I’ve always been a super Type-A, Dean’s list honors student. Follow the rules and the plans. After graduating high school, I knew college was going to be this insanely fun, simple timeline. The movies did say so, after all. So, I applied for only one school that I was sure I would get into and figured my time would go something like this:
- Freshman year, take your groundwork courses and declare a major.
- Sophomore year, study away.
- Junior year, grab some internships.
- Senior year, network and prepare to graduate.
It was this clean little four-year thing. You’re supposed to power through and have a blast doing it! Between partying with friends, making extra cash as a barista or something, and participating in riveting courses, college was such a breeze!
Except I picked and stuck with one that wasn’t a good fit. Now, looking back, I can honestly say I have very few pleasant memories, and that’s a shame.
Things would have been much different had I known a few things.
1. You don’t have to pick a major right away.
Yes, I know they always give you the option to change, but I refused. I decided to petition for the first class that I enjoyed: Advertising. I declared the second semester of my freshman year as a doe-eyed 18-year-old. All I knew was that I would graduate on time with something that seemed generic enough and sort of fun. I may have graduated in my perfect little time frame, but I now have a degree in something that doesn’t interest me. What good is that?
2. You don’t have to graduate in four years.
Many people don’t, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Changing your major or waiting a couple years to declare may tack on some time, but you will probably have a better chance at finding something you’re passionate about if you keep your options open. Back then, I wanted something that sounded fun. Now, I know I want to help people. We change as we grow, and that’s important to remember.
3. Transferring is an option.
If you end up not liking where you are, see if you can go somewhere else! Visit the campus of that school you also considered but ended up either blowing off or not getting into. If you work your backside off for your first year or two, your dream school may take you. Sure, some of your credits may not make the transfer, but a healthy environment can work wonders on your success and happiness—two things that are really important.
4. Stay up all night (sometimes).
I’m not talking about a study all-nighter. I never pulled one of those, thanks to those good ole’ organization skills, but I also never went out really late with my friends. I was so “early to bed, early to rise.” I definitely regret this piece. If I had slapped on some mascara and gotten out of bed to go meet some good pals instead of ignoring the texted invitations, it could have helped immensely with stress and led to some great stories. Just remember to say yes sometimes.
5. Research graduate programs and jobs early.
Some graduate programs don’t require the GRE or even the LSATs, so it’s good to know if you should start studying. For the ones that do, your school may offer study courses, which could be beneficial to landing in the perfect graduate program. Volunteer at places that are appealing to your prospective schools, and try to network with professors and people in the “real world.” Think about these things early, and it should pay off.
6. You can always go for a second chance.
This is where I am now. At almost 22, I have finally figured out what I want to do: Clinical Psychology. Like I said earlier, I want to help people. No, I don’t have the basic credentials to get into the program I love, but that’s okay. After taking a semester off after graduation, I’ll be starting some non-degree seeking courses at a local University and apply for the 2017 school-year graduate program. Despite the challenges, it’s all going to work out. I know it.
7. This list doesn’t apply to everyone.
It doesn’t even apply to most people, but if I can tell one person who has the power to change their dismal collegiate path, it’s worth it. Doing something you love is essential to being happy, so don’t let that anal personality dictate the rest of your life.
And don’t forget about that second chance.