Thought Catalog
August 20, 2014

7 College Pro Tips For Incoming Freshman

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When I was getting ready to go away to college, I read tons of articles from people bestowing all of their advice to the Class of 2006. Even though Facebook wouldn’t be around for another two years. And reddit wasn’t a thing yet either. You know, I’m trying think of what I did on the Internet back then, and I’m drawing a huge blank, which is weird, because I definitely spent a lot of time online.

Anyway, I remember everybody giving me their college words of wisdom. And for the most part, I ignored all of it, much like you’ll probably ignore all of this. Which is cool. I mean, most of you are like seventeen or eighteen years old. If you have everything figured out already, by all means, don’t let me stand in your way. But it’s that back-to-school time of the year, and I can’t help but look back and reflect on my four years of college. For what’s it’s worth, here are seven college pro tips for the Class of 2018.

1. Go to all of your classes

Go to every single class. Don’t even skip once. If you’re suffering from one of those hangovers that make you question whether or not you ever want to drink again, go to class. Hell, if you’re still drunk from the night before and you’ve only had like twenty minutes of sleep, go to class anyway. Sure, you might want to sit in the back and not raise your hand or anything. But get a pack of Altoids, open up a notebook, and do your best to at least pretend like you’re taking notes.

Because seriously, you’re going to college to go to college. If you’re taking out loans or mom and dad are gifting you a ridiculously large sum of money or the school is paying you to study with them, there’s a lot of money at stake here. Whether it’s community college or a private liberal arts school, college is expensive. You owe it to everybody involved to at least go to class.

And once you get the hang of it, it’s not so bad. You can manage the rest of your life around four or five classes that meet two or three times a week. That’s not even as much class time as high school was. I’m not exaggerating here, getting used to showing up when you really, really don’t feel like showing up is one of the most important lessons you’ll take away from wherever you’re studying. Because it’s not just school. It’s family, friends, appointments, dates, everything. You’ve got to show up. Go to class.

2. Take liberal arts classes

I’m one hundred percent not knocking business classes. If you already know that you want to be an accountant, then go ahead and stick with it. But in my experience, I had no idea what I wanted to do, and so I wound up taking mostly liberal arts classes. And I found my curriculum to be very rewarding. Because where else are you going to learn any of this stuff? I took a class dedicated to the history of Soviet Russia, another one all about New York City at the turn of the nineteenth century. If you’re not interested, sure, it might sound like a huge waste of time. But you’re learning the information that’s going to affect how you look at the world around you. So the more you diversify that information, the broader your worldview is going to be.

And if you still want to go into business, you’ll have no problem making a career in the business world. Get an internship somewhere, start as an entry-level employee when you graduate. I’m telling you, a lot of people wind up going to school to study one thing and then landing a job doing something totally different. A liberal arts degree is not going to limit you from doing anything. Except med school. If you want to become a doctor, you should really do the whole pre-med thing.

3. Get an internship

I’m not speaking from personal experience here. And while I’m really happy with how my life has worked out so far, if I had to pick one thing to go back and redo, it would be the fact that I chose working part-time jobs over going out for those unpaid internships. And yeah, I get it that work and money are important, and I realize how ridiculously spoiled this makes me sound, but I could have done without the pocket money I was earning at work and instead focused on getting an unpaid internship.

And it sounds nuts, that you’re going to work for someone else without any monetary compensation. I could never even consider lowering myself to a position where I wasn’t taking home anything of material value. Even now I’m still kind of against the idea of making people work for free. But you know what? All of those people that worked for free got jobs right out of college. Again, I hate to use the word regret, because my life wound up taking me on a bunch of really cool paths I hadn’t anticipated. But I’ll never be able to shake the feeling that I spent a lot of my twenties waiting tables while I couldn’t seem to figure out how a lot of my peers started climbing that career ladder right away. Get an internship. Make some connections. I think you have to make a LinkedIn profile or something, I’m not sure.

4. Don’t be afraid to start over

So maybe you thought you really wanted to be a calligraphy major. You bought all of those expensive pens and sat through two consecutive semesters of Intro to Cursive 101 and 201. But now a year and a half in, you’re thinking that maybe calligraphy isn’t as fulfilling as you thought it might be. Maybe you want to switch to the basketry program. But what about all the time that you’ve already put in? Won’t you have to take make up classes? Maybe even stay an extra semester?

Who cares? Do it. It’s such a college trap: they make you pick a major, and then you start taking all of those required classes, and then by the time you realize it’s not the major for you, you’ve already invested in all of those hours and credits. Again, who cares? Go back and start over. There’s no sense in continuing on a path that’s not fulfilling just because you’re too scared of wasting time. We’re all wasting time, but you’re at college, and you’re supposed to be figuring stuff out. It’s much easier to change majors now than it is to go back to school five years after you’ve graduated.

5. Exercise

It’s great, being on your own for the first time, not having mom and dad tell you what to do. You can do whatever you want. You’re an adult. And then four years later you graduate with a beer gut and a pack-a-day smoking habit. OK, maybe it’s not that extreme. Or maybe it’s a lot worse. What I’m saying here is what I’ve been saying all along: that over the next four years, you’re going to develop a lot of habits and activities that will, whether you like it or not, make up a foundation of who you’re going to be as an adult. And once those habits and activities become entrenched in who you are, it’s going to be a challenge to change once you’re really on your own.

Which isn’t to say it’s impossible. It’s just that, it’s so easy to stay active in college. Play basketball with your friends. Find someone to go to the gym with regularly. Play all of those obscure college intramural sports that you’ve never heard of before. (Pickleball? Frisbee golf? Soccer?) You’re going to be surrounded by an entire population of people your age. Get involved in at least some physical activities right away, and make them a part of your college routine. It’s much easier to stay in shape than it is to get in shape, and that all starts right now.

6. Clubs and activities

It’s so tempting to spend every waking second of your free time in your dorm playing all-night Super Smash Brothers tournaments on the N64 that your friend Dan brought with him from back home. But you’ve got to branch out and get involved in some extracurricular activities. It all comes back to the price tag. A lot of money is involved in your going to college. Sure, you get to take classes and get a diploma. But that’s the bare minimum.

Every club or sport or activity that you immerse yourself in while you’re at school increases the value of your college education. The price of tuition stays the same regardless of what you do with your free time, and every student is charged an activity fee anyway, so you might as well soak up every opportunity you can to be involved. Join a club. Write for the newspaper. Run for student government. If nothing sounds interesting, start your own club. Start a N64 Super Smash Brothers club. Organize all your friends, get the school to give you money for pizza, and make that shit official.

7. Carpe Diem

It’s Latin for, “College goes by so fast.” And yeah it’s a cliché. I remember being a freshman and thinking, this isn’t going by fast at all, I’m having the time of my life, and I don’t relate to any of this advice anybody’s telling me. And maybe it didn’t go by quickly at the time, but it’s over now, and in hindsight those four years feel like they evaporated overnight.

If nothing else, just work hard and try your best. And have fun. And don’t take it too seriously. You’ll mess up, and it’ll be awesome. Treat the people that you meet with respect. Party, party hard if you have to, but never at the expense of your work. Because that’s what you’re there for, to study and work. Also, stay away from hard drugs. Seriously, it’s not cute, and that shit’ll fuck you up.

Good luck freshmen! TC mark