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Sunday, October 01, 2023
Graphic by Ashley Hicks. Photo by Houston Harwood.
Graphic by Ashley Hicks. Photo by Houston Harwood.

With the “Gator” title comes the pride of wearing signature orange and blue at football games, the freedom to choose when to wake up for class and a legacy spanning 168 years. 

Freshmen, welcome to The Swamp.

On Aug. 23, classes will begin at UF with freshmen scrambling to figure out the bus system and seniors heading to their favorite coffee shops before their first lecture. Heading into the new school year, some UF seniors offered advice to freshmen unsure of what to expect with college life.

With over 35,000 undergraduates at UF, the campus has connected and created a network of long-lasting friendships. 

One of the best things about being a freshman was the unpredictability, Nicholas Garas, a 21-year-old finance senior, said. 

“When you're a freshman sometimes you find yourself in weird places or random places especially because you don't know your way around the school,” he said. “Whether you’re trying to find a classroom or whether you’re out one night walking around with somebody that you know you never would have talked to.”

With constantly teetering between attending classes, going to work and maintaining a social life, seniors like Garas believe it made the freshman experience far more valuable.  

He remembers walking back to Infinity Hall his freshman year and randomly joining paths with Shaan Patel, a 21-year-old finance senior. 

“We started talking, like we’re cracking jokes at each other and like hanging out. After that we started hanging out a ton,” Garas said. “And that guy now is going to be my senior year roommate, and he’s one of my best friends.”

Patel suggested freshmen start socializing early on in their first year. 

“I definitely think the biggest thing that people should focus on when they come to UF, especially because everyone is totally open to it, is just like making as many friends as you can as quickly as possible,” Patel said.

Looking around his Introduction to Business class, also known as Warrington Welcome, Garas wished he had said hi to one of the 20 other freshmen in the class. 

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“Convincing yourself that you’re not the only one in this new place, in this new situation is something that I wish I had wrapped my mind around earlier,” Garas said. 

As a freshman, Garas was involved in UF’s soccer club and exploring financial economics, a finance club where he created positive relationships with his peers. He said getting involved in a variety of interest groups is one of the best things one can do when starting as a freshman.

“Apart from college being a big step in your scholastic career, it's also a big part of your social development,” Garas said. “I think it's really important to meet people and get just kind of acclimated in a new setting.”

One of the classes Patel took outside of his major was Wildlife Issues with Mike Moulton. Known as an easy class, he said, Patel found the course interesting and attended office hours to learn more. 

At UF, he said academics was something he would overstress as a freshman.

“You think that every exam is like the end of the world if you don't do well, but a lot of the classes are designed to teach you what you don't already know,” Patel said.

Safely concealed in her apartment in Gainesville, Jessica Schaechter thinks fondly of a journal tucked away in her room with pages full of her favorite memories from freshman year.

Now a senior, she reminisces on her first year of college, while heading into her last year as an undergraduate. 

“It’s the little things,” the 20-year-old economics and telecommunications senior said. “It goes by so fast, so you know get a hold of all those opportunities and really enjoy them to the maximum.”

One of the best things about being a college freshman is the independence, Schaechter said. This new independence, she said, comes with the freedom to explore who you are and where you want to take yourself in life. 

“For my parents it was a little bit hard to kind of let me go and explore my own life and my independence,” she said. “But that’s definitely what I treasure the most looking back all these years.”

Schaechter was an exploratory major her freshman year of college. Unsure of what she wanted to major in, she took the advice of friends, professors and advisors and completed a wide range of classes that interested her.

First-year students may declare exploratory as their major for their first three semesters. In the first two years as a UF student, 61% of the student body switched their major. 

Schaechter’s family lives in Costa Rica, so whenever she feels lonely she reaches out to UF’s international community. 

“I think that the international community in UF is also very strong and very supportive in the sense that you know you always have your other family or your friends to keep you company or invite you to Thanksgiving if you have nothing else to do or no one else to be with.” 

Laughing, Schaechter shared one last piece of advice to any incoming freshman living in the city.

“Always carry an umbrella in Gainesville,” she said. 

Contact Isabella Douglas at Follow her on Twitter @Ad_Scribendum

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Isabella Douglas

Isabella Douglas is a fourth-year journalism major and the Fall 2023 editor-in-chief for The Alligator. She has previously worked as the digital managing editor, metro editor, criminal justice reporter and as a news assistant. When she isn't reporting, she can be found reorganizing her bookshelf and adding books to her ever-growing TBR. 

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