Ten lessons to learn as freshmen

By on August 29, 2014

Welcome to all freshmen!

I came here as a transfer student a few years ago, and in my experience, Birmingham is a great town and UAB is an outstanding academic community.  There is much to take advantage of around the city; Birmingham is unique in its mix of urban and wild spaces. It is a really fun place to explore, and I hope your next years find you all over the city or maybe even the world.

As I think about what an exciting time freshman year was in my life and I wish that I had known then what I know now.

What follows is the advice and lessons learned from someone who did terribly freshman year.


1)     There will be an immense learning curve in all areas of your life when simply adjusting to college, and you will make some horrible mistakes in the process of adjusting.

Do not let this get you down. Anyone who appears to have this whole college thing figured out is just better at faking it than you are.


2)     College is a once in a lifetime thing. No party, text message, phone call, email, club meeting, shadowing experience, internship, weekend trip, social emergency, or roommate disaster is as important.

Unfortunately, this is the kind of crap you will be dealing with for the rest of your adult life. But, it is easy to get lost in these day to day things and miss out on the parts of college that really are once in a lifetime: one on one’s with professors, becoming involved and invested in your studies, meeting people you have never been around before, exploring new things and maybe even growing interpersonally.


3)     Study what you want; otherwise you will not be happy.

Having recently graduated, I know a lot of people who wished they had studied something different.

Here is the simple test to pick a major: does this subject keep me up at night thinking?

If something keeps you wondering, congrats! You have found your major. This is a process; let it take its time.


4)     College is hard.

I was a “smart guy” in high school; I did not study and passed through with ease. I got knocked down a peg in college (thankfully!).

If you want to do well in college there is a single formula: go to class, take good notes, do the homework even if it’s not for a grade, study hard, study long, study strong.

I looked for an academic magic bullet and the magic bullet is the formula.


5)      College is fun, in moderation.

Culturally, college is supposed to expand horizons and provide people the freedom to discover themselves more honestly. This is a major goal of education and should be thought of as a goal in college.

On a more practical level, there is a huge difference between drinking 2 beers and drinking 10 beers, even if you can not tell as you drink them.

Trying for moderation and contemplation as you start experimentation is the smartest route.


6)     Professors want to talk to you and, for the most part, they really care about what they are teaching and even about you, personally.

Early in college, I was terrified to go by during a professor’s office hours. I thought I would be bugging them with a dumb question or wasting their otherwise highly valuable time. In college, I learned that professors get into their profession because they want to teach something they are passionate about. They want to see students and they want to answer questions.


7)     The classes do not get easier.

This point seems intuitive enough when laid out; however, developing good study habits early on will pay dividends for the rest of your academic career.

Plus, it is easier to maintain a good GPA than to pull it up later on.


8)     Stay ahead, or at the very least do not fall behind.

While it is theoretically possible to write a 15-page paper the night before, it will be one of the worst nights of your life.

Sometimes pulling an all-nighter “works”, but after you will have a caffeine and/or nicotine and/or whatever else-crash that will make you feel like a zombie for the next 3 days.

Falling into the habit of doing these things will make you a living nightmare for those around you.


9)     College has its own unique type of bull.

For anyone who has filled out a FAFSA, I think you know what I mean.

Any time spent getting frustrated or mad about uniquely academic bull is time wasted.

Instead, there is generally a magical person who is friendly and somehow knows the answer to your highly specific odd pseudo – technical question.

UAB’s One Stop is a great resource, also: advisors, department secretaries, financial aid, the IT people…the list goes on.

Treat these people well and remember who they are. They will make your life much easier.


10) Enjoy college as much as possible.

For most of human history, it was impossible to be educated to as high a standard as UAB offers. For most of humanity, a college education is an impossibility.

For most students outside the United States, an American education is the most coveted possession one could ever have.

By starting college, your future is becoming totally your own. Your destiny is whatever you make it, so enjoy it.



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