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University of Wisconsin-Madison

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What should every freshman at your school know before they start?

Picking a college is much like picking a movie to see at the theatres. You can listen to the movie critics all you want, but what do they know? Ultimately, it is your decision based upon your needs, desires, wishes, and goals. Picking a university is not a "one size fits all" approach. Only you can decide what is right for you. Once you've found that special place, you'll know it. Make the most of your college experience by trying new and interesting things. Something that sounds like it may not be cool or fun may just turn out to be your hidden passion. Check out the resources that college has to offer you. Last, never pass up an opportunity that you may not receive again. Just remember, you have roughly 4 years in college, and 40-some years of work afterwards. How do you want to remember your college career? Leave your mark on your university, and let your university leave its' mark on you. Let your passions dictate your actions, and take every opportunity to learn something new.

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I would tell myself three things. One, college is rough. Plain and simple. No one is there to hold your hand, no one is there to help you with every little problem, and no one is there to pick you up when you fall. You have to be strong and be able to do it yourself. Two, meet as many people as you can freshman year. People always tell you to meet new people, but really go out there and introduce yourself to everyone any chance you can get. You may meet your best friend that way, hey, you may meet your husband. Three, take time to just be. When you are walking to class, stop and absorb the moment. These are the times of your life and you will take for granted the little stuff unless you just stop and capture it. Look at the trees on the hill, smell the sandwiches from the sandwich cart on the corner, listen to the bell tower ring. Those are the moments to remember. Those are the moments that you can share with your friends. Those are the moments that make the tough times worth it.

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When I began my college search a little under two years ago, I was sure that I would attend an Ivy League school. I was in the top ten of my class with a 4.0 GPA and already 15 college credits under my belt. I was positive that I would get into my first choice, Notre Dame. However, as life teaches us, plans do not always work out the way we want. I did not get into Notre Dame and ended up attending Madison. That unfortunate incident has now become one of the greatest events of my academic life. Madison is wonderful. Unlike many fancier schools, Madison is a place of equal opportunity where the amount of money or type of lifestyle does not matter at all. Most importantly, here in Wisconsin, students are continually challenged to think on their own and to discover themselves. That is what you should look for in a school; a place where you must come up with your own questions and answers and also a place where you are free to be who you are without any judgements at all.

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My advice would be to do a lot of research and campus visits, but most importantly talk to students that attend the school of your interest currently. It is important to get the most opinions of the school you are considering as you can. As a transfer student I know how hard it can be to start at a new school after having attended one. Its a hard change, but by doing all you can to get to know the school you want to attend before you attend it, you may be able to avoid a transfer. More specifically, I would suggest to look for larger schools. You may be surprised by how small a large school can get after you have been there for a year or more and once you have close friends. Also, a large school allows for more opportunity to find out where you really belong, who you really get along with and gets you out of your comfort zone a little. Just remember that you change a lot in college and what you think you want going into it may be the exact opposite coming out of it.

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If I could go back in time and talk to myself as a high school senior, I would tell myself to save money and slow down. The first realization I had when coming to college is that it is expensive. I have to pay for housing, books, and food which rounds up to more than five thousand dollars. I would make myself apply for scholarships if I could go back. It is stressful enough as it is now. I'm almost half way through my college year and the unbelievable fact hit me; I miss home. I miss spending nights with my friends, driving around town, and sleeping in. Most of all, I miss my family. I miss talking, laughing, and fighting with them. I would tell myself to stop trying to grow up and live life as it is. When you're in college, no one will tell you that "you shouldn't do this" or "be careful"; you're on your own. I would tell myself to listen to my mom more and to be grateful for her support (not to mention her cooking) and for my crazy yet lovable eight siblings.

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I would tell my 18 year-old self this: You don't know what you want yet. In fact, it will be a long time before you know what you want in a career, lifestyle, relationship and anything else. So for now, just soak in every experience you can. Go to the art opening. Attend the speaker series. Take the strange-sounding elective. Go abroad for a semester. Befriend people who are nothing like your high school friends. And let every one of these experiences shape the person you become, and the life you carve for yourself. A lot of young people succumb to the pressure to define their goals before they really know what those goals should be. I say give yourself time to figure out who you are first. That doesn't mean 'float by'. You still need to study, apply for internships, build relationships with professors, keep your grades up and do all the other things that will keep doors open. But don't worry so much yet about which door you'll choose. You might even find it chooses you!

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As a high school senior, I honestly didn't know what to expect out of college life. I didn't have too many expectations, but I did have one large one. Along with it's excellent academic reputation, I had always heard about how many activities the UW- Madison campus had to offer, such as different clubs, various guest speakers, and exciting concerts. I expected to be doing all of these things, along with studying hard. But now that I have been in college for nearly two years, I rarely have time for such exciting activities. I always knew that college would be difficult and I would have to study constantly, but I felt that I would have time to do all kinds of things, even volunteer. Reality is, I spend most of my time studying and working. If I could give myself advise as a senior, I would say to try not to create any expectations. Just be postive , excited, and keep an open mind, and you will find your place in college, and do your best to find what works for you.

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The first piece of advice that I would give myself as a senior in high school would be to relax! There were so many things that I stressed out about that were simply out of my control. I would tell myeslf that yes, the school work is much harder than it was in high school but I am prepared and have the tools it takes to focus and study yet still have fun. I would definitely remind myself that being myself is the best way to make friends and that people will like me just for who I am. I would tell myself to make sure I spoke to my family and best friends in some way at least once a day because it is amazing how they can make me smile no matter how tough my day was. Finally, I would tell myself to just calm down and not worry about things like my roommate, what sorority I would be in, or being homesick. I would tell myself that I only get to experience college once, and to take in absolutely every single minute of it because once it is gone, I can never get it back.

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"Laura, I know you can't wait to get out of your tiny, overcrowded house but you're going to miss your sisters, and you'll even miss your overprotective parents! Don't be so eager to leave; take the time to enjoy your family's company and remember to call them once in a while. Mom gets really worried about you. Don't try to completely erase your past; reinventing yourself will only make you feel lost. I know you don't believe it yet, but you're pretty and you're smart. You are capable of so much more than you give yourself credit for. Have a little more confidence in yourself and don't be afraid to talk to the cute boy sitting behind you in Psych class. He's a really nice guy. Some days when you'll feel so stressed you'll want to cry, but a late-night excursion to the lake with your friends will make you feel a lot better, I promise. Just trust in God the way you used to and study hard! Oh and don't nap before work. You won't wake up in time for your shift."

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I like to think I made an easy transition from high school to college. I was lucky that I was an independent person in high school. I was used to basically being in charge, I got up when I wanted, went to sleep when I wanted, made my own meals, that kind of stuff. I did a lot of my daily things for myself, I didn?t rely on my parents for that much, and they gave me a lot of freedoms. So in that sense I think I was ready for the day to day activity of taking care of myself. However, there was nothing I could to prepare for the emotional side of living by myself away from my family and friends. The first couple of months of college can be very lonely. So if I could go back in time and talk to myself in high school, I would tell myself to enjoy my time in high school with my friends and family and stop wishing I was already in college. College will come soon enough and it will be a lot of fun, but it?s different then high school so enjoy it while you can.

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