re nervous, enthusiastic or somewhere in between, this blog will guide you through some of the most important aspects of your college experience, from A to Z.

A – Appearance
As superficial as it may sound, it’s important to put an effort into your appearance! Your university’s dress code may technically allow you to roll into your lecture hall in pajamas… but that doesn’t mean you should. The way you dress plays a big role in the first impression you give off in class, among new friends and in front of professors and potential employers.

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From A to Z: Everything You Need to Know for a Successful Freshman YearB – Books
Unless your professor requires some special edition that isn’t offered elsewhere, don’t buy your books at the school bookstore. Rent them through third-party vendors, visit local used bookstores or buy your books online. It will save you a ton of money in the long run!

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C – Choosing a Major
Don’t worry if you don’t have it figured out right now. Take some time to enjoy your general education classes and to take an introductory course that interests you. For more tips on how to choose the right major for you, click here.

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D – Dorm Life
This may be your first time sharing a bedroom or bathroom with someone, so make sure you talk to your new roommate(s) about your expectations and responsibilities. A new dorm room is also the perfect excuse to decorate, so have fun personalizing your new home!

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E – Extra Credit
If your professor offers extra credit, always do it. You might not think you need it, but when your grade is dangling at an 89 at the end of the semester and you need that extra point, you’ll thank yourself.

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From A to Z: Everything You Need to Know for a Successful Freshman YearF – Friends
Open yourself up to the possibility, and you might meet your best friend in college. Get involved, talk to people in your classes and in the dorms, say yes to social outings and don’t be afraid to step out of your bubble.

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G – Greek Life
Rushing a fraternity or a sorority can be a great way to make an overwhelmingly big university a whole lot smaller. If the idea of Greek sounds interesting, talk to older friends who have gone through the process and decide if it’s right for you!

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H – Health
Above all, you must prioritize your health. Avoid the typical Freshman 15 weight gain with these helpful pointers, and remember to take care of yourself when illness strikes. Utilize the gym, health center, counseling facilities and other campus resources to maintain your physical and mental health. Because college can be a stressful time for many, staying healthy and happy is often at the bottom of our lists.

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I – Independence
If you are living in a dorm room or away from home, college is a great opportunity to test out your newfound independence. It will be fun to make more of your own decisions and to not have a curfew, but it will also teach you the importance of finding a balance.

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From A to Z: Everything You Need to Know for a Successful Freshman YearJ – Joining Clubs
Joining clubs on campus will allow you to meet likeminded people, have a good time and possibly even develop yourself professionally. It’s a great way to connect with your university and find leadership opportunities early on. Find organizations that interest you and attend the info sessions – you have nothing to lose!

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K – Kindness
This should go without saying, but remember to treat others with kindness. You’ll meet people whose lifestyles, beliefs and upbringings are radically different from yours, so it is important to be openminded and still respect others regardless of your differences.

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L – Learning For Learning’s Sake
You’ll get so wrapped up in prerequisites and major classes that you might forget that college is, among other things, a place to learn. Take a few elective classes in areas that interest you regardless of what requirements they fulfill. Enjoy the act of learning.

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M – Mentors
Find an older student, a community member or a professor who inspires you, and turn to that person as a mentor. This is a great way to start building your network, and you’ll also have someone to ask for advice on classes, internships and more. If you don’t know where to start, see if your school offers any organized mentorship programs to pair you with someone!

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From A to Z: Everything You Need to Know for a Successful Freshman YearN – Networking
I cannot stress the importance of networking enough! It may sound terrifying, but it doesn’t have to be. Get to know people every chance you get. You never know who will be able to help you out in the future — or whom you’ll be able to help. Networking helped me land a job right out of college! Read more about my experience here.

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O – Office Hours
Your professors are required to hold office hours, so attend them. They can be a great resource when the class material just isn’t clicking, and it’s always an added bonus for the professor to put a face to your name.

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P – Partying
Enjoy having a social life, but learn to do so responsibly. Remember why you came to college in the first place.

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Q – Quiet Space
Find your quiet space on campus for when you need to study or simply get away. Whether it’s the top floor of the library or a secluded corner of a campus garden, find that quiet space and use it when you need it.

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From A to Z: Everything You Need to Know for a Successful Freshman YearR – Romance
Unless you’re one of the lucky ones who meets your soulmate on the quad that first week of school, you’ll probably have your share of good and bad relationships in college, and that’s okayFrom every “failed” relationship, you’ll learn something – or at the very least, you’ll have a good story to tell. (My exes had better beware of my memoir! 🙂 ) Enjoy the ride.

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S – School Spirit
Soak it up! Wear your university colors, attend sporting events and be proud of the institution you attend. Don’t pretend you’re “too cool” for it. The time will eventually pass and you’ll wish you’d enjoyed yourself more.

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T – Time Management
Find an organizational style that fits you, and use it. Having strong time management skills will allow you to balance classwork, extracurriculars, work and a social life. The more you hone these skills now, the better prepared you will be for the future!

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U – Unique Opportunities
In college, the world is your oyster. If an opportunity sounds too good to pass up, take it! Study abroad for a semester. Volunteer in another city for an alternative spring break. Run for student government. Take advantage of these opportunities while you’re still in school, as they might never come back around once you graduate.

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V – Values
Be true to yourself. Know what is important to you, and keep that close to your heart as you make decisions in college. Don’t let others push you into something that makes you uncomfortable or puts you in danger.

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From A to Z: Everything You Need to Know for a Successful Freshman YearW – Wallet
Learn how to budget and take care of your finances. Learn to live within your means. Your money habits now will shape the way you spend and save long after you graduate.

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X – eXams
The dreaded exams will pop up every semester at least once, so it’s important to prepare for them. For more on how to survive your final exams, check out my article on Career Camel.

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Y – You Time
Take time for yourself. College can be a very social environment, and I encourage you to take advantage of that, but it’s always good to spend some time alone without worrying about others. “Treat yo self” to a night in every now and then, or focus on putting together that DIY Pinterest project you’ve had your eye on. Making time for yourself will help you maintain your sanity when life gets stressful.

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Z – Zero Tolerance
Love yourself enough not to tolerate negative treatment. Have zero tolerance for the people or situations that make you feel lesser than. If a friendship or relationship is making you miserable, leave. If you dread being part of a certain organization, quit. Life is too short to waste on people who treat you like crap.

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Best of luck to all of those starting college this fall! Readers, what are your tips for incoming freshmen?

The Freshman 15: Advice From Readers (Year 3)

promise-not-laugh-anymore-college-ecard-someecardsFor many of my friends, this was the first week of school — and for me, it was the first August since the early 90s that I wasn’t starting school! Since I first began blogging in 2010, I started sharing the lessons I had learned from each year of college, but my wonderful friends and readers have also shared their own advice and wisdom on my blog as well (here and here). In honor of the brand new semester, I bring you 15 helpful tips from 15 college students and alumni with diverse backgrounds and degree programs. Best of luck this school year!

The Freshman 15: Advice From Readers (Year 3)

1. Study what you love.
Picking a major can seem really daunting upon entering college, especially if you’re unsure of your post-undergraduate plans. However, the most important thing is to study something you are passionate about. Don’t let overbearing relatives and nosy strangers dissuade you when they sneer, “Oh, you’re a [blank] major? What are you going to do with that?” Doing homework and studying for tests will suck a little less if you actually enjoy what you’re learning. And at the end of your four years, you will find the perfect way to apply your passion to your “real world” pursuits.
– Jill Dutmers, University of Central Florida, English Literature (@straightupjill)

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2. Be open and accepting to all kinds of people.
In life, but college especially, you will meet a wide array of personalities! Students come from all walks of life and they WILL have different opinions, perspectives and values than you. Stay true to your beliefs but also make sure to keep an open mind. Understand that many students work multiple jobs to pay their way through college, may be going through personal issues or have social disorders. It’s so important to take all these factors in to consideration before jumping to conclusions about different types of people. Learn something new from different people your age…in the long-term you will grow more accepting and appreciative of others.
– Carlie Craig, Florida State University, Theatre and Media Production (@carliecraig, Website: Carlie Craig)

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Zweinstein 23. Get familiar with your academic community.
Professors will be impressed if you stay informed about the current trends in your major field. Although some academic journals and monographs can be dry, make an effort to find a moderately accessible journal or a scholar that you like. Attend seminars and symposiums if you can, and submit papers to journals and local conferences (you’ve got nothing to lose!). Undergraduate publications and conference history will look great on a curriculum vitae.
– Brittan Wilkey, Wake Forest University, MA English (Blog: Discharmed)

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4. Pay it forward.
As soon as you figure out what you plan on doing (whether picking a major, joining a club, or finding an internship) start passing along what you’ve learned and your experiences to anyone who asks or who may need it. Be a resource to people around you — you never know what difference you’re making in their lives by helping them out. On the flip side, never forget about the people who helped you out along the way and always remember to thank them and maybe even let them know what you’re up to especially if it’s been a while.
– Kaitlin Border, University of Central Florida, Accounting

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5. You’ll meet your best friends in time.
Chances are, the first group of friends you get knit into won’t be the last. Don’t feel pressured to find all your best friends in the first semester. It takes a while to adjust to college and you actually transform into a new person as the months go on so don’t think any kind of group of friends needs to be there for the four years ahead. Be open to meeting new people and be mindful of when friendships naturally click. Those are the ones to tuck close to you. I didn’t find mine until my sophomore year but I still have them as best friends today.
– Hannah Brencher, Assumption College, English + Mass Communications/Sociology (Website: Hannah Brencher)

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EssDormSocialTime6. Get to know your RAs… for the RIGHT reasons.
Resident Assistants aren’t just there to get on your case if you are being too loud. RA’s are students, just like you, and they have been through it. They are there to talk to you and help you out. Their training is VERY extensive and know just about every resource available to you from free counseling services to listing off names of student organizations. You pay big bucks to live on campus, and a big part of that payment is living on the same floor as a walking/talking college life guru. If you have a problem, or even if you are doing well, tell your RA, they want you to succeed and do your best.
– Karina Garcia, University of Central Florida, Advertising and Public Relations (@karinacreative)

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7. Never stop making friends.
I am very much an introvert, so once I had a small circle of friends I was more than happy to stop putting myself out there. In result, for my first semester of school I had a very small group of people I knew well, while I was surrounded by dozens more who would have loved to get to know me better. Not every friend you make will last, and you might not think you’d like hanging out with a certain kind of person, but you never know until you try.
– Gabrielle Upshur, Austin Peay State University, English (Blog: Of A Writerly Sort)

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8. Go to class.
Don’t skip class, even if it’s early in the morning or boring. The great thing about college is you control your schedule, and there’s time for naps.
– Kayley Tool, University of Central Florida, Nursing

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How_i_met_everyone_else_-_ted_and_marshall9. You don’t have to be friends with your roommate.
Many people enter college with the expectation that they’ll click instantly with their roommate and become best friends. This isn’t always the case. Unless you pre-selected a roommate, you will be moving into a tiny dorm room with a complete stranger. You may enjoy baking and crafting while your roommate is interested in video games and cosplaying. It’s okay if you have nothing in common! Don’t try to force a friendship just because you live together. The most important thing is that the two of you cultivate an environment of mutual respect. Respect your roommate’s space and belongings and he/she should do the same for you. However, some people are just too different to get along. If you and your roommate can’t make things work, don’t hesitate to talk to your RA about the process of changing rooms. Classes and work are taxing enough and you shouldn’t have to come home to a stressful living environment every day. Moving in the middle of the semester can be inconvenient, but it’s better than being miserable for an entire school year.– Tori Twine, Elon University, Cinema (@toritwine, Blog: I May Be Mildly Obsessed)

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10. Remember your passions.
I was miserable with my major for a while, until I remembered that I loved robotics. It basically reinvigorated me, and I’ve been doing a lot better since. Sometimes you lose sight of your passions, but it’s great when you remember them.
– Peter Cheng, University of Central Florida, Computer Engineering

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tumblr_mes5drMMc51rwr9v911. Be open to all types of Greek life.
During my first two years of college, a lot of my friends joined social sororities and fraternities. While this looked like a lot of fun, I just didn’t think that Greek Life was right for me. In my junior year, I heard about an honor fraternity on campus and decided to check out one of their Rush events. Two years later, I consider it to be one of the best decisions I made in my college career. I experienced many leadership, academic and social opportunities and made some of my best friends. The point is social Greek Life is not for everyone, but there are so many Greek organizations on every campus that there is bound to be a place you’ll fit in! Try looking for sororities or fraternities related to your major or other special interests and don’t be afraid to go and meet new people!
– Jessica Faith Meyer, University of Central Florida, Political Science (@jfaithmeyer)

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12. Get internships.
I know they pay less than waitressing or bartending – maybe they’re even unpaid!  But the skills you learn and the connections you make are worth so, so, SO much more than money.  If you’ve got a great resume filled with internships related to your field, it’s about a million times easier to land a job.  If you only work in restaurants during college, you’ll be a super well-educated and experienced server when you enter the workplace.
– Sarah Von Bargen, BA University of Minnesota – Morris (English), MA Victoria University of Wellington (Applied Linguistics) (Blog: Yes & Yes)

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13. The easiest way to their hearts is through their stomachs.
When it comes down to making friends in college, It’s important to cater to your strengths. In my case, I’m a third generation, nearly full blooded Italian girl. Cooking a hearty italian meal is embedded in my DNA. Thankfully, our college dorm had a well equipped kitchen at my disposal, so cooking, despite our sensitive fire alarms, was encouraged amongst us all. First night at the dorms, I gathered my utensils and went to work in the kitchen. My new roomies, now my best friends, caught a whiff, literally, of what I was up to and decided to lend a helping hand. Within an hour we had whipped up a huge bowl of pasta and meatballs and made sure to prop open our door so the sweet aroma or marinara sauce could flood through the hallways – and into the nostrils of several hungry college kids. What a success! In seconds, our floor mates were lingering in our doorway, mouths watering and stomachs growling. We invited them in, gave them a plate and conversed. As simple as that. It was history in the making. Many of our hungry floor mates from that first night became some of my lifelong friends, even now after college. If you cook it, they will come. That, I’ll assure you is a fact.
– Lauren Durando, University of Central Florida, Advertising and Public Relations (@dran34)

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Alice14. Stop and smell the roses.
Stop and smell the roses. –Yes, you could do this literally, but more figuratively, you should definitely take the chance to stop every now and then and appreciate the amazing opportunity that is attending college in the 21st century. The world is literally at your fingertips at any given moment via the internet. Opportunities abound around every corner. You are currently living and experiencing history being made on a day-to-day basis. Take the time to sit back every now and then and appreciate the epicness. Then go out and make your contribution to it in whatever form makes you happiest!
– Melissa Smith, George Mason University, PhD Human Factors (@mabsmith)

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15. Find yourself in a new place.
It may sound lame but friends, boyfriends, girlfriends and coworkers will come and go but you will always have yourself with you. This took me a while to learn but I have been able to slowly build a better relationship with myself through studying abroad. In immersing myself in other places and cultures around the world, there are things I learned that can’t be learned from in a classroom. The main lessons in life that I will look back on when I graduate will be things that I learned from being abroad. In fact what you learn from museums, old ruins, or double decker bus tours doesn’t nearly compare to what you learn about yourself. About how you work with others, how you can navigate through a strange place, and the stress of being in the big open world. So study abroad and set forth on a journey to a new place to find your new self.
– Arielle Poliner, University of Central Florida, Event Management

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A great big thank you to everyone who contributed this year! Readers, what is the biggest piece of advice you have for incoming college students?

The Freshman 15: Choosing a Major

Two years ago, my future seemed completely nebulous. An eager but somewhat lost college freshman, I had no idea what path I wanted to follow. Although I applied to the university as a Journalism major, I knew right away from several years of prior journalism experience that I did not want to pursue it as a career.

Several alternatives stood in front of me — I could become an elementary school teacher, a psychologist or a cultural anthropologist. Or I could major in English, Creative Writing or Humanities (although who knew what I would do with that?).

Fortunately, I entered college with a lot of credits, so I had the option of waiting it out for a while and still graduating on time. Nevertheless, by October of my freshman year, I changed my major to Advertising/Public Relations, where it has firmly remained ever since. Throughout the past two years, I have switched out some of my minors, but for the most part I have been extremely satisfied with my undergraduate major.

For those students who are struggling to find a major, there are ways to narrow it down. (Tweet this!) Hopefully this month’s suggestions will help you to find the area of study that interests you most!

The Freshman 15: Choosing a Major

1. Utilize on-campus resources.
If your school has a Career Services or Experiential Learning Center, make an appointment to speak with one of their counselors! These services are completely free and always worth a shot. The people who work in these places meet countless students in your situation every day, and because of this, they are usually pretty good at helping you along the way. If your school does not have its own equivalent of this office, make an appointment with your undergraduate adviser, who should have some advice or know which direction to point you in.

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2. Take your General Education Program classes.
Not only will this help you weed out those required classes and keep you on schedule, but it will also give you an idea of what you do and don’t like. For example, as soon as I took my Human Species class at the beginning of freshman year, I lost interest in an Anthropology major. In addition, you might absolutely fall in love with your Macroeconomics class and decide that you want to try out a business-related track.

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3. Study the course catalogs and required classes for prospective majors.
You don’t need to memorize these, of course, but it’s always wise to get ahold of a course catalog and bookmark the majors that interest you with post-its. You can then take a deeper look later on and ask yourself, “Does this major require more chemistry classes than I am willing to take?” or “Will I be able to fulfill the required 3-hour internship credit by graduation?” It will also make it easier for you to pick out majors that do feature classes that interest you.

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4. Think about what you wanted to do when you were five.
Although this was never particularly appropriate advice for me personally (when I was five, I wanted to be a princess), I know plenty of people who have wanted to care for others since the beginning of time and have been able to channel that into nursing or education. Did you spend a lot of time with your Easy Bake Oven growing up? Pursue a degree in Restaurant Management! Think about your passions that have remained since you were young and see if they can be cultivated in the professional world.

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5. Take a career aptitude test.
If your Career Services Center can’t refer you to one of these, then the Internet is full of free tests you can take! This step played the most significant role in helping me land on a major that stuck. When I took this test, the three careers that best suited my interests and natural abilities were public relations specialist, public relations manager and advertising copywriter. It just so happened that my school offered an Advertising/Public Relations major (yes, it combines the two disciplines), and when I took my first two intro classes, I immediately fell in love. Don’t let the test results limit you, but see if they shed any light.

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6. Do what you want, not what others expect.
Don’t choose your major based on what you think others will consider an “easy major” or a “hard major.” At the college level, no major is an easy major. You will have to work hard to maintain a competitive GPA, participate in additional activities and network with faculty and professionals your field, regardless of what area you end up in. Similarly, you should not choose a major because you think that others expect you to choose it — otherwise, I would have become an English major! Over the years, I have met so many students who started out in engineering and pre-medical majors because of the pressure placed on them by their parents, instead of because of a love for physics or biology. Those students ultimately switched majors after their GPAs completely tanked. Do what makes you happy… after all, it’s your life!

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7. Take a fun class.
Even if it doesn’t become the basis for your new major, taking a non-required class will broaden your horizons and teach you something you wouldn’t have otherwise learned about! Extra knowledge is never a bad thing, regardless of the discipline it relates to. If the class does spark your interest further, you may have a major in your midst. (Tomorrow I will talk about some of the classes that I found useful!)

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8. Connect with alumni.
My honors college is great at connecting students with alumni, but if you talk to the right people at your university (advisers, professors, counselors, etc.), you can become linked with a former student who can answer your questions about his or her post-college career. Not only is this the perfect networking opportunity, but it also allows you to talk with a professional in the community who has been through the same situations as you have. I have had the same alumni mentor since my freshman year, a public relations professional who has been there to tell me about the right classes to take, the professors to connect with and the pros and cons of the industry. Speaking with someone who was in your shoes once can give you great perspective.

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9. Rule out the majors you don’t want.
When I was floundering around my freshman year, there were a few things I knew for sure. I did not want to be a doctor. I did not want to be an engineer. I did not want to pursue a math/science field. That still left a lot of possibilities open, but it still helped me narrow things down somewhat. Knowing what you don’t want is important when you’re trying to decide what you do want.

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10. Talk to your friends.
If you have a friend whose major sounds interesting to you, ask him or her about it! Find out why your friend chose this major, what he or she wants to do with it after college, what the classes are like and how the professors are. Because my admission to the Advertising/Public Relations program took place just before my sophomore year (it’s a limited access major that you usually enter as a junior), I was able to answer a lot of questions for my friends who were thinking about trying it out. Meanwhile, I declared a Hospitality Management minor during the summer (I will admit that I try on minors the way some girls try on shoes), but before I did so, I was able to ask some of my friends about the program and that helped solidify my decision.

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11. Pursue job shadowing.
If you think you want to work for an ad agency but you aren’t sure if the pace is right for you, talk to your adviser or a Career Services representative and see if you can shadow an account executive for the day or tour a local agency. Seeing the work setting of a prospective career can help you decide, “Can I see myself doing this in the future?” and “Would I want to spend a good chunk of my life in this field?” If so, you’ve just found yourself some new connections and have new goals to set. If not, you’ve continued to narrow down your interests and are that much closer to finding the major of your dreams.

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12. Consider your personal values.
If you think that with a certain major, you will end up in a career that makes you question your moral character, then you should rethink your choices. Don’t choose something for the prestige if it will cause you to sacrifice your sense of self — instead, find something that best fits into your desired lifestyle.

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13. Make a list of interests.
When in doubt, write it out. Seeing your passions on paper might aid in that “a-ha!” moment. You can look at that list and ask yourself, “What careers do these interests fall under?” This will help you find a major that you’re excited about.

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14. Ask the practical questions.
Once you have figured out a potential major or two, you’ll want to find out how marketable those majors are and what types of careers will be available to you upon graduation. Will you have to attend school for an extra two or four years in order to get a job someday? Will you be able to afford graduate school? Will you be able to commit to the amount of time necessary for a required internship in this field? Make sure you know what you are getting yourself into before you dive in headfirst.

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15. Find a happy medium.
Once you’ve chosen a major, give it some time. It’s possible that you won’t love every minute of it, so be patient. At the same time, don’t stick with a major that makes you miserable when you know that there is something better out there for you. In other words, don’t change your major at the drop of a hat, but keep your mind open and make sure you don’t resent what you’re doing.

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My questions for readers:
– Was it easy for you to choose a major? Why or why not?
– What do you struggle most with when considering a future career?
– What other college-related topics would you like to read about in the future? 

Choosing A Major: Why Expectations Aren’t Everything

When you meet someone new in college, one of the first questions you’ll ask or be asked is, What is your major?” It’s a good getting-to-know-you question because it gives us an insight into the other person’s personality, interests, talents and future goals, among other things. It also helps us find common ground (“Oh, you’re a psych major? I’m minoring in psych! What are you taking this semester?” or “Cool, my roommate’s an art major too, do you know him?”) and mentally categorize for further recall.

More and more, however, I’m finding that undergraduate majors have become a new status symbol. I see so many students who take pride in their pre-professional or engineering tracks and not enough who consider their liberal arts majors in a positive light. In fact, we tend to compare our chosen majors to the majors of our peers, in the same (often immature) way that high school students tend to compare the number of AP credits they are taking.

I am proud to be majoring in advertising and public relations — in fact, I will shout it from the mountaintops (if I can find any in Florida)! But I am sad to see that so many students are not quite so comfortable in their chosen career paths because they are worried about what others may think. They believe that because their majors aren’t traditionally “difficult” majors like Molecular & Microbiology or Mechanical Engineering, they might be looked down on, or seen as the lesser achiever of the group.

In all actuality, no major is worth less than any other if it is what you want to do with your life. Although I highly doubt I could survive an Organic Chemistry or Differential Equations class, there are plenty of students in those classes who could not achieve as well in my writing classes or event-planning endeavors. What makes us unique is that we have so many opportunities to cultivate our passions and talents, and that no one path is right for everyone.

In other words, don’t downplay yourself. When someone asks you what you’re majoring in, stand tall and tell them you’re an Animation major, an Event Industry major, a Theatre major or a Computer Engineering major. Conversely, when someone tells you what they are studying, don’t pre-judge it as the easy major or the difficult major. Remind yourself that each of us has his or her strengths and weaknesses; it is what you do with those that makes all the difference. 🙂

Growing Into Yourself

“So much to do, so little done, such things to be.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson

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At least halfway through our college experience, my friends and I have recently begun talking more and more about the future. We talk about careers. We talk about law schools and graduate programs. We talk about our post-grad lives and locations and aspirations and bucket lists and yes, even our uncertainties. Although we tend to enjoy our undergraduate majors and the classes associated with them, many of us aren’t 100 percent committed to the plans that are laid out for us.

Take it from a girl who has changed her major and minors at least once — deciding what you want to do with the rest of your life is not easy. I had bookmarked about a million pages in my course catalog in the hopes of stumbling upon a major I’d like, and while I did fall in love with the Advertising/Public Relations major early on, I still have no idea what I want to do with it when I graduate. Will I work at a fast-paced agency, or will I go the non-profit organization route? Will I even stick with the communications field? How will I know that there isn’t something else out there for me?

These questions (and those of my friends) bring me back to a single conversation I had in March of 2009. A senior in high school, I had recently committed to my university of choice and was attending a reception held by its president. During cocktail hour, I met an undergraduate advisor who asked me what I planned to major in.

“Well,” I began, “right now I’m registered as a Journalism major because I really like to write, but I’m thinking of switching to Psychology or English or maybe Anthropology…”

The advisor, in his forties, laughed good-naturedly at this. “I remember when I was your age,” he told me. “Like you, I had a lot of interests and was good at a lot of things. Even after I picked a major, I wondered if I should have been a doctor or a lawyer instead.

“I might have been a good doctor,” he continued, “or perhaps a good lawyer. But I found a major and a career I was happy with, and eventually had to stop asking myself the ‘What if?’ questions.

“One day, you too will find something you’re passionate about. And yes, you’re going to wonder if you would have been good at something else. In fact, there will be a whole realm of things you could have chosen to do, things you would have been great at. But once you’ve chosen something that makes you happy, there’s no point in wondering about those other things.”

After that night, I never saw this advisor again. (For all I know, he could have quit his job and applied to medical/law school.) Nevertheless, his words have stuck with me throughout the past two years. I realize that I could have studied to become a great journalist, psychiatrist, English professor or cultural anthropologist, but instead I chose to work in public relations and I’m happy with that. There is still some room for change, and I can always broaden my interests within the marketing world, but for the most part, I am content.

In a way, selecting a major and eventual career path is like accepting a marriage proposal. You can wade around for a while beforehand, exploring your interests and figuring out what you are looking for, but once you commit, you might as well stick with it. (Divorcing your career is always an option, but it’s nice to aim for the long haul, right?) Don’t settle for something that will make you unhappy, but do try to embrace and accept some of the ups and downs, and don’t think so much about the could-have-beens.

The Freshman 15: What I’ve Learned (Year 2)

After a year of writing about all things college-related, I would like to celebrate my 12 months of Freshman 15 entries with a follow-up to my very first college post from my old blog, The Freshman 15: What I’ve Learned. Throughout my sophomore year, I have experienced a new set of successes and challenges, and I hope to share everything I have learned this year with you.

Thank you all for giving me a wonderful year for writing! Here are 15 of the lessons I learned in my sophomore year of college.Tweet this!

The Freshman 15: What I’ve Learned (Year 2)

1. Don’t put dish soap in the dishwasher…
… Unless you want soap suds all over your kitchen! Oops. This was a mistake I made a few weeks ago, when my roommates and I had run out of dish detergent. The moral to the story: even when you think you’ve begun to master the art of being a domestic goddess, you’re wrong. There will always be some little mistake that will humble you.

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2. Friendships don’t always turn out as predicted.
In fact, when I wrote the original Freshman 15, I couldn’t have predicted half of the things that were about to happen in the next year. While I did gain some very close friendships that seemed unlikely at the time (but for which I’m extremely grateful, of course!), I also lost a few that really stung. In the end, it’s important to be careful with who you place your trust in, and accept the fact that things may change in the future.

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3. Extra credit can be your best friend.
If your professor offers some sort of extra credit assignment, DO IT. By skipping out on one extra credit assignment in a psychology class in the fall, I managed to give my GPA its first minor blemish. It wasn’t the end of the world, of course, but I was not a happy camper, to say the least. By going the extra mile, you can sometimes salvage a borderline grade or even give yourself a bit of a cushion in case you mess up a little on a test later in the semester.

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4. Discipline is key.
The only way you can really manage your time and get all of your assignments completed is by being disciplined. This means sometimes staying home from a night out with friends so that you can finish a paper, or bringing a homework assignment to lunch with you, or even keeping a million alarms on your phone. Whatever it takes for you to be productive, you have to bite the bullet and do it.

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5. You can’t be or do everything.
College is probably the most exciting time for opportunities, and I encourage you to take part in as many of them as you can. However, as I’ve learned this year, there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything you want to do. As Director of Fundraising for one of the clubs I’m in, web developer for a research group, PR intern, member of various clubs and full-time student, there have been times when my schedule felt too heavy. On top of that, because of my heavy involvement, I would hear about other opportunities that appealed to me, and it was difficult not to apply for them. Ultimately, you have to know your limits, and don’t sign up for anything you can’t commit to. I knew students who dabbled in everything but never fully committed to anything, and it became frustrating for both them and the people they had to work with. Find a few things you love and stick to those.

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6. Attend functions alone.
Yes, college gives you the chance to be a social butterfly, but sometimes it is much better to go to events by yourself. I love my friends, but when I want to go to an educational event like the Book Festival or an ad agency tour or some event with keynote speakers, I want to be able to schedule my time however I choose, without having to compromise with someone else. Going to an event by yourself not only gives you the freedom to do as you please, but it also allows you to meet new people with similar interests, reconnect with others and learn about yourself.

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7. Going home is never quite the same.
Ever since my first summer away at school, my family has told me how much I have changed. I knew that college tends to change the dynamic between you and your parents, but that fact never fails to surprise me a little every time I come home. I also notice huge changes between myself and old friends from high school, and although some of those friendships are built to last, I can see that others will easily falter. Being back home is a huge reminder of how much things have changed.

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8. 5-Hour Energy can have delayed effects.
On Sunday, I finally gave in to the pressure of surplus energy. I have never tried an energy drink before, and I don’t drink coffee or soda, but all of my friends were getting their caffeine somehow, so why couldn’t I? I took a shot of 5-Hour Energy at 8 p.m. (first mistake) and then didn’t feel the effects till around 1 a.m., when it was too late for me to regain any of my productivity. The good news: I woke up the next morning with tons of energy to power me through the day. The bad news: the three hours of sleep I did squeeze in probably wasn’t healthy. In the end, 5 Hour Energy was not a great alternative.

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9. The thing you wanted most isn’t always what you wanted it to be.
Unfortunately, some of your expectations will fall short. Maybe the class you were dying to take just isn’t cutting it for you, or maybe the club you have been trying to get involved with isn’t the place you want to be anymore. Be open to those feelings and realize that even if this isn’t what you want, there’s always something else.

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10. Plan as much as you can, but allow changes.
It’s good to have a basic mental outline of where you want to go in the next four years, but don’t be upset if you begin to deviate from that path. I enrolled in college as a Journalism major who then considered Psychology, English, Creative Writing, Sociology, Elementary Education, Anthropology and Humanities before eventually switching over to Advertising/Public Relations with minors in Psychology and Spanish-turned-English-turned-possibly-Hospitality-Management. In other words, your interests might change. Your academic and career plans might change. Have ideas, but have back-up plans too.

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11. It’s okay to stop and breathe.
This is something that the perfectionist in me often struggles with, but one of the most important things I have worked on. It doesn’t matter where you find that inner-peace, whether it’s through yoga and meditation, an intense workout at the gym or a creative release, as long as you can find something to keep you grounded.

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12. Perfection is impossible.
This one goes hand-in-hand with #11. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how strong or competent or intelligent you are — you will still mess up from time to time. Accept those mistakes as they come, and try to learn whatever you can from them. As Confucius once said, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Only do our true colors show when we are put to the test.

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13. Be good to others, whether they deserve it or not.
I have always lived by this, even though many of my friends disagree with me to an extent and think I should act on my frustrations a little more. Still, I refuse to stoop down to someone’s level just because they have wronged me in the past. I think it’s better to be cordial than to seek revenge on someone; chances are, they don’t have much going for them to begin with!

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14. Don’t let your relationships define you.
I’ve said this before, but it is important to recognize yourself as a separate entity and not as an appendage to someone else. I spent my first year and a half of college focused on relationships, spending way more time focusing on boys and friends than on myself. Sadly, it’s only a matter of time before someone will disappoint you — and it’s important to have something else going for you aside from all of that. Don’t ignore the world of dating and don’t neglect your friends, either, but do make time to do the things you love and to better yourself. It’s one of the most valuable things you can do.

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15. Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.
(Yes, that’s part of a possible Marilyn Monroe quote.) I thought I had the perfect freshman year. My sophomore year was a lot rockier and I am definitely happy to be done with it in the next few days. But I have to remind myself that all of the negative things that happened this year have allowed me to grow and make room for better things in the future. Above all else, we have to have hope that even when the year absolutely sucks, things will eventually improve.

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Some questions for you:

– What have you learned this year?
– What are you still wondering/struggling with?
– What do you hope to read about in the future? 

The Freshman 15: Life-Changing College Moments

As a 20-year-old girl who is halfway through her sophomore year, I’ve got one thing on my mind: change. It’s something I blog about quite often — change in one’s perspective, change in one’s relationships, change in one’s life events — and part of my obsession with change has to do with the fact that I’m in college. After all, college itself presents a series of life changes, and we would all be lying if we said we didn’t allow our environments to change us.

January is an especially important time of year to recognize change. Because we have entered a new year, we are more likely to embrace the new experiences that we’re exposed to. Although it hasn’t even been two years since I first enrolled in college, I already feel like I have undergone some meaningful changes within that time, and that many of those experiences have become defining moments in my life.

For this month’s Freshman 15, I wanted to discuss some of those defining moments that many college students I know have experienced. Feel free to chime in with some of your own!

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The Freshman 15: Life-Changing College Moments

1. The first time you refer to your dorm room as “home.”
For some, this moment comes quickly — in my case, within my first week of summer as a college freshman. And it can be a slightly emotional experience, because you might feel like by feeling so comfortable away from your family, you are betraying the home you have always known. It’s the moment when you realize that your dorm room is not just a few cinderblocks and some interesting wood furniture that no one actually owns in a real house, but rather, it is the place you always return to… a place where you’ve already begun to make some memories.

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2. Establishing your core group of friends.
Chances are, you won’t remain friends with everyone you met at orientation. However, as the year progresses, the large group of freshmen you once clung to will begin to dwindle, and soon you’ll find yourself with the ones who you really click with. In college, you have a larger pool of potential friendships, and therefore you are more likely to find people you’re more compatible with than those you socialized with in high school. These friends will be the ones who help you through everything (and vice versa), and you will be thankful that you took the time to find them. If you’re the social butterfly, reach out to someone else — you can really make their (and your!) college experience all the more worthwhile.

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3. Attending your first college “party.”
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge partier and I never have been. However, regardless of how many house parties you went to in high school, there is something exciting about going to your first actual party in college. Whether you’re looking for a raging frat party or a fun but slightly uneventful evening, you will be able to find exactly what you’re looking for. Plus, through trial and error, I was able to find out that I strongly preferred parties to awkward clubbing excursions anyway!

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4. Doing all of those household activities you never thought you’d do.
Before college, I had done laundry maybe twice, and only with parental supervision. Boiling water? Ha! Who needed to boil water when you could just stick a frozen dinner in the microwave? Of course, I quickly learned some of the vital life skills for self-sufficiency, and I transformed from Girl-Who-Couldn’t-Use-Oven to Girl-Who-Bakes-Cookies-For-Everyone. A year and a half later, I maintain a tidy apartment and am more than capable of taking care of those daily chores. Of course, it is difficult not to have someone around to help you all the time, but being completely tossed in a situation in which you have to fend for yourself can actually be beneficial once in a while.

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5. Discovering Hulu.
Okay… maybe this one isn’t exactly life-changing. But having access to all of your favorite shows whenever you want to watch them is an important skill indeed. Hulu taught me that it was okay to be busy — I could still have my down-time whenever I wanted.

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6. Finding an organization on campus where you belong.
Knowing where you fit in and feeling a strong connection to that entity is one of the best things you will ever get out of college. The more you try to get involved, the better chance you will have at finding the club that changes your life. To quote Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower: “I don’t remember where and I don’t remember when. I don’t even remember the season. I just know that it was the first time I felt like I belonged someplace.” This is exactly how I felt when I first became involved in my honors college, and it is a feeling that I hope every college freshman will pursue.

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7. Realizing it’s okay to ask for help.
Whether you decide to visit your professor in office hours or you attend tutoring sessions to prepare for exams, you are doing exactly what is right for you. In high school, there was always that stigma against asking for help — if you went in with extra questions, people might have made judgments about your intelligence in order to feel better about themselves. Nowadays, going in for assistance is often the “smart” thing to do. Once I realized that not knowing didn’t make me any less of a student, college became a lot easier for me.

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8. Reuniting with old friends for the first time since college.
Let’s be honest for a minute… when I left for college, I did not want to look back. By the end of high school, I no longer considered myself particularly close with many people, and I was thrilled to move forward and meet new friends. However, I did maintain some close friendships, and occasionally I caught up with my high school acquaintances during vacation. Seeing people you haven’t spoken to in almost a year shows you how much you have changed since the last time you were both in the same place at the same time. You make for polite conversation, but at the same time you know that you have only drifted apart even farther.

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9. Taking an introductory course that ends up making all the difference.
I originally applied to college with every intention of becoming a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. Soon after I started freshman year, I realized that while I still loved writing, I did not want to work for newspapers and constantly focus on the negative. I changed my major to Advertising/Public Relations on a whim, mainly because a career aptitude test on the Internet suggested it to me, and then enrolled in the two prerequisite classes: Principles of Advertising and Introduction to Public Relations. Those classes not only made me fall madly in love with the integrated marketing field, but they also gave me exactly the inspiration I needed. Within the semester, I became involved in two clubs related to the major, started working on my resume and created my very first blog.

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10. Realizing that you like to learn and it doesn’t make you dorky.
College provides so many guest speakers, self improvement seminars and other educational events that you’d be crazy not to take advantage. Being at such a well-rounded university re-instilled in me a thirst for knowledge, one that I hope college freshmen will develop early on.

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11. Going home for the first time.
Being in your old room becomes an out-of-body experience. Your parents and family will begin to notice changes in you that you hadn’t even begun to notice in yourself. Even after I came home from my first month at school, I couldn’t get over how many relatives had commented on how much I’d grown up in that time. Many of my friends began to undergo those same changes in that short period of time as well.

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12. Volunteering with a group.
Everyone needs a cause to believe in and support. As a freshman, I went to a place called Give Kids The World with the honors college at my school, and immediately fell in love with the organization. GKTW is a place for families with children that have life-threatening illnesses to relax for a week and enjoy the theme parks as well as the organization’s own attractions. Going to this organization to volunteer gave me more of a purpose and a platform as I made my way through the first two years.

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13. Getting your heart broken.
To put it lightly… this one sucks. It’s one of those “character building” moments that you really don’t want to happen. But college teaches you to be careful about who you trust in or how much happiness you can place in another person, and by getting hurt, you are simply learning that lesson the hard way. At the same time, you learn to treasure those who really are there for you, and some relationships do grow stronger. You also begin to learn what you will and won’t accept from someone else.

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14. Recognizing that who you were in high school doesn’t matter.
Who cares if you were the jock or the nerd? Who cares what your GPA was or how you did on your SAT? You’re already in college at this point, so none of this matters. College gives you the chance to rebrand yourself, create a new identity and throw away the past if you so choose. At twenty years old, the petty memories of high school hardly mean anything to me anymore. People simply become characters and your former life becomes just another story.

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15. Realizing that you have a choice in your future.
Now that you’re in college, you are just beginning to gain some control in your life. You choose your major, your friends, your daily habits, your classes, your career path. The choices you make now will start to shape who you will become, and it can be exciting and terrifying at the same time. Be sure not to make any hasty decisions, and put yourself first. It’s your life.

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I hope you enjoyed! Here are some questions to consider:

– What were some of the defining moments in your college experience?
– If you aren’t in college yet, what are you most looking forward to?
– What topics are you looking to learn more about in the Freshman 15 series? Post your answers below! 🙂