A Guide to Learning Loyola: Advice for First-Years

For a first-year, the beginning months of the college experience can be tumultuous and transformative.

For a first-year, the beginning months of the college experience can be tumultuous and transformative. The displeasure of change beckons campus newbies to consider one thing — how to survive. 

The weight of transitioning into college can also strike at unsuspecting times, whether that be within the first few days or weeks after orientation. For third-year Regina Pochocki, uncertainties enveloped abruptly while decorating her dorm on her first night at Loyola. 

“I remember trying to hang up my first poster — a unicorn poster from Five Below — and it kept falling down,” said Pochocki, 20. “It made me break into tears. I called my mom crying, saying, ‘I can’t do college, I’m not ready, this is a mistake.’”

From walking in massive groups on the sidewalks to cramming 15 people at one dining hall table, first-years have many stereotypes to fulfill around campus. 

In an effort to mitigate inaugural jitters, Loyola upperclassmen offer their tips for first-year survival — from worthwhile Chicago spots to regrettable first-year situations. 

It’s okay to change majors. 

Multimedia journalism major Morgan Weaver said she planned to study biology on the pre-med track going into her first year. However, she ended up spending more time in professors’ office hours than enjoying the information she was learning. 

Weaver, 19, switched her major to psychology her second year but found the subject was more of an interest than a genuine passion. After meeting with Loyola’s Career Services and her academic advisor, Weaver said she discovered her passion for journalism. 

“My mom always said, ‘If you don’t change your major at least three times, you’re not doing college right,’” Weaver said. 

Third-year Chadi Amzil also changed his major twice throughout his first two years before deciding to study information technology. Amzil said he recommends contacting Career Services for help when feeling lost or hoping to change majors. 

Build a community of those with similar niches. 

Amzil, 20, has been a commuter student since his first year. Because of this, Amzil said he initially struggled to incorporate himself into Loyola’s campus — navigating college without the benefit of on-campus housing made joining clubs and student groups a priority for him. 

During his first year, Amzil said he attended student organization fairs but didn’t notice a club for his favorite activity: chess. 

“It’s a big part of who I am, personally,” Amzil said. 

He decided to take on the initiative of organizing a chess club, which officially started the second semester of his first year, Amzil said. The information technology major is now the president of Loyola’s chess club for the 2023 to 2024 academic year.  

Despite living on campus, 20-year-old Lauren Packard said she felt “terrified” starting her first year. However, discovering community through clubs and organizations helped her build connections and find like-minded people. Packard said the independence of living alone in the dorms has been one of her favorite aspects of college. 

“Don’t be afraid to make college what you want it to be,” the social work major said. “If you want to get involved in something other than the typical activities, just do it. You’re here to learn and grow.” 

Prioritize school work and connect with your professors. 

Living away from parents can be liberating for many first-years. The bustling social scene of college coupled with the excitement of living in a big city can cause an academic slip, which is why fourth-year Angel Silveyra Jr. recommends maintaining a steady focus on schoolwork.  

With an entirely different — and often more rigorous — system of learning than high school, it can be easy for first-years to lose track of assignments. Silveyra said he prioritizes specific assignments over others to ensure the most important assignments are completed when workload becomes hyper-demanding.

As a form of self-care, Silveyra says he grants himself extra time and grace for assignments he finds more challenging and recommends first-years adjusting to college classes do the same. 

“I want to be proud of what I’m submitting to my professor,” the English major said. 

Silveyra also suggests going to office hours for any classes. Having started his first year online due to COVID-19 restrictions, Silveyra said he felt hesitant to reach out to professors and attend their office hours while being online. Despite enjoying meetings with his academic advisor, Silveyra found his professors intimidating as a first-year.

“Once I got to campus, I realized office hours aren’t just for struggling students,” said Silveyra, 21. “They’re helpful for anyone who is just looking for ideas or wants guidance. Most professors are always open and willing to help.”

Acquaint yourself with the local community.

Besides prioritizing his important assignments, Silveyra said he also prioritizes visiting new restaurants across Chicago. He said navigating the city and learning street names and their intersections has helped him feel independent while orienting him to his new surroundings. 

The fourth-year said some of his classes have required him to travel to museums like the Art Institute of Chicago, which Loyola students can enter for free. Traveling to these sites allowed him to better understand Chicago and feel more confident in his home for the next four years.

Silveyra recommends traveling in groups throughout the city, regardless of location, for safety reasons while being aware of surroundings, no matter the time of day.

“Don’t do anything your mom would say is dumb,” Silveyra said. 

Silveyra said there are group chats for students to join through platforms like Patio or GroupMe  where first-years can reach out and find other students to accompany their exploration of Chicago. 

Throughout her first year, Weaver said her RA did an excellent job connecting the girls on her floor in Regis Hall. She traveled to different parts of the city, especially Greektown, Evanston, farmers markets and sporting events.

Weaver said she strives to attend a game from each of Chicago’s professional sports teams within her four years at Loyola. So far, she has attended both a Cubs and White Sox baseball game, a Chicago Fire soccer game and a Chicago Bears football game.

She recommends professional games because Loyola has a good athletics program and Chicago professional teams are an extension of the fun atmosphere and cool environment. 

Weaver attributed her finding her best friends on her first-year floor to making an effort to explore Chicago with good company. 

Learn Loyola’s sidewalk system. 

Both Pochocki and Weaver said they’ve seen first-years walking in clumps on the sidewalk, which inconveniences other students trying to pass by. 

Amzil compared Loyola’s walkways to driving a car — students should be walking on the right side of the sidewalk, just as cars are driven on the right side of the road. Weaver said she can tell when first-years are taking their first trip to Target or Aldi.

“There’s just something doe-eyed about freshmen,” Weaver said. “And you just know that they’re freshmen.”

Featured image by Hanna Houser / The Phoenix

Maura Green

Maura Green