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UM Student Leadership Offers Advice to Incoming Freshmen

By Remi Piraino

Journalism student

Students return for the fall semester on Aug. 23. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

The transition to college can be intimidating, and this reigns true whether you’re coming from out-of-state or your family has been going to Ole Miss for generations. You’re beginning a new chapter of your life, meeting new people, learning how to manage your time, and getting active on campus all the while the COVID-19 virus continues to alter the college experience for students everywhere.

Although, your first year won’t be nearly as overwhelming as it sounds. If you come prepared with the right mindset, you’re already on the path that will set you up for success later in life.

The following advice comes from a number of UM students involved in various organizations and leadership roles around campus.

Putting school first

What many first-year students will often do is inadvertently prioritize non-academic activities and circle back to school work when they can. This system works for very few, if any, and can be extremely difficult to break once it’s started.

The seemingly endless number of opportunities that come with college life can serve as a distraction to the real reason why you’re here. Get involved as much as you can, but remember why you’re at Ole Miss in the first place.

Morgan Sassetti is a rising junior from Chicago who is an MPower Leader, 2021 Orientation Leader, a Chief Emissary Officer for the School of Business, and holds a number of executive leadership positions in other professional development organizations across campus. She said that setting tangible objectives for herself helped tremendously when it came to making time for other activities on campus.

“School comes first. Those 8 a.m.’s do suck but at the end of the day, they are the reason you’re at school, but they’re also not the only reason you’re there. So an expectation I set for myself was to get school done first. Once school was out of the way, I just wanted to rabbit and run with it, meaning that I wanted to get involved and I expected to get involved,” Sassetti said.

Manage your time

Designating a time and a place for everything on your plate is an easy way to begin practicing effective time management. Start by buying a planner or keeping a calendar if you don’t already have one.

Just about every person you’ll meet will tell you how important it is to manage your time while you’re here, so it’s best to start early while you can.

Write down your important dates for the semester as soon as possible, then designate time slots throughout the week for study time, going out, and extracurricular activities. As basic as it may be to tell someone to get a planner, time management sets the foundation for your success as a college student.

Matt Howell is a rising senior from Covington, Lousiana who currently holds a seat on the ASB Senate for Applied Sciences. He believes that the key to a memorable college experience is designating a time for your hardest classwork in order to ensure enough time for yourself to enjoy everything Ole Miss has to offer.

“I expected college to be all work and no play, which isn’t necessarily true if you manage your time correctly,” Howell said. “Try to find a spot on campus where you feel comfortable and can be your quiet place. Then, for two to three days out of the week, go to that spot and get your hardest school work out of the way. This will give you so much more free time to go out and meet new friends, get involved, go to a football game, try new foods, and all that. All those activities are way more enjoyable when you don’t have to worry about an essay or assignment that’s due.”

Set realistic expectations and goals

You’ll quickly find that being productive in college comes much easier when you already have a goal set in place for yourself. This could be meeting a new person every day, reaching a certain GPA in a given semester, or even making time for yourself to watch a movie. Anything and everything is possible when you lay your goals out in advance and set your mind to them.

Even if you’re afraid you can’t reach high expectations, go for it anyway. You should still take pride in the fact that you did your best, even if you don’t reach your goal.

Setting high expectations for yourself as you enter this new chapter of your life will allow you to explore your comfort zone and get a sense of what is realistic and what is not.

Mac Brown is a student football athlete from Eden Prairie, Minnesota who is currently completing his master’s program for Integrated Marketing Communications. He said that setting high expectations for himself when entering Ole Miss was an integral part of his personal growth and success as a student.

“Setting high expectations for myself was so important when I came to Ole Miss. Having something to look at and shoot for allowed me to push myself to be the best person I could be, in all aspects of college. Whether it be school, or football, or something I just wanted to try. Shoot for the moon and land amongst the stars is what I always say for myself, and really does apply when you want to get the most out of your college experience,” Brown said.

Embrace UM’s diverse community

Wherever you are coming from, start getting excited about all the different people you will meet as you enter this brand new environment. Oxford is home to so many different walks of life, all of which you can learn from if you stay open-minded to meeting new people.

Even if you’ve already established a friend group within a few weeks of college, don’t stop there. It may seem tempting to rely on your set group to accompany you throughout your first year, but you actually miss out on a huge portion of the college experience if you confine yourself to one group of friends.

Don’t be afraid to stray from your comfort zone, make an effort to be sociable and friendly to new faces. Besides, it’s an unspoken tradition at Ole Miss to practice southern hospitality as much as you can.

Will Meyers is a rising senior in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College from Alligator, Mississippi who serves as scholarship chair within the Kappa Sigma fraternity. Meyers said that a favorite part about Ole Miss is the diverse community surrounding the university.

“I’ve always been a social person, but just being exposed to the diversity of people, where they come from, who they know, and their unique backgrounds was the best part of college to me. Not all people have the skill to be outgoing right as they enter college, and that’s okay because Oxford is the perfect place to learn. When you think about it, this is how it will be in the real world and this is a skill you can easily learn if you embrace UM’s diverse community,“ Meyers said.

Bo Bennett is a rising senior from Milwaukee, Wisconsin who recently founded the UM Blockchain and Cryptocurrency club. Similar to Will Meyer’s testimony, he didn’t expect to meet so many people with distinct backgrounds and cultures when he came to Ole Miss.

Bennett believes that maintaining open-mindedness as you enter a new environment is how he discovered his favorite aspect of the college experience.

“People from all over come here with different backgrounds and it’s so interesting to meet and learn about different cultures,” Bennett said. “I used to think that everybody else had an accent, and I came here and now I always get told I have an accent sort of deal. You can learn so much from other walks of life, so just be open-minded and embrace the diversity of it all. That has easily been my favorite aspect of college.”

Struggling can happen

Your first year is all about finding what works for you, and you wouldn’t be doing it right if you didn’t struggle with something at least once. You’ll soon figure out that a fundamental piece of college is just learning that everybody has to deal with it in their own way.

Sometimes, life happens. Remember that you aren’t alone in your struggles when it comes to common problems faced by college students. There are plenty of individuals and resources available within the university to help you overcome whatever obstacles are placed in your path.

Perhaps the most common struggle faced by college students is how to react when grades don’t come out as high as you had hoped. Morgan Sassetti shared a story about her first accounting class at Ole Miss, and how she went about handling an unexpected poor grade.

“I would study for hours and practice and get tutored, and I was just so bad at it, that I got my first and only ‘D’ in my whole life,” Sassetti said. “As much as I hate to admit it, I think struggling is a perfectly essential part of college. I never planned to do that bad, I studied my butt off and did everything I could, and I still did bad. So, something I would say to someone going through that: as long as you know you tried your best and put your best foot forward, that’s all that matters.

“Take it next semester, clear your head if possible, find a different professor. Someday you’ll get it, you just gotta keep working at it. Just keep working towards your goals. Everybody has a bad grade, everybody has an accounting class, you are not alone in this.”

Take it all in

Anybody who’s graduated from Ole Miss will tell you to cherish your time here while you still can. Day one may be the slowest day out of your entire four years here, but blink once and you’re already graduating.

Get out and get involved as early as you can. Keep your academics in mind, but also remember that Ole Miss is so much more than just a university.

Getting involved can be as simple as attending a club meeting every once in a while, to founding your own student organization. Both instances portray involved students, and it all depends on how much you can pile on your plate on top of academics.

Harrison Carmichael is a rising senior from Mobile, Alabama who is the assistant director of the First Year Encounters program and also serves as a 2021 Orientation Leader. He said that he plans to spend his final year at Ole Miss cherishing as much of the experience as possible.

“I wish I would have known coming in that it was going to go by extremely fast. Like of course people say it but I didn’t think it actually would,” Carmichael said. “I feel like I have accomplished a lot and made a lot of friends but I feel like I didn’t get to cherish certain moments, so that’s my plan for senior year. I’m going to every event no matter how big or small and I’m going to enjoy it.”

Will Meyers also plans to make the most of his senior year, although wishes he had started cherishing his time at Ole Miss earlier in his college career.

“You need to get active on campus, like right off the bat. That’s one thing I didn’t do freshman year that I’ve regretted in college,” Meyers said. “Like football games, for example. When are you going to get another opportunity to watch your home team play, for free!? It doesn’t matter if we win or lose, the people around you are gonna be having a good time, and you’ll remember the feelings of those moments forever.

“So, don’t seclude yourself, and go to the damn square. Have a good time while you’re here, blow your money, and make some memories like freshmen are supposed to.”

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