Thought Catalog
February 3, 2016

14 Graduating Seniors Share Their Best Advice For Surviving (And Thriving!) In College

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1. It’s all about balance.

One of the biggest things I wish I had been better about when I first got to college was keeping better balance in my life. I think a lot of incoming freshmen end up prioritizing certain things too highly, and other parts of their life get left behind. Grades and schoolwork is important, but so is going to clubs and meeting new people. Maybe you’ll find yourself in a relationship, and that’s great, but don’t let it dominate your life.

Be involved but also take time to relax and keep your self mentally healthy. And above all remember that it is good to ask for help! Struggling is classes? Go to office hours, get in a study group, get a tutor. Feeling overwhelmed? Most if not all universities have counseling services which can provide someone to talk to. They are there for a reason and you should feel comfortable using them. Leaving home and going to college is one of the biggest shocks of your life.

So much changes so quickly and you suddenly are trying to cope with so many new experiences and pressures. And that can make for an incredibly fun rewarding time, but can also become very stressful and nothing is more important than taking care of yourself.

— Anonymous, 21

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2. Own it.

Do not apologize for your major!

— Jackie, 20

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3. Change is coming, and it will be okay!

Work on getting to know yourself and being very self-aware. You may find yourself in situations where you start surprising yourself with some weird choices. Your traditions and habits regarding sleep, sex, eating, schoolwork, relationships, and drinking and drug use will most likely change at some point while you’re going through college, and it’s completely natural and a sign that you’re growing.

But you also should be self-aware enough to know when change is happening, and be able to know when a new habit or tendency has developed into a problem. Work hard and make good choices.

— Brittany, 21

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4. Don’t skim this one — TONS of good stuff here!

1. Choosing a major: It’s perfectly OK to switch your major, just make sure that each time you do it, you have a distinct “”why”” for doing it. You might switch your majors 3 times, but each time you do it, it should have a different reason. We’re on a continual path of refining who we are, learning from previous experiences is what helps you refine yourself.

2. Try to pay a little attention to how your student loans work. You don’t need to be an expert on them, but knowing the basics like how interest will accumulate will make you at least one step closer to being independent and will help you gain that respect you want.

3. If you can, try not to have expectations for how things will play out. This can be said for classes, dating life, your GPA, what friends you’ll make. I didn’t enjoy freshman year, but one reason I was let down was because I expected to make instant close friends right away. Sometimes people will click and find their groups right away, sometimes they don’t. Going into situations without expectations will help you enjoy life a LOT more and will save you from disappointment. Its very rare for everything to playout the way you expect them to, and that’s how it should be.

4. Do not worry if you’re still a virgin! This is important. A lot of college students feel the constant pressure from cultural expectations to not be a virgin. It’s stressful, I know. But a lot of people will just rush into it, lose it during a hook up without really knowing the person (hooking up is definitely not bad, but if you’ll only lose it once, and these things are a lot better with intimacy, trust and a little humor). Or even worse, a lot of people will take the time to win someone’s trust, hook up with them, and stop talking to them. Don’t be that person. You’ll lose it when you lose it. It’s a really silly pressure.

5. Work on yourself before your begin dating seriously. Find out what you want in life (your goals, your career choices, your desires), find out what you don’t like in life. Put yourself first. Jumping into relationships right away before maturing into that fine young adult you should be is a sure way to deprive yourself of the opportunity to self-development. Not to mention, the more you develop yourself, the more attractive you’ll be for the person who is a good fit for you.

6. Be as honest as possible when it comes to dating. It’s okay if you don’t want a relationship, it’s okay if you want to hook up, it’s okay if you don’t want to hookup, it’s okay if you want to date seriously. But you have to express this to the person you’re with. They might be on the same page, they might not be. But being honest will save both of you the confusion and anxiety that often comes with dating.

7. Expand your social circles. Spend time with people who aren’t like you. This will help broaden your perspective on things, build your empathy, and will benefit you in the long run in terms of your personal growth as well as your professional growth. But don’t do this for the sake of being well-connected– be genuinely interested in the people you talk to. People can tell if you don’t really care about them (just like people do with all the terrible politicians out there in the world).

8. Show up. Literally, show up. Sometimes there will be socials, conferences, meet-ups, happy hours, pre-games, volunteer events, etc. Just show up. You never know who you’ll meet. When someone is looking for help, show up. It goes a long way to be helpful, to give back and to just show up. You’ll feel great, people will feel great, and again there’s always opportunities that may come up for you to do something awesome/be apart of something awesome.

9. Learn your personal boundaries for commitments to other people. Sometimes you can’t help everyone, and that’s okay. It’s important to step back and say to yourself “am I happy right now in this moment?” You’re not obliged to anyone in this world, especially to people you don’t make promises to (just don’t make empty promises). When you can’t do something because you’re either drained or have something else going on, people will understand.

— Viet, 22

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5. You don’t have to be drunk to have a good time.

If you don’t like drinking alcohol, don’t feel like you need to drink with your friends to feel a part of the group. Since turning 21, I’ve had a total of 2 drinks: One bottle of beer and one glass of wine. I didn’t really care for either, but my friends still hang out with me.

Also, don’t be discouraged if you don’t immediately start dating someone. College is about realizing who are and spending some time with your single self is part of that time. Don’t waste it.

— Sharon, 21

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6. Own your life, take chances!

Don’t blame others for your mistakes, especially when it comes to your schoolwork. There are so many opportunities meant to help you succeed– use them! Work your ass off and utilize office hours, free tutoring, online videos, etc.

Go after who you’re interested in! Better to ask them out and potentially face some embarrassment now than kick yourself over what could have been later.

Don’t burn bridges. You never know when you may need that professor’s letter of recommendation or a job reference from your terrible boss. Treat everyone well, even if you secretly hate them.

Also relevant: when you meet a cute, nice boy at a party you should give him a chance instead of emotionally shutting down. You’ll regret it a lot later.

— Michaela, 21

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7. Pay attention to your degree requirements!

Some degrees require language credits. Be careful when doing them and understand the degree’s requirements. My degree audit was worded poorly and said only that I needed 12 credit hours of a language. I took that to mean i could take several languages so long as I got up to 12 credit hours. So i took two semesters of Spanish, then switched to Latin. It wasn’t till a different adviser than my previous one pointed it out to me that I saw I made a terrible mistake. So here I am, with an expensive Spanish textbook I can’t even sell back. I’m also a senior now still finishing this portion of my degree. In the end I’ll have 18 credit hours of a language, but in the end only the 12 Latin credits will count for anything.

It SUCKS to be a senior taking a general education course. I spend many many hours a day working on research and learning about the brain. But at the end of the day I have that annoying final task of doing Latin a few hours.

Another lesson from this: check with advisers every semester to make sure you’re on track. They have a high turnover rate, so you’ll probably have a different one all the time. A new one might catch something the others didn’t.

— Mike, 22

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8. The sparknotes version for EVRYTHING:

– Focus on schoolwork, but not so much that it is all you do
– Join organizations that you are passionate about
– Go greek!
– Don’t search for “the one” they will come to you, and it may be someone you didn’t realize
– Friendzone people! It’s okay! It’s your life and you get to choose what you do with it
– Make goals
– Try everything
– Eat whatever (in moderation)
– Don’t worry if you don’t know what you are doing, no one does and you can take as long as you want to figure it out.

— Erin, 21

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9. Pro-tips for life and career

For liberal arts students, an internship often does more to direct your career than your degree.

Always ALWAYS ask the landlord about utilities, the neighborhood, repair policy etc. Go in with a list of questions and check every light switch and faucet.

If you work part-time, try and put money aside. You’d always rather spend it on eating out or drinking, but having money set aside before you graduate makes you much better prepared to move after graduation (moving is always expensive).

Take advantage of the campus gym, go at weird times (like 1 am) if you want more privacy for your workout.

Check out estate sales for cheap furniture. Estate sales are the bomb.

Pay attention to the news, like the actual news, not just who dumped whom on the set of the recent vampire gossip talk show. It makes you seem much more intelligent in interviews.

Your roommates don’t have to be your best friends, but you should find people you can respect (people that clean when they get stressed are a bonus).

— Emma, 21

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10. DO NOT RELY ON ALL NIGHTERS

All-nighters are literally the devil’s work. I swore them off after my first semester of freshman year, and my life got so much better. I didn’t stop procrastinating, but at least I was well rested while I did it.

— Leena, 22

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11. Be a leader, here’s how!

I attended a university seminar on leadership as a freshman. This is their advice on how to be a leader:

Freshman year: attend some club meetings
Sophomore year: sign up for a club
Junior year: become an officer in that club
Senior year: become president of that club

Also, volunteering is the easiest way to build your resume.

— Ariella, 22

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12. College is a time to focus on building up YOURSELF

1. The most important relationship that you can work on in college is the one with yourself. Cultivate a relationship that’s built on confidence, respect, trust, and love. Take yourself on dates and find the things you love to do when you’re by yourself. Take care of yourself -eat, exercise, sleep, relax. Take a yoga class and become one with your body. Journal. Read Brene Brown books and use her ideas as a spring board to explore yourself. Ask yourself the hard questions and explore those answers. Find a strong support system. Ask for help when you need it. You are a truly amazing and beautiful human being and you need to acknowledge that & treat yourself as such. The stronger of a relationship you have with yourself and the better you know yourself, the more successful you will be in life.

2. Find the people who make you believe in yourself and make you confident when you’re at your lowest no matter what. Those are the only types of people you need in your life.

3. Your GPA does not matter in the real world. What matters is that you are stretching yourself and finding opportunities to apply the theories you have learned in the classroom. Your experience and your ability to learn & reflect are what will get you a job.

4. Things will get better. You will hit some of your lowest points in college and you won’t know what to do with yourself. Acknowledge your reaction emotions, but then pull yourself back up. Know that you have to understand what it’s like to be at your lowest to be grateful for the high moments. You are stronger and braver that you may ever imagine yourself to be and you will overcome these obstacles. Trust yourself and never give up.”

— Ashley, 21

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13. The best of times, the worst of times

College will be some of the best and worst years of your life. Don’t spend that time denying and trying to change who you are. Learning to to accept who I was and coming to terms with it was by far the best thing I learned in college.

— Tom, 22

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14. Fight for your own happiness.

If you aren’t happy, find a solution to make you happy. Don’t ever go through life thinking it will just get better. You must be proactive about your happiness. I wasn’t happy with my major for 2 years and was in denial that it will just get better. It didn’t. Once I decided to be proactive and change my major then things changed. I was happy again. Follow your dreams. TC mark

— Devon, 22