Funk: Letter to my freshman self — what I wish someone had told me

Isabel Funk, Summer Editor

I don’t know who all of you are, reading this piece. I imagine most of you are incoming freshman and transfer students, looking for a glimpse into life at Northwestern and maybe guidance on what to expect. I can’t give each and every one of you the perfect advice, but I do know what I would have wanted to hear.

After two years at this school, I’ve learned a thing or two. I might not always be the greatest at taking my own advice, but I’m here to try to put some of your worries about college at ease.

To my freshman self,

Here’s some advice I wish I’d known back in 2020:

  • You will find your place eventually. It’s OK if it doesn’t happen right away. NU may not be classified as a large school, but with more than 8,000 undergraduate students, there are still a lot of people and it makes sense that it might take a minute to find the ones who feel like family. It’s OK if the people you hang out with during Wildcat Welcome — or even during October or Fall Quarter — don’t end up being your lifelong friends. 
  • You can’t operate the same way you did in high school when you start college. Don’t try to take early classes — there’s no point and it will be painful. You might find that a lot of your grades depend on two to three assignments, so it’s important to learn where to allocate your energy. Don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself functioning differently as a student than you did before — it’s natural.
  • AND doesn’t have to be in your DNA. It’s true that people at NU love to throw themselves into a hundred different activities, but the truth is most of us find pretty quickly that it’s not sustainable. You don’t need to compare yourself to others who are doing more. It’s just as OK to focus your energy on one passion. If you’re one of those people who has five majors and three minors, more power to you, and NU really is a good place to explore a lot of different interests. But if it gets overwhelming, you don’t have to maintain as many passions as you did in high school.
  • It’s OK to take your time and get adjusted to life at NU before you start joining clubs and organizations. Really, there are two routes. One is jumping right in and joining everything, then dropping what you don’t like. Or, you can give yourself a few weeks or months to find a routine and get settled, and then join the organization(s) that sound most interesting to you. 
  • Nothing has to be permanent. You can change your major, join (or quit) a club, dye your hair — there’s nothing stopping you from starting over at NU at any point. If things aren’t working for you, you can find a way to shift your energy to things that make you happy.
  • We live right next to a major city; take advantage of that. It gets really easy to get caught up in the quarter system and go months without taking a trip into Chicago. But then you’ll hop on the CTA train and 20 to 50 minutes later, you’ll remember how good it can feel to step away from campus for the day. But don’t neglect Evanston, either! There’s plenty to explore and learn about here as well.
  • Find a hammock, or a friend with a hammock. Seriously, we may not have that much time in the year when it’s nice enough to relax on the Lakefill, but during those few weeks when it is, you’ll be thankful for your hammock.
  • Learn to put yourself first. Your health and well-being are always top priority. It can be really easy to let that slide, intentionally or not, but nothing is worth more than your mental and physical safety.

Isabel Funk is a Medill junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.