In August 2010, I first set foot on my college campus wearing Soffe shorts and a high school tennis t-shirt. I was excited for the freedom, but what I didn’t know was that it isn’t so rewarding unless you play by a few guidelines (one being that you shouldn’t walk around a college campus in Soffe shorts and a high school tennis t-shirt).
As I prepare to graduate, I’m reflecting on some of the most important lessons I learned during four of the most amazing years of my life thus far.
Most of these pieces of advice were probably already given to me prior to entering college, but as with all lessons, you disregard them until you make a bunch of mistakes.
1. Make new friends, but keep the old.
College is the easiest time to meet new people. There are suddenly thousands of new faces to introduce yourself to, and it’s important that you do. But don’t lose sight of the important people from your past.
This is the future. There is the iPhone, the Facebook, there’s even an app that will give you the GPS coordinates of any of your friends at any given time (hopefully not without their consent). We live in a generation where there is no real excuse to lose touch with someone.
You and your friends from high school share a special bond that you won’t find with anyone else. This is because you guys survived a nightmare together: high school. They knew you when you had braces with rubber bands. They knew you when you dated that guy who got expelled for smoking Swisher Sweets in the bathroom. They knew you when your staple accessories were your Taking Back Sunday hoodie and the bangs you cut yourself (unsuccessfully). And despite knowing all of those things about you, they still liked you.
Friendships naturally fade away. Sometimes, they’re meant to. Other times, there is nothing you can do to salvage them. But think carefully about the people who meant the most to you, and pick a few worth keeping around. And do everything you can to stay in touch, or else you might regret it one day.
2. Don’t be a niche.
“So, which Greek organization are you in?” might be a good way to start off a conversation with some, but to the majority of the students at your school, it’s a turnoff.
Join organizations. It’s important. Exploring your own interests and filling your time with hobbies besides binge eating, binge drinking and binge Netflix-ing is good. But do not become your organization. There are a variety of people at every university. Don’t sell yourself short by limiting your social circle to one type. Know your own name, and allow other people will know you by that name, rather than “That Kid In That Club.”
Despite the infinite number of opportunities that college has to offer, you will find that many people take solace into committing to one organization and seeing themselves as merely a cog in that machine. Some of those people will resent your attempts to belong to more than one group.
Your true friends will stick by your side, even if you cancel plans on them occasionally to hang out with your other friends. Those that aren’t true friends will not understand the need to expand your horizons and they will ditch you entirely. This will sting at first. But ten years from now when you run into those people at the grocery store, and they are wandering the aisles still wearing a Greek-letter t-shirt and a sad look of denial in their eyes, you will find redemption.
3. Stay in.
FOMO is more than an acronym that makes you sound like an idiot when you say it. The ‘fear of missing out’ is very real. It can cause you to buy a California roll and a bottle of Sake when you have less than $20 in your bank account, close your books the day before a midterm you’re totally unprepared for, and stay out until five when you have to be awake at six.
In the long run, an A on your paper will make you feel a lot better than being featured in that group picture on Instagram. Also, your professor will probably not accept said Instagram picture in lieu of the essay you were supposed to be writing.
4. Say yes.
When I got to college, I was incredibly jaded and cynical considering I was an 18-year-old woman with the world at my fingertips. My insecurity caused me to make snap judgments about everything and everyone around me.
But then I realized my cynicism was rooted in fear. And by giving new experiences a chance, I became a better person with a more solid idea of who I am. Not to mention, opening myself up to new experiences only led to even bigger and better opportunities.
Say yes to everything you can (except maybe for hard drugs and violent crime). At the best you’ll find a new passion or a new friend. At worst you’ll have a new story to tell and a broader outlook on the world around you.
5. College is not a rom-com.
You’re at brunch with a friend, and she’s a little down. She’s staring at her phone unblinkingly, as if by doing so she can telepathically urge it to light up with a new text from her latest love interest. Between inappropriately large gulps of a mimosa, she wonders aloud: “Why hasn’t he texted me yet?”
You’re a sympathetic friend so you play along. “Hm. Maybe his phone is dead.”
“You’re right. Or maybe he lost it.”
“Or maybe someone in his family is deathly ill and he’s busy taking care of them.”
“Or maybe he’s deathly ill. Or maybe he’s DEAD. Oh my God, do you think he could be dead?”
Your friend looks startled, but oddly relieved, as if the prospect of him being unable to text her because he is dead is better than the actuality of the situation: He’s not texting her because he doesn’t want to text her.
A small part of you knows this, but you know better than to say so because you’ve been in her shoes before: agonizing over hypothetical scenarios to explain why a guy who seemed so interested suddenly disappeared from your radar.
Here’s the thing: If he wants to talk to you, he will talk to you. Staring at your phone won’t make him text you. Sending him a text at 2 a.m. that says “Hi” with the cat-with-heart-eyes Emoji won’t remind him how into you he actually is. The only thing that will make him talk to you is his own desire to do so.
Sure- there is a small chance his phone died, or he died, or aliens abducted him. But those chances are microscopic and not worth thinking about. Finish that mimosa pitcher, cry if you need to, then do your own thing. This isn’t a movie where the guy is perfect for you, so long as you find a way to break down a tough, metaphorical wall around his emotions.
If he ever wants to get in touch with you, he will. If he doesn’t, being obsessive won’t change that, and giving up might even allow you to move on and discover that contrary to what all movies targeted towards females want you to believe, there can actually joy in being alone. You can still be a whole person without having a guy in your life.
PS. There are no exceptions to this rule. This is important to note because I know that anyone who is simultaneously reading this and wondering why a guy hasn’t texted them back will desperately tell themselves that they are an exception, and there is some mysterious reason why this guy hasn’t picked up your calls in three weeks. There are no exceptions.
6. It still happened, even if you don’t remember it.
A magnificent part of college towns are their college bar districts. Go to the bar with the right drink special, and you can get wasted for less than the price of the cover charge at most “real people” bars. But dirt-cheap drinks do nothing but perpetuate the drinking culture of college, and you’ll likely hear more than one classmate glorify blacking out as if it is an art.
But don’t forget one thing: even if you don’t remember doing something, you still did it. And it will come back to remind you in the most unexpected of situations.
When you glance down at your phone and see a reflection of your double chin staring back at you, you’ll receive a hazy flashback to last Saturday night, when you ate at least 5 tacos not because you were hungry, but because the bars just closed, and they were only $1.50 each.
Or maybe when you pass that frat guy and he gives you an uncomfortable wink, you’ll vaguely recall at dollar beer night when he convinced you to come back to his apartment with him to watch that new Tom Cruise movie. Had you not been eight deep in dollar beers, you might have remembered that Tom Cruise is a douche and so is that guy, and you’d have been able to politely decline the invitation.
Drinking is fun. But your parents, the police and your R.M.’s have a point when they suggest you drink responsibly. So keep in mind when you wake up feeling hungover, embarrassed and in need of McDonalds breakfast, that no amount of fried food and Ibuprofen will fill the void where your self-respect used to be.
7. The best is yet to come.
It’s easy to spend the first half of college wishing you were back in high school and the last half dreading graduation. It’s easy to believe that it’s all downhill from here. Why not? You’ll never be as young, as beautiful, or as free from responsibility.
But if you treat each day like there is something new and exciting to discover, you will discover something new and exciting every day.