Congratulations on your acceptance into SNC and the Honors Program! Little do you know now that you are about to embark on a new journey that will begin the rest of your life. And if you thought high school was an adventure, just know that your real life is only about to get started. Whether that statement just gave you a thrill of freedom or inflicted the fear of the unknown--or a combination of both, as I felt when I was in your shoes just a short year ago--depends on who you are. My name is Alexa Paleka and I’m a staff member in the Honors office. As I write this I am about a month away from having completed (what, in my opinion, has been a successful) first year as a college student. I’m here to share my personal experience and give some advice from what I’ve learned during my first year of college with you based on what I wish someone would have told me before beginning my college career. Here are my key takeaways:
1. Expectations: Don’t worry about what to expect! Honors is an experience. As much as you might be tempted to imagine and plan out in your mind every detail (ie: What will my classes be like? What will it be like having a roommate and living in Bergstrom? Am I going to be stressed, or will my life get easier?, etc., etc.), there’s no way for you to know what college and the Honors experience will be like. You can’t possibly know what you haven’t experienced (you’ll learn that in your Honors Philosophy class later). Also, forget what you think you know about college that you were told from your high school teachers, friends and siblings, and the glamourous party scenes from all those tacky teen-comedies you saw. Yes, you will actually have to go to class… at 8:30am, despite what you were told by someone told you. Finally, while college is a great time in your life, there’s a lot more to it than that. You’re an adult now, which means you’ll be responsible for yourself--this includes your grades, professional development, social life, financial matters, health, adapting to college life, and more. How you manage your time will determine where your priorities lie and your overall success.
2. Stress: Expect it (I know this contradicts my previous point, but stick with me here). As an Honors student, you’re probably naturally more inclined to be an active, involved, aware, busy person. With that said, as a student you are likely quite dedicated to your education not only in the classroom, but socially, spiritually, intellectually, civically, and individually (you will know what I mean by that after you finish your first semester and realize how grown up you’ve become--trust me, you may think you’re an adult as a high school senior, but you’re not until you’ve lived on your own at college). On that note, don’t be afraid to get involved! Many of our Honors students can be found indulging in the college experience in many positive and constructive ways. In fact, an impressive number are the leaders of many student organizations, participate in athletics, and are familiar faces in the roles they play on campus. As you will soon see, Honors is the heart of campus (that’s why we call our home website The Pulse). Overall, the amount of stress you have depends on you: if you care about becoming a better you and reaching your goals, you will probably push yourself harder to succeed. Just be organized, work hard, and stay healthy. Don’t be afraid to take a break from the daily grind by doing homework with friends or going out and having fun. There’s a quote that an RA in my building wrote on a bulletin board that I took and keep in my room that I’d like to share with you: “A jug fills drop by drop.” Take life day-by-day, and don’t get smothered with your commitments. Balance is key.
3. Friendships: In my experience, I have found that many relationships in college are fluid. That is, they are always changing from semester-to-semester, day-to-day, and minute-by-minute. This can be positive or negative, but no matter what you will learn about yourself in many ways, grow, and become more resilient. Don’t expect everything to be perfect, because each of you is an individual with a varying range of schedules, needs, and emotions that must somehow line up with one another. While it may or may not take you a while to find the right friends, life in the Honors Program will teach you how to be independent within a caring and friendly community full of support, especially in Bergstrom Hall. TIP: Don’t become a “cult”--be open to meeting people, make friends, and have relationships with people from other dorms. College campuses are diverse, and there are likely people out there to connect with that you won’t find unless you push yourself out of your comfort zone. Don’t put yourself into a “Bergstrom Box,” only being friends with people within the Honors Program. While you may make your best friends in Bergstrom that will last, don’t freak out if it takes you a while to adjust. Just be yourself, and the right people will come along. (P.S.: The jock-nerd dichotomy is a lie. Don’t be afraid of Burke Hall.)
My best advice: You must figure out what is most important to you. College is a time to figure out who you are, and the Honors Program is an excellent place for you to do just that. You will have a safe space in which to study, be involved, have open intellectual discussion, and express and discover your interests. All the while you’ll be supported by the program staff and fellow students, whether it be by being with friends or seeking out the many leadership opportunities offered by the program.
Looking back on my first-year experience as an Honors student at St. Norbert College, I can honestly say my life hasn’t turned out at all how I expected when, like you, I was entering as a graduated high school senior--it’s so much more satisfying having achieved much more than I thought possible, and knowing that I’m in the right place to achieve my endless list of goals. While college is a fresh start as they say, remember that you can’t erase who you were in high school completely--that part of you will still always be there. Perhaps you had a stressful high school experience as the team captain/President/straight-A students/etc. and were looking for some downtime in college like I was. However, I soon found out that you can’t deny that part of yourself. You can only make the conscious choice to change for the better and be the best version of you with what you’ve got. So go ahead, don’t be afraid to still be a nerd, athlete, artist, vocalist, organizer, and leader, because the SNC Honors Program is the place for you to express yourself and become who you’re going to be for your four years of college and the rest of your life.