08/28/2014 09:42 am ET Updated Oct 28, 2014

Attention, Freshmen: Here's What to Expect

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A few days ago, I waved goodbye to my younger sister as she pulled out of the driveway and headed toward the start of her freshman year at college. How did this happen? It felt like just yesterday when I was the one who was packing up and heading off to college myself.

As I waved to my sister, I thought back to when I was in her shoes, just two short years ago. I moved to Evanston, Illinois, started out in one major then switched to another. Since then, I have made many new friends, experienced new things, held several jobs and internships, and became much more confident in myself.

Needless to say, I also made some mistakes. College is a wonderful experience, but it is perhaps the most challenging experience that most 18-year-olds will face. They don't stress that enough in all those high school graduation speeches or during the new student orientations. Instead, they simply tell you that college will be "the best four years of your life." So far, at least, that's been true for me. College is great and I love it, but college has not been a breeze. That's why I am giving this unsolicited advice to the Class of 2018:

When I arrived on campus I was scared. I worried that I would not make friends because I was sure that everyone else was so much cooler than I was. I was reluctant to join clubs because I was convinced that there were plenty of people who were more knowledgeable and dedicated than I was. I found myself in some very challenging classes that I was convinced I did not belong in. In short, I was simply too scared to step out of my comfort zone.

My fear almost became paralyzing. I wasn't doing as well in my classes as I thought I should have been doing. Not even close. I hated my courses and my professors. I thought I should be spending more time studying and I began to view my friends as distractions. As a result, my social life suffered. By the middle of my first semester, I was having serious doubts about myself and I began to wonder if going to college was a good idea (perhaps a dramatic thought for someone who always dreamed about going to college).

Fortunately, I pulled myself together. I forced myself to get involved. I joined some clubs and I started making new friends. It wasn't long before I discovered that my friends were having similar doubts about themselves. It turns out that my own roommate, who had dreamt of becoming a physician, was struggling with her chemistry class -- so much so that she decided to change her major. Although I was a thousand miles from home, I finally realized that I was not alone.

College is definitely a crazy experience -- but not because of the frat parties and tailgates. College is a roller coaster of emotions that every student must ride, but it's a ride worth taking. This fall, I am heading into my junior year. I have had many rewarding moments. I took on leadership roles in clubs, I helped raise money for a worthy cause through dance marathons, and I joined a great sorority. Believe it or not, I even managed to impress a few professors along the way and made it onto the dean's list. There were a few low points, but they were far outweighed by the high points.

So to the class of 2018, I say, "calm down." Don't be scared. You will struggle and you might even fail a course or two. You might even break down and cry a few times. But, if you work hard and stop second-guessing your every decision, you will get through it all and succeed. Perhaps the best advice I can give you is to make sure you make lots of friends. What makes college a rewarding and unforgettable journey is having the best of friends to survive it with.