College sophomores offer tips to incoming freshman
Photos: Submitted
Claudia Hurst in front of her freshman dorm during move-in last fall at the University of Michigan

By Claudia Hurst

Dear first-years:

The summer between high school and college is an integral transitionary period for many students. It is marked as a time when individuals learn to balance feelings of anticipation and excitement for what their new life will look like, while also trying to soak up the many “lasts” that will no longer be a part of their daily routine. A period filled with saying goodbye to habitual experiences and relationships in order to make room for new ones.

Often, change feels like shaky ground to be standing on. Freshman year is meant for growth and discovery. There are countless tips and tricks you will learn on your own, but to ease your transition, recent DFW first-year students and community members have shared some advice for you to consider as you begin your journey.

Jimmy Ray, a graduate of J.J. Pearce High School and sophomore at the University of Georgia (UGA), said an important part of his freshman year was finding balance. “It is important to do well in your classes because they will likely be the easiest classes you take in college, but you also have to try new things to figure out what you like and what you don’t,” Ray explained.

He shared that growing up in Dallas, he was a competitive baseball player. This past year, Ray tried softball for the first time by joining an intramural softball league with his fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi). He later led this team to the championship game.

Ray also said that finding a community and a support system was essential to his experience in Athens, especially as an out-of-state student.

Mimi Zimmerman, Hillel Jewish community advisor at TCU, also highlighted the importance of community building on a college campus. Zimmerman works with a board of TCU students to plan campus events in an effort to strengthen Jewish tradition and build a strong community between Jewish and non-Jewish students in Fort Worth. 

Melissa Friedensohn, executive director of Hillels of North Texas, also shared how Hillel can be helpful to create relationships in a new place. “Hillel directors and staff that work directly with students can be great conduits. We are developing relationships with students, oftentimes a very different relationship than their professors or their academic advisors. [We can serve as] guiding posts that they have in college,” Friedensohn said.

However, the relationships that students establish on their college campuses are not bound by the school year and the gates of their university.

Jake Robinowitz and Jimmy Ray were in the same religious school class at Congregation Shearith Israel in Dallas, but the pair did not know each other well until reconnecting at UGA. Now, they are roommates and brothers in AEPi and enjoy road trips between Dallas and Athens together. 

Robinowitz, a graduate of St. Mark’s School of Texas and sophomore at UGA, shared his advice on building new relationships. “It is really valuable to be nice to everyone you meet, especially your freshman year. You never know who will end up being in one of your classes or who you will cross paths with later in life,” Robinowitz said.

Megan Zlotky, a sophomore at Tulane University and Greenhill School class of 2022 alumna, has a similar perspective. “Make an effort to introduce yourself to the people around you —whether that is someone you pass in your dorm hallway, see in the bathroom or sit next to in a class. You obviously cannot be best friends with everyone, but you can never have too many friendly faces to see around campus,” Zlotky said.

In many ways, college is a training ground for your adult life. By forming these habits at a young age, students are able to create positive practices for the future. Dallas pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist, Susan Sugerman, co-founder of Girls to Women Health and Wellness, emphasized this idea while talking to the TJP.

“College is really stressful, but life can also be really stressful. For many young people, your college experience is the first opportunity to practice self-care and self-monitoring in an independent situation. The skills that you gain from learning how to balance your time are critical to ensuring some balance in your mental health for the rest of your life,” Sugerman said.

Sugerman’s medical practice focuses on serving adolescents and young adults. She has also written stories for the TJP in the past, including a popular article about preparing young adults for college. In her recent conversation with the TJP, Sugerman highlighted some topics she used to cover in her writing: the importance of encouraging students to be open-minded as they approach their education and learning to prioritize mental health.

“I have the privilege to work with a lot of young people as they go through their educational process. As an outsider looking in on their stories as they work through trying to figure out what they want to do when they grow up, one of the things that I have learned is that we’re always growing up, so there’s always room for growth and change. Quite often where people land in terms of their initial career journey is not where they thought they were headed. Being open to the surprises and unexpected interests is its own reward in the end,” Sugerman said.

Jordyn Behr, an Akiba Yavneh graduate and sophomore at The University of Texas at Austin, also stressed this perspective as she reflected on her own freshman experience. She shared that some of the challenges she faced were opportunities for personal growth. Behr also added, “It is easy to feel self-conscious in a new environment, but it is important to remember that everyone is focused on their own journey.”

This article features the perspectives of only a handful of students and community members. However, even with countless suggestions or advice from others, you still might have a lump in your throat when the car pulls out of your driveway or butterflies before you walk into your first lecture class.

As much as you can seek the counsel of others to try and prepare yourself for this new experience, it is important to remember that it is not the preparation before you leave that truly matters; it will be your ability to learn and grow as you move through these new experiences. 

Your first year of college will be fun. It will be stressful. And it will likely be a mix of everything in between. However, these sentiments that you might feel will be shared by the many students around you feeling the same things.

There is great camaraderie in the fact that everyone else is new to this too.

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