06/24/2015 10:28 am ET Updated Jun 23, 2016

7 Lessons I Learned As a College Freshman That You Will Benefit From

As a soon-to-be 2nd year college student at UC Santa Cruz in my last week before finals, I have been reflecting on the small things I've learned over the past three quarters about navigating a huge university, managing time, prioritizing homework, classes, and friends, and utilizing the vast variety of resources available to students on college campuses.

The small bits of information I didn't know coming in as a freshman would have made a huge difference, had I known about certain things earlier. If you're a high school senior about to go away to college next fall, or a current college student, these points will serve as mini-lessons, snippets of relatable entertainment, or both!

1.) Just because you have unlimited food available to you does not mean you need to eat it all!

Even though UC Santa Cruz is associated with "Freshman Negative 15" (because of all the walking and hiking necessary to navigate the 2,000 acre campus) while most other colleges are known for producing the "Freshman 15," this phenomenon exists no matter which college you attend--but only if you allow it to!

The luxury of having a dining hall and a meal plan as a new college student is somewhat mind-boggling at first; all your food is cooked for you, you put your dirty dishes on a conveyor belt for other people to deal with, and at certain times of the day, chefs make custom food for you. All of this is splendid and convenient, but the dining hall's many options might present challenges for you. This is why the dining hall is a great tool for teaching self-regulated nutrition and meal planning.

This may be the first time you're confronted with choosing your diet and food intake, so take some time to choose which dining hall foods will contribute to making you the healthiest and happiest possible. There will likely be food stations that consistently serve french fries and pizza, but you also have the option of great salad bars with good quality vegetables and fruits.

Use your dining hall experience to decide for yourself how you want to eat, and consequently, how you want to feel because of what you eat.

2.) You don't need to read every single word of every reading your professor assigns.

I remember staying up until 2 in the morning reading every word of a Modern and Contemporary Poetry anthology for my first Literature class at UCSC, only to realize a week or two before the class ended that I had somewhat missed the point. The professors want you to be strategic about your reading--of course, they wish you would read all of it (I really wish I could read all of it too), but in the Introduction to Reading Poetry class I had, my professor wanted us to read work from an assortment of poets so we could find out who we liked best.

Professors know that time is tight for college students, and they don't expect you to have enough time to read every word in-depth. At first, I stressed out because I really thought I was going to fall behind if I didn't finish reading every word of what was assigned, but that was not the case; I soon figured out how to read for that class, and received an A+.

College is about being strategic about what you're assigned; don't worry if you can't read every word. Learn the art of skimming--it's a skill 100 percent necessary to keep up in college!

3.) If you're taking a class that needs an access code for online homework, resist buying it on the first day of classes!

Your schedule may change quite a bit in the first few weeks of the quarter/semester. If you're in any kind of science or math class, it will likely have an online homework component required as part of the course. At UCSC, most professors use an online learning environment for homework called WebAssign; to access the site, you have to buy an access code for about $100.

For this reason, wait a few days or even a week until you're 300 percent positive you'll be keeping the class! I learned this the hard way when I bought a homework code for a class I ultimately dropped, but because the shrink wrap around it was broken, I couldn't return it or sell it.

Professors don't expect you to buy the code on the first day; they usually give students a few weeks of free access to the online homework before you have to buy a code to continue, as they are also aware that schedules switch around for students at the start of the term.

P.S. As far as textbook shopping in general, always check to see if your school has a Textbook Exchange Facebook group or look up your books on Amazon Prime--you can usually buy slightly used textbooks cheaper than brand new ones from the bookstore. You can also sell your used textbooks on Uloop or rent cheaper books through the site.

Students love selling textbooks to other students! On a limited college budget, saving money on textbooks is a critical skill to cultivate.

4.) You'll have zero busywork.

No more nightly worksheets or extra-credit crossword puzzles your high school teachers gave you. Most college classes grade you based on a couple of tests, and some homework (again, usually online). Don't stress out about this; this gives you flexibility and freedom to do what you need to do to learn material for exams (on which you'll need to do well, since they're worth a large portion of your grade).

You'll find it really nice not to worry about those little assignments anymore. Now, you can focus on learning what you want to learn.

5.) College is all about involvement.

You're paying tens of thousands of dollars to go to your school. Wouldn't you love to have a fantastic life there in exchange? College is a wonderland of opportunities, organizations, groups, clubs and more. Satisfaction with your college experience is directly proportional to the amount of energy, time, and dedication you put into it. In a large university, there are activities suited to nearly everyone's interests--you just have to peel your eyes to find them.

While classes this year at UCSC were amazing, the highlights of my year came from the extracurricular work I did for certain organizations. This involvement and leadership helped me find communities I love, and spaces in which I can thrive with people similar to me on an intellectual level. I guarantee you'll find something you enjoy if you put in the effort to research what people are doing on your campus!

6.) You'll really have to adapt to other people's lifestyles.

Especially if you grew up an only child like I did, living in such close quarters with other people you don't know might be new for you. If a floor-mate of yours is already in the shower stall you want to use at a given time, you'll have to either wait for it to become vacant, or use a different shower.

Sometimes your room or floor will be noisy at night, despite "quiet hours," and you might have to learn to sleep with lights on or with some level of background noise. All of these things are part of living on campus, especially in residence hall dorm rooms with a few roommates, which is a solid way to learn flexibility and cooperation. Once you get used to the habits of people on your floor or in your room, you won't mind inconveniences as much.

7.) Everything will be okay.

It's okay to change your major. It's okay to change your major twice. It's perfectly fine to change your major and then change it back again. It's okay to take the minimum number of units needed to be a full-time student. It's okay to push yourself and take 18 or 19 units in one term.

It's okay to shop around and take classes that might seem useless to your major, just to learn about a random topic. It's okay if your roommates aren't your best friends, and it's okay if the girls down the hall become your family. It's okay to add your email address to 10 different mailing lists, go to all the organization's meetings, and decide none of them are for you. It's okay to wear your ID lanyard around your neck so you never get locked out (which totally screams "freshman," but I've worn my lanyard proudly every day this year with no shame).

It's okay to be called a freshman--what's so wrong with it anyway?

By: Julia Dunn, UC Santa Cruz