From a Hope College Senior writing to an incoming Freshman, this is my best advice for you:
Fight the urge to compare yourself to other freshmen. Every upperclassman I know can recall a moment when they called their mom on the phone and said or felt some version of, “It just feels like everyone else is doing so well, adjusting so easily, fitting in, handling the homework, making friends so much more easily than I am. Why am I struggling so much more than they are?” I cannot emphasize enough that everyone–everyone–is feeling this way, has felt this way at some point, or is going to feel it later. It’s so normal, and it’s also not forever. It may take some time, maybe even more time than you want it to, but it will get better.
Don’t overplan your college years. I completely understand that some majors require a stricter four-year plan than others, and it is by every means responsible and honorable to want to graduate in four years with a sturdy plan in place. Not to mention it takes about one advising meeting to convince yourself that you are somehow already behind on clinical hours, or research hours or internships. I promise, there is no clear cut, perfect path to arrive at your desired future career. Plan what you can, and leave plenty of room for God to work and even change the plans you made. One of my favorite verses this last year has been Proverbs 16:9 which says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” Some of my unexpected turns during my own personal journey at Hope included friend group shifts, changing my major half way through Sophomore year, and even a global pandemic that cut my Freshman year short and sent most of my classes the next fall onto Zoom. And here I am – I’m still graduating, on-time, with two completed majors, and a bucket full of amazing memories and lifelong friendships. I’m incredibly grateful that God’s plans were different from my expectations.
Leading into my next point: Be present. Four years goes so, so much faster than you think. It’s easy to feel at times that the homework is never ending, and a billion responsibilities are pulling at your attention ranging all the way from trying to find time between classes to eat lunch all the way to mapping out your future. One of the decisions I am most grateful for making Freshman year was minimizing my commitments. It’s so easy to get sucked into signing up for every club, every society, and every IM team. I am a huge proponent for trying things out, and all of those are great opportunities to meet new people. However, rest is necessary and healthy even. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like your value is wrapped up in your involvement. Do the things you really want to do, block out time after your 8:00AMs to take a nap if you need it and know it really is okay if you don’t have plans every Friday night.
Some practical other tips: Call your parents and siblings, they miss you. Your clothes will actually shrink in the dryer – it’s not a myth. Prioritize friendships that build you up. Seek out mentors – that is one of the greatest things about Hope. I am so thankful for the relationships I have with my professors; they want to know you! I’ve heard it said, “You’ll find what you’re looking for here.” It makes me sad that I know many seniors that wanted to prioritize their faith at Hope and didn’t make the time. Don’t miss that opportunity. Also, don’t buy coffee out everyday – I learned that one the hard way. And take lots of mental pictures of all the good days, all the hard days, and all the really normal feeling days.
Enjoy your normal days. Someday you’re going to miss them.