Secrets to a successful freshman year – Lessons learned, Part 1

Photo by Robert Kinlaw,

Last fall, I reached out to Ben Knoble for his wisdom on adjusting to freshman year of college.

Ben was a 2016 Ardrey Kell High School graduate and had just started at UNC Chapel Hill. His sage words resonated with students and parents, and so I thought I would circle back and find out how the rest of his year went.

At the end of his first year, he’s still happy and can comfortably say he has “no regrets.”

In high school, Ben was a high-achieving student who chose to conduct a very thorough college search process. As the son of two Tar Heel grads, Chapel Hill was a very familiar place and yet he was still open-minded about other kinds of college experiences. He researched and visited colleges locally and as far away as California. So it was a little surprising that in the end he chose to attend UNC Chapel Hill.

Ben offers some great advice to freshmen in this Part 1 of a 4-part “Lessons Learned” series. Ben and I are both hoping that these columns will be helpful for high school seniors about to graduate and head off to college in the fall and for parents desperate to impart some actionable wisdom.

“Lessons learned” from freshman year

Today, Ben’s talking about how to take advantage of your newfound independence, dabble in activities, explore your passions. But don’t go crazy – strive for balance.

“What do you think made the biggest contribution to your successful freshman year?”

I’ll be honest; a large portion of it was natural independence. I don’t need a lot; I don’t mind a simple life, and I don’t spend money frequently. That lends itself, as you might expect, to an easier college transition. But that is only the beginning. Once you’re used to how college runs, how you keep up with what’s going on and how you de-stress, you want to start branching out some.

You hear about all the fun things your very “Type-A” friends are doing (if you are Type-A, kudos to you — you’ll more than likely be fine if you don’t overload your plate). You want to get involved. And this is where that light first semester really helps out.

If you have time to discover your passions on campus, they’ll be built into your schedule already before you start adding more and more. And while that can seem daunting — adding more and more activities until you feel like your plate is finally full — it’s not. Remember, this is college. These are probably the best years of your young life. Enjoy them. Don’t be afraid to try something new just because a friend mentioned it (but be safe). And if it doesn’t work out, oh well. Drop it, and keep your eyes open for the next thing.

But I know as well as anybody that sometimes it all gets to you. You get home one evening from lab, and you know you still have things to do. Are you really going to be excited about your get-together tomorrow? Here’s the secret — yes. Yes, you will. In the morning. Right now, you’ve got to do exactly what you need to do to relax and get a good night’s sleep. If that’s shutting yourself in with Netflix and a fuzzy blanket, people will understand. If that’s getting dinner with those two friends who always give you a stitch in your side, they’ll be happy to pick you up.

Your friends and your de-stress activities, those are the strongest pieces of your support network. They hold you up so that you can sleep without worry and wake up tomorrow feeling brand new. And then you can be happy that you’re so involved.

Check back next week for Part 2, where you can learn more from Ben about the importance of making connections freshman year.


Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions;