The One Piece of Advice Every Incoming College Freshman Should Know

05/07/2014 04:11 pm ET Updated Jul 07, 2014

Before coming to college, I was constantly informed about the golden years ahead and the grand new life I was about to start. I was flooded with a variety of advice from the practical like how to remove a coffee stain, to the obvious like putting your academics first, and even random yet useful tidbits like using your ironing board to make grilled cheese sandwiches (I'm still too terrified I'll start a fire if I try that). It's the end of my freshman year this week, and as I look back on my life a year ago, everyone was right: my life is better than I ever imagined. Most of the advice, warnings, and stories I received before coming to college have played out in some shape or form, yet I failed to receive one simple piece of advice I wish I had known before coming to college: take the initiative.

Put yourself out there

One of the most typical, cliché statements I heard before coming to college was that I would make so many new lifelong friends. While I made many friendly acquaintances my first few weeks of college, I struggled to find a group of friends -- or rather just one friend -- I truly clicked with. In lectures with 100+ people, I constantly met new people in my classes, but in an effort to not be labeled that overly friendly, clingy weirdo combined with my knack for being a bit shy, I waited for others to take the initiative. As a result, I admit there were many nights during the first month of college where I disappointingly sat in my dorm room waiting for my phone to light up with texts.

Last semester, I kept seeing the same girl in a lot of my classes, but we only exchanged nods in passing and occasionally made small talk in the hallway. When I heard about an event going on in the city one weekend, I couldn't find anyone interested enough to join me. Determined not to go on another outing by myself, I reached out to the girl in typical millennial fashion: via Twitter. To my surprise, she replied immediately and we quickly met up in the city. Within fifteen minutes we discovered our joint love for fashion, Sex and the City, and macarons. We've been inseparable ever since; she's the Carrie to my Charlotte, my future roommate, and "that girl I see in all your pictures" as my grandmother frequently calls her. Who knew a tweet could lead me to my best friend?

Get involved

To expand my networking, I took another standard piece of advice and joined a bunch of clubs on campus. I found three clubs I was passionate about, but quickly realized I wanted to do more than sit by the sidelines and be a warm body in the room. I joined the digital media team for our PRSSA club and from a simple conversation with the club president, got invited to tag along on a professional event. The suburban girl in me was terrified to take public transportation alone for the first time, but luckily I found my way and connected with a lot of upperclassmen that day.

Today, I proudly call one of the rising seniors in our club my mentor. She's become the big sister (or sorority "big") I never had, and the only person I know with as many type A qualities as me. My mentor has been there to guide me in the beginning of my career, but beyond helping me pick out classes and proofreading my resume, she's been a big source of inspiration and vice versa. We constantly bounce ideas off of each other on projects we're working on and are always there to encourage the other to "lean in".

Ask for help

The most common two-fold piece of advice (or warning) you hear before coming to college is to study hard and get good grades. When I started a philosophy course last semester, my head was spinning. I had never encountered such a difficult subject, and it showed when I got a mere 17 percent on my first assignment. Most of my peers did equally as bad, but while I was afraid to be typecast as a teacher's pet, most were too lazy to go to office hours for help.

With the fear of failing now lingering on my mind, I got the guts to go straight to office hours for the next assignment. For the rest of the semester, I visited my TA every week, sometimes twice a week for help. While studying is a crucial part of getting good grades, taking the extra time and effort to go over course material with your TA or professor provides invaluable help. It truly paid off in the end when I got an A as my final grade in the class, a far cry from that initial 17 percent. I also quickly learned that most TAs and professors are passionate about what they teach and truly want to help students. I would even visit some of my favorite professors during office hours to discuss scholarly material unrelated to the course just because it was -- dare I say -- fun.

Don't sell yourself short

As a major planner and goal setter, I think one of the more useful pieces of advice I received was to make a bucket list of things I wanted to do before graduating. I'm fortunate that I live in a city where there are endless activities, but my list ranged from big things like going sailing by the harbor to small things on campus like taking a ballroom dance class. The list seems to grow daily, but amazingly already almost half of it is complete. One of my biggest highlights of the semester was crossing off internship on the list.

After listening to the founder of a Boston-based fashion startup speak on campus last fall, I overheard him mentioning that the company often hired student interns. I filed the information in the back of my mind for the future, but when my spring schedule ended up giving me a little too much free time on my hands, I decided to apply for an internship. I was convinced no one would really be interested in hiring a freshman so when I got called in for an interview, I thought it would be a good experience to build on. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, and to my surprise, I not only got the internship, but also gained so many valuable skills and knowledge that actually helped me realize I wanted to switch my major.

People often say the beginning of college is rough, and that is no lie. College has been both easier and harder in ways I had never expected, but I can confidently say I've matured from my mistakes, grown as an intellectual, and changed as human being. As I look back on my most cherished memories from freshman year, I'm amazed at the opportunities I've experienced so far. I've realized that most of these opportunities did not come knocking on my door. None of them would have happened though, if I hadn't gotten the gumption to take the initiative.