I’ve been out of college a few years now, and I finally have the distance I need to understand the good, the bad, the ugly, and a few of the things I would have done differently along the way. Here are the little tidbits of advice I wish I had known during those first, confused days of orientation.
That first day, everyone will be lost. The bros in the boat shoes, the football players with lanyards around their necks, the sorority-girls-to-be in tights and uggs. No one will have a clue, and everyone will feel uncomfortable.
That being said, people will gravitate to those who are acting like they know. Those people who exude confidence and understanding and other in-the-moment qualities. Those people don’t know, though. I’m not saying they’re faking it. They just realize that there is no right way to work through those first few weeks. They’re not looking around at others to figure out how to act. They’re just being how they want to be.
So. How do you want to be? You’re going to be in a new place with new people. Don’t let your conception of who you are limit you. You could be anyone you wanted. It’s a clean start. I’m not saying make some new, inauthentic persona to play out. But be what’s going to make you happiest. Maybe you wanted to be more outgoing in high school. Be bold. That first day is a rebirth. Take advantage of it.
Who you are going to be for the next four years will be greatly defined by the friends you surround yourself with. The group you coalesce into during and after orientation will change, yes, but it sets a precedent for how others perceive you and what thought processes are influencing you. It’s just something to think about.
The perception of others shouldn’t matter. But it does. Each college’s social life is a completely separate construction. At some school, the theatre kids will be the top dogs. At other schools, the football team and their cheerleader girlfriends will be the popular students. You don’t have to subscribe to your school’s social structure, but at least try to understand it. You can’t go against or change what you don’t fully understand.
Let go of home. Stop checking Facebook to see your friends’ happy new lives. Turn off the phone for the first few days. Learn to love single life. It’s so easy to hide behind a boyfriend or girlfriend. Learn to love yourself, by yourself, as yourself.
Be where you are. Enjoy your new home from the start. It will be uncomfortable and lonely and you’ll want some sense of security. You’ll be thankful later if you just endure the unknown.
Go to the activities fair. Join three clubs that you would have never considered before. Learn how to break dance. Volunteer at an elementary school. Read philosophical novels and talk about them. Play ultimate Frisbee. Taste wine. Allow yourself to be brand new
Lastly, there is no path. The path will appear as you walk. Let go of what you think things should be, and just enjoy this as the new experience that it is. Keep moving forward, be thankful for where you are, and you’ll be wonderfully surprised where you end up.