December 21, 2021 | Kayliani Powlison

Four individual shots of students smiling and one of two students walking on a campus path.

One's first year in college has its challenges and its triumphs—no two students have quite the same experience. We recently interviewed five freshmen following their first semester at Calvin. They share their experiences, including how they are managing the workload and expectations of higher ed.

What made you decide to come to Calvin?

For freshman Elisabeth Stevens, it was the positive influence from a family friend that convinced her to visit. From her first visit, Stevens recalls that “just from the [one] day I spent on campus, I could feel the strong community here. The students and professors I engaged with were always happy to talk, and, even after my visit, I continued to stay in contact with them and was able to learn more about programs I was interested in.”

For Alison Hoekstra, her conversations with a professor and her experiencing campus life during visits her junior and senior years in high school were the tipping points. “I was really drawn to the community I saw,” remembers Hoekstra. “I [also] had heard really good things about the academics, athletics, and extracurriculars from my parents and other alumni I know.”

Rachit Kharel, a freshman from Nepal, expresses his gratitude towards Calvin’s recruiting team. He extends his thanks to those that helped him choose Calvin, specifically “the close-knit community and the amazing and supportive administration team who helped [him]… with [his] paperwork and visa.”

How have you managed to be successful so far?

College is an entirely different world for many students, with new schedules to navigate, new areas to explore, and lots of new faces. We asked students how they felt they were able to manage their time during a season of novelty.

“I mainly put my mental health first,” says Ty Ohlinger. “I asked for help when I needed it.” He also discusses the importance of using a planner to stay organized.

For freshman Celia Carey, the Entrada program allowed her to adjust to college life beforehand, which she is grateful for. “Honestly, without Entrada, the first semester would have been a bit of an overwhelming experience,” she confesses, “so I would highly recommend checking out Calvin’s student access programs for the summer.”

“One piece of advice I was given from one of my upperclassmen friends is to treat the school day like a 9 to 5 job,” says Hoekstra. She took this advice, and throughout her day she worked on homework. “[This] freed up the evenings a lot more, and ultimately made the whole experience of managing time a lot easier and more fun.”

What were some worries you had coming into your first semester?

Entering a new environment can be both an exciting and nerve-wracking experience.

“I was mainly worried about getting along with my roommate when I first came to Calvin,” admits Carey. “I went potluck during my time at Entrada and found out that I had been randomly paired with a girl who was adopted at the same time as me! We got along so well, and when the fall semester started, I was sad we didn't opt to be roommates again, but we both potlucked and found really great roommates [with whom] we are now staying.”

For Hoekstra, it was the uncertainty of finding a balance between social and school life. “I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make any friends. And I was afraid the friendships I did have from high school would fade away.” However, after a semester of relationship building and getting used to classes, she has learned that making friends while studying is relieving and maintaining old friends from high school wasn’t as difficult as she’d imagined.

“Lack of sleep, eating habits, health, and fear of missing out,” lists Kharel. After keeping to an eating schedule and sleeping schedule, Kharel confirms that even these worries can be relieved.

Though coming into a new and unfamiliar space has its uncertainties, the gratification students expressed that they get from the community and the responsibility given to them reduces the worry on their shoulders.

After one semester, how would you describe your experiences as a college student?

“Positive, overwhelmingly positive,” says Stevens. “My classes are challenging and fun, I have an awesome roommate and floor, and I’ve been able to pursue my interests to places I didn’t know existed before I came to Calvin.”

“This semester I learned to be flexible with my time and make decisions wisely,” says Kharel. “There were a lot of disappointments when I had to say no to the things that I loved and enjoyed. However, new learning and new experiences make me motivated and help me keep going.”

For students like Celia Carey, with 18 credits planned and a track set for the Honors Scholars program, the first semester’s outlook was expected to have its challenges. “Studying is really important,” says Carey, “but also finding the right friends who have a similar work/study balance is great, because it feels like you aren’t missing out on social gatherings.”

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