Published: 7/8/2024

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Starting college is a huge social shift that can be challenging for new students to navigate. After completing my senior year online, I arrived at Arizona State University with rose-tinted visions of my first few weeks ahead: Walking across the quad with people I met the day prior, who would be my best friends for life.

But, I didn’t realize that building bonds with an on-campus community takes serious work. On one of my first nights away from my parents, I joined a welcome activity with fellow first years. I was paired with students who, like me, were brand new to campus, and we started to make small talk, trying to get a feel for one another.

I quickly realized that there was one key difference between us: I was from out of state, but my peers were from in-state, with most hailing from Arizona. Without any shared acquaintances or knowledge of the area, I felt isolated from them.

In that moment, I realized that college wasn’t going to start with me automatically making the best friends of my life. Instead, it was a lesson on finding my community on ASU’s vast campus.

Freshman year: Starting small

I knew from tour guides, family members and friends that getting involved in clubs often led to students finding like-minded community on campus. So, I made the decision to start small by pledging a business fraternity, then took things up a notch and joined a public speaking club.

As a high schooler, my public speaking skills weren’t the greatest. But, the public speaking club helped me build my confidence and skillset with limitless practice and encouragement. Meanwhile, my business fraternity helped me build a network of lifelong friendships, all with the shared goal of empowering each other’s professional skills.

Joining just these two clubs sparked a deep love and connection with my campus. Seeing the passion of my peers gave me a sense of belonging and made me feel at home even as an out-of-stater.

Sophomore year: Questions of commitment

In my sophomore year I grew more involved, joining the business school council, becoming a tour guide and earning an executive board seat in my fraternity. But, all those commitments I had made were rocked shortly after the semester kicked off.

I began college as a Finance major, and had grand plans of searching for an internship and networking with fellow industry professionals. But reality set in, when, after taking my first Finance course for my major, I found that I had zero passion for it.

Devastated by the realization that Finance was not my calling, I worried that my school wasn’t really the place for me. But my tight-knit community proved me wrong: I spent hours talking with my friends and peers, and with their encouragement, switched to Supply Chain Management — a program ranked second in the country.

That switch proved to be a huge adjustment, and I ended up finding my spark in my new major. But without the support of everyone I had met through on-campus organizations, I think the experience would have left me shattered, and might not have even stayed at ASU.

Junior year: Making the college experience yours

In the year since the switch, I’ve seen my grades improve, served on three executive boards, been a part of six organizations, earned scholarships for my on-campus involvement and even took up a double major in Global Politics with a minor in History.

There was no perfect path like I thought there would be in high school. I started off without knowing anyone on campus, but with time found my passion, my community and my purpose. The people I met through my on-campus organizations guided me through the toughest aspects of college life, and for them I’m deeply grateful.

Now, as a seasoned tour guide, I tell the high schoolers who stood in the same spot I did to get involved and do it early. Join a club, sport, team, Greek life — anything! Doing so can literally change your life — I know it did for me.


Written by Sean Ratigan, a Cengage Student Ambassador. Sean is currently pursuing a Double Major in Supply Chain Management and Global Politics with a Minor in History at Arizona State University.


While getting involved in clubs can help motivate students, what more can institutions do to keep students enrolled? Discover strategies for sustainable student enrollment in the white paper “Growing Enrollment in the Decade Ahead” by Jeff Selingo.

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