I can remember the feeling as if it were yesterday. Making my college deposit, signing up for loans to fund the experience with no remorse, and checking out my soon to be home’s Facebook page. I remember thinking, Who am I going to be? I could be anyone I wanted to be since I would be immersed into a new crowd of people: All of my woes from high school far behind me as I made a new name for myself. Going to college was both the most exciting and most terrifying moment of my entire life.
I attended an astonishingly small high school. For example, there was more people that lived on my floor in my residence hall than I graduated high school with. My first college class was a lecture style class, you know the one where if you sit in the back you can sort of make the notes out on the board. This class had 125 people in it which was more people than attended my entire high school. I took other classes that more “regular” sized (25 – 30 people). That semester, due to the adjustment period my GPA was quite underwhelming. I was happy with it at the time, now looking back it makes me angry that I was satisfied with those results. My first semester I really only focused on my studies and fitting in. My second semester turned out the same academically, but thankfully I started dating girlfriend, whom I am still with. She has really been my support system and I account all of my successes to her unwavering support. It really took me three semesters to adjust to the college style of learning, but once I found out what worked for me my academic and personal successes really took off.
Now that I have graduated, I have been reflecting on my times at college both good and bad. I thought really long and hard about what I wish I had known coming into college. As a disclaimer, you should understand that my advice should be taken with a grain of salt because you and I are not the same. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you, however, I provided advice that I believe to be universal.
1. Reflect on yourself to identify who you are, what you want in life, and how you will get there.
When you enter college there are such a variety of different majors, minors, and concentrations. This can be overwhelming to some. I know for me, I couldn’t stop my mind from imagining all of the possibilities that were available for me. In fact, I switched majors three times before I settled into my degree program that I graduated with. I wish that I had taken the time to actively look at what careers would look like with a degree from the programs I had haphazardly picked. If you aren’t going to be happy doing the work, then you are likely not going to enjoy studying the topic either. Speak to academic advisors about what kind of jobs you can get with each academic study option; however, don’t be afraid to search jobs and see what the job market is like as well.
With this in mind, don’t be afraid to go undeclared for a year or so in order to try out some classes to see what program matches up with your learning style and interests as well. No one path is the same for everyone, so push yourself out of your comfort zone and pursue your interests. Even though you may be a biology major, that doesn’t mean that you cannot join the botany club — if you’re interested in botany of course. No matter what your interests are, there are likely ways you can fill them. As for me, I joined Residence Life since my Resident Assistant and Community Advocate helped me out so much. I wanted to give back as much as they had given to me. This experience also opened up several other doors for me because I stepped up and took the leap.
2. Don’t let your past experiences define you.
As I had mentioned before, when you enter college even though there may be people you knew from high school at the same university, most people don’t know about your high school experience. College is a fresh experience for you and this is really your time to show your true colors that you maybe weren’t able to show in high school. This is something I see people struggle with when they come to college every year (I work with first year students).
Those who tend to stick to their high school “labels” might not find their footing in the collegiate atmosphere. I have seen people who were extremely popular in high school struggle to find friends in college since they didn’t have to work for friends in high school. On the flip side, I have seen people who were less than popular in high school bloom in college. These are the people I have seen go on to become magnificent campus leaders and innovators. You are the one who choses your college experience, be you. You are awesome.
3. While your GPA doesn’t define you, it does help.
I have always been a firm believer that you cannot be defined by a number. Learning styles vary between people so it is hard to set a standard for intelligence. Some have social intelligence, some have academic intelligence, and some have a different combination of both. Finding what works for you can be very difficult.
One of my favorite quotes is from Albert Einstein: “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This is incredibly applicable to this thought. Even though you are taking a class that your friend told you is an easy A, you might not get that easy A. Everyone learns differently and absorbs information differently. Knowing this will help you find your true learning style. For me I learned best when I asked my professors questions, used index cards for repetition, and explained the information to others. This works for me, but not all of my friends.
A high GPA does open doors, this is a fact. A high GPA can get you scholarships, admission into honors programs, induction into academic honor societies, admission into top graduate programs if you choose this route, and access to jobs as well. In my personal experience when I got my grades on track many doors did open for me. I was fortunate to be inducted into two academic honor societies and one leadership honor society. I then became co-president of one of the academic honor societies, and president of the leadership honor society. This would not have been possible without my grades. You will certainly never regret having a strong GPA.
4. Your time management skills are a crucial skill that can make or break you.
When I was working as an orientation leader for incoming students, the then Dean of Students on my campus gave a speech that really resonated with me. He said our most busy students are also our most successful students. If you can budget your time properly you will be aptly productive. My busiest semesters have been my most academically successful as well. The reason for this is because I was forced to create a schedule, stick to it, and was forced to stop procrastinating. Instead of waiting until the night before to do that paper, I would start it as soon as I reasonably could. This allowed me more time to proofread and edit the paper. Also since I was extremely busy, I would take the extra time to ask questions of my professors to ensure I was studying the correct material as well as making sure my projects were going in the right direction. I had little time for error and this motivated me to produce my highest quality work.
5. Understand that your college experience is as unique as you are.
No two people are alike, this is the same for college students. You can come to college with an idea of what your experience will be like based on what you’ve read, what you’ve seen in the media, or what your older friend or relative told you. It is unlikely that this will be true. I can remember when I was preparing for college I talked with a good friend of mine at the time about his experiences since he was already attending the university I was going to be attending. I made plans based on the things that he was doing and enjoyed doing. I quickly realized that the things I was looking forward to got put on the back burner as I found things that I would rather do instead. Your college experience is infinite, and you are in the drivers seat.
6. Live a little, have some fun.
College can be a serious and stressful time in your life and if you let it consume you, you can really damage your mental health. Find something you love in college and take the time to do it. Whether it is reading a book, exercise, going on walks, swimming, fishing, hiking, watching a new movie, drinking coffee with your friends, or any of the other things you may like to do; make time and do it. I’ve seen even the best and brightest people who have the greatest focus and time management skills crash and burn out because of a lack of “me time.” Your mental health is most important to your success in your college career.
7. Finally, never be afraid to ask for help.
My philosophy in this category is that in college there are people who are there for you. Whether it be your residence life staff member, academic advisor, teacher, friend, mentor, or even your home support system; there is always someone you can turn to. Whether it is something as simple as needing help registering for classes, or something more complicated and personal there is always someone who is there for you.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I truly hope that some of these points are applicable to your upcoming or current collegiate experiences. The most important thing to remember is that you are the one who controls your college experience, no one else. Choose your friends wisely, and remember that there is someone who can help you if you are struggling. Stay true to yourself, and enjoy your experience.