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Here's What Not to Do During Your Freshman Year of College

If I had the chance to talk with myself a year ago—a high school senior about to become a college freshman—here are some things I would say:
  • The Freshman 15 is not a myth. Eating healthy is difficult to do in college when your time management skills are terrible. Eating right, getting enough sleep and getting out is imperative.
  • If your roommate or your friend is not going to class, you need to think and act for yourself.
  • If you have an inkling your professor might be crazy, you need to get out of dodge and find another class.
  • If you need to work as a freshman, try to get a work-study job, because you will have a lot more flexibility when it comes to classes and studying.
  • You have to let go. What do I mean by “let go?” You have to let go of the things that bother you. You have to learn how to do without all things that may cause you to be stressed, because there are so many unpredictable events in college that are going to stress you out even more. You must learn to live and let go.
All of these things happened to me, and more, as a college freshman at Louisiana State University. Though I got a lot out of this year, and enjoyed it, I could have done better. I wish I had been a little more independent. It was hard getting used to all the responsibility. But I survived and I’m going back. In high school, I learned to persevere, and in college I’m learning when to be independent and when to get help. First semester was a tough break. I dealt with issues involving roommates, academics and finances. With more than 30,000 students, LSU is a very big school. This year, I lived in a four-person suite in one of the biggest dorms on campus, Kirby Smith Hall. My roommates and I all knew each other from high school, but the three other guys were very close. They were best friends from middle school and spent a lot of time together. At the beginning of my first semester I could easily feel like I was the plus-one. But we had a system; we knew we had to stick together. It helped us because we could trust each other, but sometimes it kept us from making decisions on our own. For me, that meant if my roommate wasn’t going to the library, well, I could sleep, too. I kept myself from having that experience of growing up and making decisions on my own. If I would have roomed with people I didn’t know, I think I would have made more decisions for myself. At the same time, I thought I could handle my academics all on my own. First semester, I was scared to ask for help. I didn’t want to feel dumb. Sometimes I would be doing homework and think to myself, “Jabari, you don’t know this.” I was doubting myself. If I would have asked for help and got more tutoring, then I could have done a lot better first semester.

It's All About Balance

Working at Walgreens first semester really didn’t help me out. At first, I thought I could work and go to school. I had all my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so a part-time job on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays seemed to fit. I wanted to be less dependent on my family when it came to needing things. We aren’t the wealthiest family but we manage very well. My little sister is 10, and I wanted my mom to spend that money on her. I really want her to have a better experience of growing up than me and my older brothers and sisters had. My older siblings were helping me out when they could, but I wanted a consistent income. I didn’t want to just accept money; I wanted to work for it. But when I took the job, getting my schoolwork done became even harder. It also became harder to stay connected to events. I noticed that my employer really did not care about my being in school or not. Whenever I had a little change, I would send some to my mom because I like the feeling of giving back to someone who gave life to me. It was a lot of stress trying to balance both college and work. Before college started, I didn’t sign up for work-study. Once I got there, I found out that work-study jobs on campus give you more leeway to say, “I can’t make it,” when you have a conflict. After I let my job go, college was a breeze compared to first semester. I also talked to my professors a lot more during second semester. I was more confident. I went to the library more often. I also distanced myself from my roommates even more. We weren’t alike when it came to managing time because it takes me longer to do school work. They were the type of people who had the ability to pull off an A on the calculus test with three hours of studying before a test. They went to more events outside of school also. It’s too bad that we weren’t more supportive of each other about succeeding at college because we were taking on a task that many people don’t get a chance to take on.

Preparing for Sophomore Year

First semester, I didn’t have any As at all, but second semester I had two As and two Bs. I told myself I can’t do what I did last semester. I can’t take this opportunity for a free education and waste it. Next year is going to be the year where I really buckle down on my academics for sure. In the fall I will be off campus with my good friends, who push me a lot. We’re supportive of each other. Our off-campus housing is cheaper than the dorms, and I’ll be able to stay there over winter break and do winter session if I want to. I’m thinking about doing winter and summer sessions to graduate a year early. I’ll be majoring in construction management. As important as it has been for me to let go of things, it has also been important to hold on to the people and experiences that helped me grow. This summer I’ll be working at Live Oak Wilderness Camp. The kids are there to have fun, but we’re shaping the next leaders of New Orleans, teaching them leadership skills and how to be a team. Jack Carey, who founded the camp, has really been looking out for me. He connected me with a couple of construction firms and helpful people to know. If I had to sum up what I learned this year, it would be: making the wrong choices could mess up your semester, but making the right choices can really make it great.
Jabari Walters, a graduate of Edna Karr High School in New Orleans, is now studying construction management at Louisiana State University.

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