Five Worries I Had About College and How I Navigated Them

Answering questions from my first-year self about navigating college and sharing what I learned along the way.

By Madeleine Lee February 28, 2023
Five Worries I Had About College and How I Navigated Them

There were definitely some worries I had before coming to college. Because everything was so new, there was a lot of uncertainty to deal with. As a senior getting ready to graduate in April, I thought I would answer some questions and concerns my first-year self had and how I learned to navigate them.

What if I get lost going to class on the first day? That is going to be embarrassing.

I can guarantee that you or someone you know will get lost at some point during the first week or even semester of school. That shows how common and honestly expected it is when you navigate a new place for the first time. When in doubt, Google Maps is your go-to guide. I remember trying to obscure my phone so that Google Maps would not be visible to the people walking past me, but, as I look back, it was not a big deal. I saw so many people doing the same thing, and I found comfort in knowing that I was not the only one. If you are feeling nervous about finding your way on campus, there are some things you can do to ease your worries:

  • Before the first week of classes, block out some time to find your classes. Whether you do this with your roommate or friend or just want to fly solo, knowing the approximate location of your classes can save you stress on the first day.
  • Make use of the LSA classroom finder to learn the names of buildings and what your classroom spaces will look like. There are many acronyms floating around to identify campus buildings (for example, who knew that MH stands for Mason Hall?), and this useful tool can help you get adjusted to learning the layout of U-M Central Campus.
  • Aim for comfy fits and a good pair of walking shoes, especially for the first day. You will likely be doing a lot of walking during your first few weeks of the semester, and being as comfortable as possible will help conserve your energy.

Detroit Observatory
As you look for your classes, remember to enjoy the campus scenery along the way. Above is a picture of the Detroit Observatory, which you can find when you are taking your own walking tour!

I have no idea how to study in college. What am I going to do?

It will take some time to figure out what method of studying works best for you, and it may depend on what classes you are taking in a given semester. For example, if your schedule includes STEM courses, you may benefit from studying through sample questions and practice exams provided by your instructors since these courses tend to reinforce problem-solving. If your classes are more geared towards memorization, spaced repetition, recall, and flashcards can be really helpful.

During my first year of college, I spent a lot of time trying out different ways to study and learning what worked best for me. This will look different for every student so it is OK if the way you study is different from your friend’s way of studying. Take the time to find what works best for you, and once you find it, stick with it! As I am finishing up my eighth semester, these are some of my favorite studying strategies and resources:

  • Science Learning Center Study Groups and Peer Tutoring: These are good for large introductory STEM courses where you could benefit from some more personalized instruction. Study groups offer practice problems for group members, and tutors can answer your course questions one-on-one. Plus, these resources are free and open to all students.
  • Spaced repetition: This technique is basically studying through repetition over a long period of time so that you are not cramming information the day before your test. This requires starting to study early (earlier than you think!) and a little bit every day even if you have just 10 minutes to spare.
  • Practice exams and problems provided by your instructors: I emphasize resources distributed by your instructors because these will do the best job at reflecting what you are learning in class and what you are expected to know for an upcoming exam. This will save you a lot of time in the long run so that your studying is as focused as possible.
  • Office hours: To make the most of this time, aim to review the material in advance and jot down a few questions to ask your professor, teaching assistant (TA), or graduate student instructor (GSI). One misconception I had about office hours before entering college was that you had to stay the entire time to make the most out of it, but that is not the case at all. If you can get your questions answered in five minutes (because you prepared your questions and knew what to ask), that is great, and you may feel more inclined to stop by again in the future.

Textbooks and laptop spread out on a desk
My first-year self studying with the course textbook, which I started to rely less on as the semester progressed because I found other strategies that worked better for me, like spaced repetition and active recall.

I am nervous about making friends.

Finding a community where I felt accepted and could be myself was one thing I really looked forward to in college but was also a bit nervous about. Starting college was like starting all over again. I was at a new school with new people, and it was different from high school where I could recall almost everyone by face or name. People did not know me, and I did not know them. I felt out of practice with making new friends, and I was unsure of how things would pan out when I started college.

During my first year, I learned that being open to new experiences helps with finding your people. As a first-year, I chose to join student organizations and participate in activities that I was interested in regardless of any prior experience. I was able to meet people with varied interests and get to know a number of different communities on campus. This was an eye-opening and mind-shifting experience for me because I learned that the first step in finding community and making friends is to put yourself in spaces that you want to be in. Once you are there, you will find people who already share something in common with you: They, too, want to be in these spaces. In short, continue to pursue your passions and the rest will eventually follow.

students at an optiMize event
I was a part of optiMize, an organization that encourages turning ideas into impact, during my first year. It was a great opportunity to meet a community of individuals passionate about innovation, social change, and mentorship.

How do I navigate the MBus system?

MBus, also known as the Magic Bus, is the U-M bus that travels across all university campuses for free. The most popular buses for students are those that travel between Central Campus and North Campus. It is interesting how some students may never need to use the bus system while in college while others consistently rely on it throughout their time at U-M. If you are like the latter or just want to learn about MBus, it is pretty straightforward after the first few times. Some helpful tips and things to remember:

  • I use a downloadable MBus Tracker app that provides live updates on bus locations and schedules. Simply choose a route that takes you where you need to go, locate the nearest bus stop, and check the app for bus arrival times.
  • If you are like me and do not have much experience with public transportation, buses can get really crowded, especially when they are jam-packed with students trying to get from point A to point B. If you can, try to take a seat because the ride can be pretty bumpy sometimes. If that is not possible and you need to stand, hold tight to a pole or handgrip and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart so that you have the most balance possible. As you can probably tell, I learned this the hard way with a few near falls.

Maize and blue colored bus driving on campus
Look for the bright maize and blue buses zipping around campus!

Do I need to decide what to study right away? I feel rushed to declare a major.

Nope, you definitely do not. You have SO much time to figure out what you want to do during college. Especially during the first few weeks of school, you will likely receive many questions about your intended major, which is totally understandable since that is what most people are focused on at the moment, but it is completely OK if you simply do not know. That is what your classes are for! You will start to get a sense of what you like and do not like through your experiences. While most students usually declare a major during the second semester of sophomore year, this does not mean your major cannot change or that you can’t follow a different timeline. Consulting an academic advisor can be a good way for you to determine next steps to avoid feeling behind or rushed in the future.

I started my first year with an interest in medicine and policy, thinking that I was going to major in neuroscience and perhaps minor in public policy. During my second semester, I wanted to experience a small and personalized classroom setting, which led me to registering for a first-year history seminar. I enjoyed the course so much that I took more history classes and ended up declaring a history major at the end of my sophomore year. You do not know where your classes will take you — be open to seeing them through!


Madeleine Lee
Madeleine Lee

Madeleine Lee is a senior in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts with plans to work at the intersection of health and social justice. Outside of the classroom, she conducts research at the Kellogg Eye Center and is a member of the Korean-American Scientists and Engineers Association. She is an Ann Arbor native, and in her free time, you can find her running, solving crossword puzzles, or making playlists.