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5 Lessons From My Freshman Year in College

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Female college students taking notes in class.

We all hit a point in our lives where we think back on a situation and wish we had confronted it differently. For me, a lot of the things I want to change involve my freshman year at college and how I would have improved my future just by tweaking little mistakes.

I am currently a sophomore at the University of North Texas studying interior design, I love my school, the people I’ve met, and the many life lessons I came to learn. But looking back, there are many things I learned and could’ve taken advantage of to prepare for my freshman year.

1. I should have learned about merit-based scholarships my college offered.

I was shocked when I discovered my university offered a merit scholarship that was obtainable for a decent number of students. Near the end of first semester, my friend mentioned a scholarship she had, the Excellence Scholarship. She explained that it was a scholarship offered by our school for incoming freshmen who graduated high school in the top 50 percent of their class, and scored at least an 1100 on the SAT, or a 24 on the ACT. Students were required to maintain a 3.6 GPA during college in order to renew the scholarship. The scholarship offered $3,000 to $8,000 a year based on ranking, which is a helpful amount of money.

This scholarship was something I felt I could’ve achieved and after learning about it I felt a little defeated.

Lesson learned: Explore all your options, and do your research when looking for scholarships

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2. I should have started saving money earlier than I thought I needed to.

If you don’t plan to work during your freshman year, I definitely advise you to start saving your money as soon as possible. I had help with books and other school payments, but extra spending money was up to me. I saved up the summer before my freshman year of college, but I realized it would’ve been best to save throughout my senior year of high school as well. Although I had enough spending money to last me freshman year, I would’ve enjoyed having a little more to spend to avoid depending on family to help me out every few months. I should have saved at least $1,500 to be safe, to cover things like birthday and holiday gifts, going out to eat, grocery and clothing shopping.

Lesson learned: Start saving early.

3. Look into extracurricular activities that don’t cost a ton of money.

I wanted to rush a sorority my freshman year, however my family could not afford that at all. I was extremely upset because when I imagined myself in college, I saw myself in a sorority.

Then, rush week came and went, and I realized I should look into other groups and clubs.

After doing some research a few caught my eye, but I learned about more as the year went on. My school, for example, has a spirit group that focuses on philanthropy – the North Texas Sweethearts. The dues aren’t nearly as much as sororities and you still get to be apart of something important that isn’t as demanding in regards to time, or expenses.

There are also leadership opportunities you can apply for during your freshman year that pay you if you get accepted. These include ambassador programs, resident assistant posts, and leading orientation groups. Essentially it’s the best of both worlds: You’re imbedded in the community of your school, and you’re paid to do so!

Lesson learned: You don’t need to spend money to join a club at your school, always look into all your options.

4. Know your course catalog and check your prerequisites.

I cannot stress the importance of knowing your four-year plan. Look it up online and print out your own copy, no need to wait for your academic advisor to give you one. Pay attention to the symbols that indicate whether certain classes are basic core, or major-specific core classes.

Be aware not only so you can continue on track, but so you know how serious to take the course itself. If you know what you’re in for, there’s no need to worry about being behind, or taking summer school courses.

Lesson learned: Read the course catalog.

5. Know you’ll be OK.

Whether you’re worried about meeting new people, the competitive class you’re taking, or being far from home, it’s important to understand that everything works out one way or another. It’s OK to cry, and it’s OK if things don’t go according to plan. College is a learning experience and it will flash before your eyes, so make good use of it while you're there!

Lesson learned: You will learn more than academics in college.

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