Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue

A Guide to Making UT Feel Like Home

by Carmyn Gutierrez

College can be both exciting and nerve-wracking, especially for first-year students.

Seniors at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, have been through this time before and understand how overwhelming it can be.

Recently, several seniors provided tips on how they survived their first semester of college and ways to make campus feel like home.

Navigating Campus

First-year student Maria Musso was intimidated by the size of our campus and was unsure how she would navigate it.

“I came from a small school in Chicago, so I was nervous about finding my way around and making sure I could get to all my classes on time,” Musso said.

Well-known areas like the Hill that lead up to Ayres Hall are among the most daunting and guaranteed to have students breathing heavier at the end of the climb.

Senior business major Jessica Fischer offered tips on how she gets around campus, without getting out of breath.

“Take advantage of the bus system. It has so many different stops and routes and there’s an app that lets you track where it is.” For more information on UT’s transit system, visit ridethet.utk.edu.

Another tip from Fischer is to leave early for classes and events, especially during the first few weeks of classes.

“Give yourself enough time to find where your classes are without getting stressed that you’ll miss the start of them,” Fischer said.

Fischer also recommended exploring campus. Take a day to look around and get familiar with some of the landmarks.

“I sometimes use Neyland Stadium as a marker for some of my classes. For example, I know I have a class in the building right beside it, so all I have to do is find the stadium and know that my building isn’t too far from that.”

Figuring Out Time Management

Moving away from home means no longer having parents reminding students to clean their room, take out the trash, or do their homework. This may sound like an ideal situation, but this puts all the responsibility back on the student.

“One of the most difficult things has been trying to manage time and do all of the things I want to do,” Mallory Kovacs, a first-year student, said.

One way to keep track of all of your assignments is to use a planner, suggested senior journalism major Aimee Fowler.

“It’s easy to manage what days you have events and exams and what days important assignments are due,” Fowler said.

If a student knows they have a busy weekend planned, Fowler suggested planning ahead.

“If I know that I have a lot of events one weekend, but I also have homework due that Saturday or Sunday, I try to get it done before the weekend starts. It gets rid of any excess stress and allows me to just enjoy my time off.”

The Division of Student Success also has helpful resources for students on a variety of topics, including a Vol Success Tip specifically on time management. Check out the website for more information.

Dealing With Homesickness

Whether a first-year or a grad student, homesickness is bound to happen during college. It can be difficult to leave family and friends behind.

“Coming to college from out of state, nine hours away was tough,” first-year student Emma Rutkowski said.  “It’s hard being here and doing everything alone. I didn’t have that lifestyle in Maryland.”

One way to help remedy homesickness is through text and FaceTime.

“I text my mom every single day,” Olivia Ioppolo, a senior from Florida majoring in construction management, said. “I update her on important stuff that happens throughout the day, and she does the same for me. Our schedules can get busy sometimes, but we always find time to FaceTime each other at least once a week. It’s nice to be able to see her and hear her voice, even if it’s only through the phone.”

Ioppolo also recommended thinking positively and said she likes to think of it as having two separate lives that students can bring together.

“It was hard making friends at first, but once I did, I couldn’t wait for my friends back home to meet them. It was like my two worlds colliding.”

Reaching Out and Meeting New People

Meeting new people can be intimidating, especially for students who may not be as outgoing as others. Virtual learning during the pandemic fueled the struggle of making friends.

“After being online for almost two years of high school, I was nervous about meeting new people face to face and making new friends here,” Audrey Lloher, a first-year student, said.

The easiest way to meet new people is to get involved. Students can find organizations, events, and opportunities through VOLink and the Center for Student Engagement. Many student groups accept new members year-round and are looking for more engagement.

“Join clubs and other organizations that UT offers,” said Ethan Cantrell, a senior majoring in communications. “I’m involved in a fraternity on campus, and it allowed me to meet some of my best friends.”

Cantrell also suggested making friends in class. Attending class is something every student has in common.

“Just sit next to someone who looks nice and say ‘hey.’ Odds are they are just as nervous as you to be in a college class for the first time.”

Making friends in different classes can also benefit schoolwork. Having someone to message about assignments and due dates allows students to not only gain a good friend but good grades.

Staying Positive on Campus During COVID-19

Being back on campus after a year of mostly virtual learning has students both nervous and excited.

“COVID definitely made the transition harder,” Katie Ceraldi, a first-year student, said. “Last year, no one really took their classes seriously because they felt pointless at the time. It’s difficult to get that work ethic back.”

To get back on track for this semester, senior business major Ian Castle suggested students try to return to what they were used to before the pandemic hit.

“It’s hard to remember what normal is since this has been considered our normal for so long. I think the best way to go about it is trying to remember our old study habits and strategies and just try to return to that.”

A journalism professor said, “this year, everyone’s a freshman again.” Though first-year students are experiencing a range of emotions during their first few weeks on campus, upperclassmen feel just the same.

“This year was hard for everyone,” Castle said. “The pandemic hit when I was a sophomore, but it doesn’t even feel like that long ago, which is weird.”

Castle continued by saying he’s trying to stay positive during this time and hopes others will do the same.

“We just need to work as a community to try and salvage the rest of our college experiences.”

Whether you’re a first-year student or returning student, we’re all working through challenges to settle into the new academic year and build community on Rocky Top. If you’re in need of support, don’t be afraid to reach out to these resources: