finding yourself in college

Finding Your Best Self at College

By Dr. Jaria C. Aljoe, Ed.D., Assistant Provost for Student Management

Getting into college is a great accomplishment, but making the most of your experience is another story. I have three nuggets of wisdom I would like to leave with you to help you discover your best self and get the most out of being a college student. Before that though, I’d like to share a personal story…

When I was in high school, I couldn’t wait to go away to college. In my mind, the further away from home, the better! When I started having conversations about life after high school with my guidance counselor, I looked at schools as far away as California.

She would ask me, “Why California?” and I would tell her, unashamed, “Great weather and even better parties!” 

I didn’t make it out to California, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

When I finished high school, my GPA was not high enough to be admitted to any of the schools I dreamed of attending. I vividly remember reading rejection letter after rejection letter and feeling like a complete failure. All my friends were getting accepted to these great schools, choosing their majors, and talking about which dorms they would live in, and I had yet to be accepted into a single college.

When I finally received an acceptance letter, it was to my “safety” school, which I applied to as a “just in case” option. The only school that accepted me did so because, according to the admissions officer, they saw potential in me after they interviewed me. I am forever grateful to the admissions officer that looked past my poor grades in high school and saw the student I could be. Although the school wasn’t my first choice and it wasn’t known for being a “fun” school, I decided to attend with the goal of making the most of my college experience.

Regardless of whether you are at your top choice or last option for college, your experience is what you make it. Here are three pieces of advice I want to leave with you:

#1 Put Yourself Out There as Much as You Can.

Maybe you’re like me, and the thought of talking to new people makes you want to lay in your bed and never come out. Don’t be like me, though! Go to campus-sponsored events (even the ones that may seem boring to you) and set a goal of talking to at least three people you don’t know. I guarantee you will end up meeting people on campus who shape your college life and may even become your lifelong friends. These bonds help you discover new things about yourself and create lasting memories that define your college experience and beyond. If I had never started a conversation with a random girl sitting at my table during first-year orientation, I would have never met my best friend.

#2 Take Advantage of Opportunities to Build Connections with Your College’s Faculty and Staff.

People who work at college campuses genuinely want to help students succeed. Trust me, I know from experience! I often tell my First Year Seminar class (a class with all first-year college students) some people are blessed to have an off-campus support system with their family and friends, while others have to rely on people and services on-campus. That may mean looking to friends for support but remember that every UB student has an on-campus support system in the way of school faculty members like professors, advisors, coaches, and others. Don’t be afraid to reach out to UB staff and ask for help, guidance, or just to check-in, and make sure to take advantage of the many support services we offer on campus in our Heckman Center, including a food pantry, tutoring services, career counseling, academic advising, and much more!

#3 Be Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable.

In that First Year Seminar class, I start by telling my students we will cover some topics where there will be a difference of opinion among individuals in the class. College is a time when you are reminded of your values and beliefs and can learn new ways of seeing the world. You get to redefine who you are and how you want the world to see you. All of this is to say, disagreements and differing opinions are often opportunities to expand your worldview or learn something new. It’s also an opportunity to recognize the difference between disagreement and disrespect — and to develop the tools to respond to both scenarios.

When you feel uncomfortable because you are being challenged or pushed to expand your thinking, remember that growth comes from those moments of being uncomfortable.

If you were to ask others that graduated from my school how they felt about their experiences, each of their responses would be different. While some people felt the campus was always boring, others would love to go back because they had such a great time. Same school, much different experience!

Your college experience is what you make it. Make sure to get out there, try new things, join clubs and organizations, follow your passions, and meet new people — including people you might disagree with. You may end up finding the best version of yourself while doing it.

First Year Seminar is a course taken by all incoming UB students. This seminar introduces students to their post-secondary education by teaching habits that will help them make the most of their undergraduate education and beyond.

Jaria C. Aljoe, Ed.D. is the Assistant Provost for Student Management and Director of the Heckman Center. Dr. Aljoe joined the UB community in 2021 and has over ten years of experience working on college campuses supporting student success and retention.