By Arianna Musialowski
Special to Niagara Frontier Publications
College is an interesting way of life. It’s new, exciting, freeing, scary, messy and everything in between.
To dig deeper into the minds of college freshmen and to get a better understanding of their feelings, several of them were asked about their experiences.
“You have all of these expectations of experiences you will have when you go to college, but what you don’t expect is that you end up sharing them with so many other people who exceed those expectations,” said Veronica Orton, a freshman at Niagara University.
Homework, extracurriculars, internships, student loans and planning out their futures are just a few of the many things a college student must deal with.
It is a crucial time in the lives of students as, for many of them, college is the kickstart to their future and career. The pressures that students are faced with can be overwhelming, so actually understanding what is going through their minds can be eye-opening for many who may not fully comprehend.
So, what is a typical experience for a college student? More specifically, what is it like to be a college freshman?
“I could no longer text a friend to grab lunch so we could vent our stressors, nor could I run downstairs to give my mom a hug. It’s a big adjustment to realize that you are no longer a five-minute drive or walk down the hall from the most important people in your life,” said Sydney Graap, a student at the University of South Carolina.
Let’s take a dive further into the minds of four different college freshmen, all from the Buffalo area, and all in unique situations from one another. One commuter, one resident student studying in New York state, one studying out of state, and one student studying on the other side of the world will all give their insight on the college experience.
Ryan Glasser is a commuter at the University at Buffalo, studying education with a concentration in math and psychology. He is 10 miles from home.
Kacie Voigt is a resident student at SUNY Geneseo, 50 miles from home. She is studying psychology.
Sydney Graap is a student at the University of South Carolina, studying international studies, 750 miles from home.
Last, but certainly not least, is Daniel Valkanov, studying at Medical University – Sofia in Sofia, Bulgaria. He is nearly 5,000 miles from his hometown.
Despite these students being in diverse areas and studying various materials, they are still able to share and experience similar feelings.
Q: If you could describe your college experience thus far in three words, what words would you choose and why?
Ryan: If I could describe my college experience in three words it would have to be difficult, diverse and demanding. Difficult because, even though the schedule is much nicer than high school, the course load is much more difficult and includes much more material in a shorter span of time. Diverse because, coming from a high school and town that was prominently of caucasian students, it was definitely a new sight to see so many people of different ethnic backgrounds in the same area. I am so glad, though, that this is the way it is. Demanding because college has a lot of “Go! Go! Go!” aspects to it, especially when it comes to midterms and finals week. There are always high demands in everyone’s life, it seems, but it is seemingly a little more elevated for those of college students, as society expects us to have our life together, have a major decided, etc.
Kacie: Challenging, transformative and fun. Challenging because college is very different from high school in terms of adjusting to longer and more lecture-style classes, varying daily schedules and the rigor of coursework necessary outside of class. Transformative because, even though I have just begun my college experience, I can already feel it changing me as an individual and the way that I look at the world. Lastly, fun! College has been so much fun so far and I have truly enjoyed every minute of it – no matter how challenging it can get at times!
Sydney: I would choose independent, doubtful and strength. I chose independent because this experience has taught me to rely on myself. I chose doubtful because, for the first few weeks in college, I doubted myself in almost every aspect. I doubted my choice in major, choice in college, choice to participate in Greek life, choice to move 700 miles away from everyone I loved. Finally, I chose the word strength because, while I am still working on being independent and while I still have many moments of doubt, this experience has taught me of my own strength. It takes courage to move away from home, whether it be 45 minutes or 14 hours.”
Daniel: Different, promising, exciting. College is such a different atmosphere and change from high school, because you’re finally viewed as an adult and so much of the high school drama and difficulties are behind you. For me it feels promising, because college, for the most part, helps you gain the knowledge essential to your career; and exciting, because you’re in a new life phase – maybe in a new setting for some – and you’re surrounded with new people that you’ll get to know and will get to know you.
Q: What has been the hardest part about transitioning into college?
Ryan: The hardest part of transitioning to college has been trying to meet new friends. While I am so grateful for the friends I made in high school and I know they will be lifelong friends, it's unfortunate that I solidified all of my friendships senior year of high school. This made everything very difficult when they all left and I was still at home commuting.
Kacie: I think the hardest part of the transition into college is adjusting to living a more independent life away from my home, family and most of my friends. Learning to do things by myself, like laundry, and dealing with difficulties or problems on my own has been a really interesting experience, but I think it is necessary to individual development.
Sydney: The hardest part about transitioning into college for me has been being away from friends and family. I was so blessed to have a wonderful group of friends I could always depend on, as well as a family who loved and supported me. While none of those things specifically changed when I came to college, the way they intertwined with my life did change.
Daniel: For me, the hardest part has been having to change the way I study and learn. Personally, pre-college I didn’t really rely on a lot of textbook reading and self note taking at home, and it’s still difficult for me – and I’m not proud of it, but it’s evident that, in college, information and knowledge is a lot less spoon-fed. Other hard parts are definitely being away from my family.
Q: What has been your favorite part about college?
Ryan: My favorite part of college hands-down has been the schedule. It allows you to be much more flexible with your life and lets you choose when you want to do your work. In addition, when it comes to scheduling classes for the succeeding semester, most of the time you get to pick what time your classes take place, as opposed to high school where you have no leisure in choosing.
Kacie: My favorite part about college, so far, has been meeting new people and friends and definitely taking more courses that interest me and fulfill me more! They are definitely a challenge, but it feels good to be investing time and energy into something that will ultimately turn into results in the end.
Sydney: My favorite part about college so far has been doing what I want. As cliché as that sounds, it’s true! When I have spare time, I can choose if I want to workout or clean my dorm room, grab dinner with friends or binge-watch Netflix. The freedom is very real and very different from high school.
Daniel: My favorite part about college is definitely making new friends. It’s really a great feeling when people whom you’ve only known for three months really begin to respect and rely on you. The biggest moment for me was when a friend of mine from my lab exercise group invited me to the movies with some people on Halloween and it was just a big full-circle moment.
Q: What are you most excited for throughout the rest of your college experience?
Ryan: The thing I am most excited for is actually learning what I am interested in. Not to say that nothing in high school was not interesting, but I think that there is something different about wanting to learn and be educated on what sticks to you most. For me, that is mathematics and psychology, and I am beyond eager to learn and apply these things to my career later in life.
Kacie: I am most excited to grow more as a student and as an individual and to see where my dreams and achievements take me as I continue on with my college experience. I am looking forward to meeting new people, experiencing new things and getting more involved at school.
Sydney: I think what excites me most about my college experience is the knowledge. As you progress through your college career, you’re able to take more specific courses catered to your interests and even have the opportunity to study abroad. These experiences and chances to learn things that interest me and possibly learn them overseas will never fail to excite me.
Daniel: Personally, in Bulgaria, the way colleges are designed is that you’re assigned in a group of around 10 colleagues and, with this group, you spend every single lab/class together for every single year of college and take every exam together. So, it really fosters extremely strong friendships. So, to answer the question, I’m most looking forward to becoming lifelong friends with some of the colleagues I’m currently studying with.
Regardless of their differences, college students share much of the same mindset. Even though it can feel as though students are alone in their journey through college, so many people can relate to these new feelings.
As shown by the responses, it doesn’t matter where you are or what you study, college students are still going to struggle with the transition. It isn’t always easy to make friends or to get used to being away from family. A student who is only 50 miles from home can still miss family and friends just as much as a student who is 5,000 miles from home.
Although the beginning may be rocky, as the students mentioned, there is still so much to look forward to.