A Chapel Hill freshman reflects back on his first semester

I thought it would be helpful to hear directly from a first-year (freshman) student about their first semester survival secrets. Ben Knoble, a 2016 Ardrey Kell High School graduate, was back home in Charlotte for the holidays after spending his first semester at UNC Chapel Hill.

Here are his responses to questions I thought would be helpful for college-bound families:

  1. What has made your first semester successful?

Finding my niches and sticking with them helped me build several groups of close friends with similar interests, and it is precisely those friend groups that will help and support you when things go awry. 

  1. How important has your housing and roommate situation been in determining your overall happiness?

 My roommate and I are both very relaxed people, which has made living together very easy. We don’t worry much about anything, and keep the room a quiet space to relax when needed. For me, where I live is less important than who I live with, and I have been very fortunate to live with a group of like-minded, passionate students. We all have different interests and personalities, but we work hard and play hard together.

  1. How was your transition academically? Was it easier or harder than you thought?

 Even though I was a high-performing student in high school, I decided to take an easy first semester, sticking to classes I knew I would enjoy and ones where I knew I would succeed. Not worrying as much about academics gave me the freedom to build a friend group and explore other activities that interested me. I also made sure to plan for breaks during the day.  All of this made the academic transition very smooth. Now that I’m comfortable, I feel ready to tackle a more challenging semester. 

  1. Do you have any tips for high school seniors as they evaluate where to go to college next year?

Pick a place you’ll walk around smiling. That extra bit of happiness counts more than academics or social life. If you don’t enjoy looking at the campus for a day or two, you won’t enjoy it for four years. Remember that college is very much what you make of it: pick a place where you can make what you want.

  1. UNC wasn’t necessarily your first choice school, how did you handle making it work?

Personally, I just kept faith that I was going to end up where I was supposed to, and I truly think I did. It might not be where I had initially wanted to go, but it’s where I needed to. Don’t mourn the things you’re missing at the other school; look for ways to enjoy the incredible opportunity you’ve been given. 

  1. Have you enjoyed your classes first semester?

Yes. The professors have incredible personalities, the content is amazing, and a little bit of success can open up a lot of interesting opportunities for further semesters.

  1. What do you think is the biggest misconception many high school seniors have about college life?

That grades remain largely the same. Say goodbye to a standardized system; each professor and class has a unique grading system, style, and scale, and while it all gets translated to the same thing in the end, it can change how you view your performance. Additionally, while a B- may not have been enough for some high-schoolers, it can be quite a good grade for a college student struggling through a difficult class.

This is the first in a two part-series. Next week I’ll share Ben’s thoughts on adapting to the social life on campus, time management tips and lessons learned about freshman survival.


Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.com; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com