Your College Survival Guide as a Queer Freshman
By Megan Graham
This December has marked a lot of full circle moments for me. Most importantly, I am graduating from college almost exactly 5 years after I found out I was accepted. I know that for a lot of students, this holiday season is also the season of waiting to hear back from places, or filling out some final applications. I remember all too well how stressful it is! But for everyone waiting to hear, I hope you also can start to get excited about all that college has to offer. With that in mind, here are a few pieces of advice I wish that young, queer Megan knew five years ago.
- The name of the college doesn’t matter, the people there do.
People have said this so many times that it sounds cliche, but it’s true. No matter where you go, the thing that makes it special is not the names and the buildings, but the people. For me, it was the first chance I had to find a queer community after living for so long in a small town. So many colleges have ways to find other people in the LGBTQ+ community, whether it’s student groups, classes (more on that later), or even school LGBTQ+ offices. For me, that made the biggest difference. I met some of my best friends in the world in college — people that helped me come out, talked me through relationships and heartbreak, and helped me make the memories I’ll treasure. No matter where you go, look for your people.
2. Study what you love.
For a lot of people, myself included, college was the first time I had almost-total control over what I studied. It was overwhelming to go from seven set school subjects to choosing between “Tech Ethics” and “Stopping Heart Disease.” Picking a major felt even scarier. I knew I found the right major for me when all of the classes I wanted to take as electives counted for that major. My major also gave me the freedom to study something I’d never learned about before — myself. I got to take classes in queer and gender studies, and read books by authors who were like me. In movies and TV shows about college, classes are secondary if they are mentioned at all, but the classroom can be a great place to discover yourself and your interests.
3. Take care of yourself. Seriously. Even during finals season.
Not doing this was a mistake I, like a lot of freshmen, made during my first semester. With no parents telling me when to go to bed, what vegetables to eat, or when to do my laundry, it was easy to tell myself I was “too busy” to take care of my own physical and mental wellbeing. When the semester got busy, sleep and mental health were the first to go. However, I started running at the end of my freshman year, and it changed my life. Even if I had less time in the day to study, taking even half an hour for myself made my focus so much better with what time I did have. And getting 8 hours of sleep every night improved my running, my mental health, and even my academic performance. College was filled with a lot of people telling me how they were constantly pulling all-nighters, and I felt like I was doing something wrong when I wasn’t sacrificing myself for my work. But at the end of the day, I still did my assignments, took my finals, and was happier for the time I took for myself.
4. It doesn’t have to be fun all the time.
So many people will tell you that college is the best four years of your life. But college is also HARD. And who wants the best four years of your life to be over before you’re 23? I think the people who found the most joy and peace in college were also the people who accepted that it wasn’t always going to be fun. Sometimes I found myself stressing over a paper, or a friendship, or a relationship, and feeling like there was something wrong with me for not having fun on a Friday night. Sometimes the pressure to have fun is so great that you forget what actually makes you happy. So do what you love, with the people you love, and remember that you can have a great four years without being happy every day. (Also, you have so much more time to have a “best four years of your life,” so go easy on yourself.)
5. Change your mind. Trust the process.
I can say with full confidence that I am a totally different person walking out of college than I was walking into it. I came into college with strict ideas about who I was, what I wanted to study, and what I wanted my life to be. Talking with so many different people about their interests, passions, and goals opened me up to totally different life paths. I took one class for one day and changed my major! Sometimes the process of getting into college doesn’t serve you once you arrive there. The constant common app essays and supplements make you present a rigid version of exactly who you are, without accounting for the fact that you’re still a work in process. Even now, at 23, I’m still learning who I am and who I want to be. More than any one fact from any one class, college taught me to be open to the many possibilities of who I could be. It’s scary, but also exciting.
So to everyone waiting to hear from colleges: take a deep breath and know that no matter what you do, you’ll end up surprising yourself.
About the Author
Megan grew up in the suburbs of Massachusetts, where she came out as queer before arriving at college. She is currently in her last year of her degree program, where she studies history and literature. She loves running, reading, and The L Word.