Looking back to freshman year

Danielle Ferguson with Cy during her orientation in the summer of 2012. 

Danielle Ferguson

As I’m sure you’ve heard countless times already, hello and welcome to Iowa State! My name is Dani Ferguson, a senior — which is still hard for me to imagine, by the way — in journalism and sociology originally from Salem, S. D. (No, not the witch trial town. I get that question all the time.) Come the fall, I’ll be your editor in chief of the Iowa State Daily.

You’re, obviously, on campus for your orientation — your first glimpse into Cyclone life. Orientation, much like all of freshman year in general, can be nerve wracking, busy, confusing and exhausting, yet still a lot of fun.

You’ll be getting a ton of information thrown at you. Your mother, father or other guardian is going to get all sentimental because the fact their little baby is going off to college is finally hitting them. One of your parents will undoubtedly embarrass you somehow while talking to another parent or asking a question in an information session. No worries. It happens to all of us.

Your freshman year, you’ll experience a new level of independence and freedom to do as you please, while learning how to manage that with your new responsibilities. I’m here to share with you a few things I learned as a freshman and a few things I wish I knew coming in. Hopefully my three years of trial and error at Iowa State will help you avoid mistakes.

It’s OK to not know what you’re doing:

I came to Iowa State in fall 2012, which seems like an eternity ago. I didn’t have a clue as to what I wanted my major to be. That freaked me out. I was 17 years old. How the heck am I supposed to know what I want to do for the rest of my life? I felt seven steps behind my peers. However, 50 to 70 percent of college students change their major at least three times. Those who come in undeclared are more likely to stick with what they declare the first time, according to Iowa State’s Office of Admissions.

I didn’t realize at the time how much going in Open Option, or undeclared, was going to benefit me in the future. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have an idea and a major declared, but by coming in without a major, I wasn’t limited by classes I had to take. I didn’t have to plan out the rest of my college career my first few weeks there. You will take a class you don’t like and you’ll absolutely love a class you thought you would hate, both of which could change your mind.

Whether you’ve declared a major or not, my best advice is: calm down. Sign up for classes that sound interesting to you that will still knock out a few gen-eds and explore different interests. You’ll figure it out eventually.

It’s normal if you and your roommate aren’t BFFs:

As a Student Admissions Representative, one of the most common questions I get during a campus or residence hall tour is: what if I don’t get along with my roommate?

My answer always is: that’s not the most common case, but it does happen. If you choose to live with a random roommate, he or she will most likely not have the same sleeping schedule, bathing schedule, manners, eating habits, type of friends or level of tidiness as you. That’s normal. It’s also a great life lesson to learn how to be in close quarters with someone different from you.

I was very lucky my freshman year to have a roommate who was much like me: loud, outgoing, energetic, loved Oreos and meeting new people. That’s not always the case. Talk to your Community Advisor if you do happen to get a roommate who you feel isn’t a good fit for you: that’s what your CA is for. He or she is there to help you in any way you need.

You don’t need to bring your entire closet:

I made the mistake of thinking I needed every article of clothing I owned because I was moving to a different state. My mother, being the wise woman she is, said, “Danielle … stop packing more clothes,” and I, thinking I knew everything about everything because I was going to college, was all, “but I’m moving my life, mom!”

She was right. That’s another thing you learn: mom is right the majority of the time…

You don’t have a room to yourself anymore and you don’t have the same amount of closet space.

If you haven’t worn that orange halter top for two weeks, chances are, you won’t wear it in the near future. College is a great time to refresh your wardrobe. Donate old clothes and hit up a Plato’s Closet or Goodwill (which is totally an acceptable clothing store as a student) for some reasonably-priced replacements. Finding a $3 shirt at a consignment store is like a mini-Christmas.

You’re not the only one who finds CyRide incredibly overwhelming:

My hometown is very small — like 1,300 people, small — and I’d never used a bus system like CyRide. The maps, I will admit, were pretty overwhelming and confusing. And, as I was the last person of my generation to obtain a smartphone, I didn’t have the MyState or CyRide apps, which are incredibly helpful.

It is perfectly fine if you need to ask the CyRide driver if that bus stops at a certain area. They think freshmen are adorable and will help you with a smile.

Upperclassmen are great resources:

Who better to help you with campus questions than someone who has been there for a few years?

When I was a freshmen, I made a few friends who were juniors and seniors. They were incredibly helpful throughout my first year as I was learning the ropes of campus life. If I had a question about CyRide, dining centers, which classes to take, which clubs to join, where to go if I lose my ID (Beardshear, by the way. And don’t lose your ID. It costs money — a commodity of which you’ll soon learn to stretch quite far) and more.

If you’re lost on campus your first few weeks and don’t want to pull out your big map you get at Destination Iowa State (which I will talk about later — it’s a great program!), you can download the MyState app or just ask another student.

Upperclassmen find freshmen humorous because they were there once and now they can feel all important when a freshman approaches them with a big, doe-eyed “I’m lost” look.

Go to Destination Iowa State:

I’m a bit biased about this topic because I was a DIS team leader for the past two years, but I also went through the entire program as a freshman. A lot of freshmen opt out of the event because they think it’s “lame,” but if you dive in and actually participate, it can be helpful and a lot of fun. My DIS leader my freshman year turned out to be one of my best friends throughout college.

DIS leaders’ goals are to: help you feel welcome; get you excited about your first year as a Cyclone; show you where your classes are; help you with CyRide; show you how to do laundry (my group last year was 95 percent boys — I had this question. No shame); and answer any questions you have.

Toward the end of this year, I ran into one of the men from my group and he said that he and the other members of our DIS group were still really good friends and hung out together all the time. I honestly almost started crying I was so happy. Not kidding. I’m a sap. But this, to me, is the most valuable part of DIS: making friends who are going through all the same changes you are.

Get involved on campus:

I know you’ve been told this before, but honestly, as someone who is going into her final year here, I can’t preach this enough. Join a variety of clubs, especially if you’re coming in Open Option. I jumped right into the Iowa State Daily because I walked by the booth at Club Fest — an event you need to go to — and ended up loving it so much I decided I wanted to be a journalist.

But, I also joined clubs completely unrelated to my field. I joined Salt Company, did intramural volleyball and became a Student Admissions Representative — we’re the tour guides in the stylish red polos chauffeuring families whom used to be you all while not walking backward.

By joining a variety of clubs, I met different types of people and gained different skills, all of which to put on my résumé and make me a more appealing candidate for a job. Oh … and I had a ton of fun.

You really do have to study:

While all the above is about experiencing campus life, you do have to remember why you’re here — to gain an education, expand your knowledge, obtain an enjoyable career and make a difference.

You need to go to class. You need to do your homework. You have to study. While some complain about long reading assignments, professors assign those for a reason. Read the entire assignment. Even if the professor doesn’t put that information on the exams, you’ll learn self-discipline and build a great work ethic.

Helpful tidbit — Fridays are pretty popular skip days. Professors will sometimes give extra credit attendance points when there are a ton of people who skip. Free points! College students love free things.

Enjoy it while it lasts:

I could honestly go on for pages and pages about what I wish I would’ve done my freshman year and what I learned, but I’ve kept you long enough.

I leave you with this: please enjoy your freshman year. It’s the only year you get to use the excuse of “I’m just a freshman,” when you’re late for class or do something stupid — which you will undoubtedly do. It’s a year where you’ll experience something new every week. You won’t have the stresses of finding a job. 

You’ll know when you’re a true Iowa Stater. Take a selfie with the albino squirrel. Learn the Fight Song and all the other cheers. Don’t use the orientation or DIS drawstring bag and lanyard around campus because you’ll scream “I’m a freshman.” Watch out for the pink gorilla that runs around campus. Don’t use all your dining dollars your first few months. Do the Curtiss to Beardshear run. Kiss under the campanile at midnight. Don’t walk over the zodiac. And please, please, please, don’t walk in front of a CyRide bus because a senior told you you’ll get free tuition. That is 100 percent not true.

If I can help you in any way, as your editor in chief or as a sappy senior, please let me know. We at the Iowa State Daily want to hear from you all. My email is above. Feel free to reach out to me. I love that kind of stuff. 

And lastly, enjoy your adventure at Iowa State.