Tips from those who have been there: Making the most of freshman year

Posted September 12, 2014


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …”

These opening lines of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” could easily be the opening phrases of a university student’s diary entry.

As students of the Class of 2018 have just finished their third week of classes, they are no doubt experiencing a whirlwind of emotions as they are faced with both new freedoms and new responsibilities.

Dr. Patricia Arena, licensed psychologist at the University of Miami’s Counseling Center, knows that a mixture of trepidation and excitement is normal.

“Know that there will be a period of adjustment during which you will have easier days and harder days. You are likely to face some unexpected challenges, but just as likely to discover new interests and formerly unbeknownst strengths in yourself,” said Arena.

College is more than an academic learning experience. It is also a time of personal growth. Through responding to stressors, students learn life skills. Neuroscience major Natalie Hamilton recalls her struggle during freshman year to find the balance between schoolwork and life outside of school.

“I’m actually still trying to find that balance, but I’ve improved by managing my time better, studying more efficiently and allowing time for myself to rest,” she said.

Ryan Nolan, senior and resident advisor in the freshman dorms, identifies time management as one of the biggest challenges new students face since they are not accustomed to having such large amounts of free time.

“It can be difficult for [freshman] to stay organized, especially at the beginning of the year when they don’t have too many tests or assignments in the near future, and it feels like they have forever to study or work.”

The Camner Academic Resource Center located on the second floor of the Whitten University Center on campus offers support to help students develop these skills including workshops covering topics such as organization and time management, college reading, and note-taking strategies.

Another aspect of personal growth is finding what truly excites you and where your passions lie.

“Everyone should take a class in a subject they’ve never explored before to expand their horizons and find a new interest (and maybe even a new major!)” senior Mattan Comay said.

The University of Miami is brimming with opportunities. UM alum Adon Martin, now teaching eighth grade science in Miami, reflected, “I have the fondest and deepest memories talking to faculty masters, meeting special guests from all over the world, and conversing with professors whose expertise span beyond the classroom.”

Recent years have seen the likes of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, primatologist Jane Goodall, President Barack Obama, singer-songwriter Billy Joel, former president Bill Clinton, and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

Forming new relationships, both social and professional, is another challenge for freshmen. UM School of Communication student Christian Smith remembers the difficulty of “finding a niche where you fit in on campus.”

Looking back, senior Emily Beltt wishes she became more involved in organizations on campus earlier because “they really help students connect with campus life.” Students can visit the Butler Center in the Student Activities Center to find out about all of the extracurricular opportunities at UM.

It’s also important to maintain old relationships, which is easier for this generation of college students than ever before thanks to social media, Skype, and FaceTime. Arena said this communication is a good remedy for homesickness. To battle homesickness, Arena also advises students to “make your housing a comforting, home-like environment” and to get involved in different activities.

Want to do research or medicine? Miami’s Civic Center is a health district home to many hospitals and research facilities. Interested in marine life? The barrier reef beginning in Biscayne National Park is the third largest in the world. Studying accounting? Miami has the largest concentration of international banks in the U.S.

Beltt suggests that students explore the greater Miami culture as well, including Little Havana. Smith said about Miami Cuban cuisine, “There is no better city than Miami for ‘la comida Cubana.’”

Students may have just arrived, but tests are already approaching. Nolan said test anxiety is one of the top concerns amongst freshman.

“Many incoming students are used to having homework and other grades to buffer out their test scores, but many classes in college are graded solely on the basis of test scores.”

The Camner Academic Resource Center offers two hours of free tutoring per subject to currently enrolled students.

Many national and international scholarships are available that award funding for wide-ranging purposes, from public service to graduate school to undergraduate tuition. A complete listing can be found by visiting UM’s Prestigious Awards and Fellowships website.

Applying for prestigious awards is a journey. Kefryn Reese, director of the Office of Prestigious Awards and Fellowships, jokingly compares a student’s success in a nationally competitive award program to finding true love.

“It doesn’t come together as often as we assume, the timing has to be right, and you don’t have to be perfect– just perfect for each other,” Reese said. “Don’t wait to try out the things you think you want to do ‘one day’, and consider that the time to do it is now. Contact the professor whose work you admire about working in her lab, study abroad, lobby a political cause close to your heart.”

If you’re still having difficulty, call the Counseling Center at 305-284-5511 or visit the office at 5600 George Merrick Dr., Building 21R.