It’s really sad to admit, but I had no idea what the term “first-generation student” meant until I was 25 years old and in grad school. Now I know it means you are the first one in your family to attend a four-year college/university and graduate with your bachelor’s degree. This is recognized as a huge accomplishment, but one I had no idea I even reached. Turns out, I didn’t know much when I was 20, although at the time, most of us feel like we know everything. From settling into college, to trying to find my way in this crazy world, here are 20 things I wish I’d known when I was 20.
1. It is okay to be completely lost.
You really do not, and probably should not, have to have it all figured out when you’re 20. This is the time to get lost and be lost so that you can explore various avenues and career paths. You’ll never know who you truly are or what you truly want out of life if you don’t try different things and get a feel for what your options are.
2. Stop wasting time on a failing relationship.
Many relationships are truly tested during college. Most couples have broken off into separate schools and states. Not only is distance a test, but there are also the parties, the people you meet, and the person you begin to become. You change during college in more ways than one. Some couples can withstand all that and make it work. But if your relationship isn’t making you 100% happy or is a toxic one, do not waste anymore time on it. You are so young and you’re going to meet so many new faces. It’ll be hard to walk away from someone you may have thought was your forever love, but 20 is the perfect age to focus on you and to find yourself. You really can’t do that when you’re spending all your time and energy trying to make a failing relationship work.
3. Spend time with family, especially grandparents.
One day, they will be gone. One of my biggest regrets is not learning french from my Grandma while she was still alive, but I’m so grateful for all the other memories I created with her. Learn as much as you can from your family and make time for them while they’re still here. You’ll look back and be so grateful that you did.
4. Put yourself out there and get out of your comfort zone.
No matter how scary it may feel, this is the time to do it. Join a club, play a sport, volunteer somewhere, meet new people and make connections. You never know where it will all take you or what may change your life for the better. You could end up meeting someone who gets you your future dream job, but will never know the possibilities until you leave your comfort zone.
5. Be sure to take any opportunities that come your way.
I’m so thankful for all the internships I completed while I was in college. These internships provided me with experience, connections, and were complete resume builders. At the time, yes, it was a lot of work juggling an internship, a part-time job, and my classes, but it was so so worth it for my future. It set me up with jobs I probably would not have received if it weren’t for the experience.
6. Some friendships will fade, but new friendships will bloom.
Like I mentioned before, this is the time when all relationships are tested, and that certainly includes friendships. You’ll quickly learn who your true friends are just by who sticks by your side versus who begins to drift away. This is a necessary part of life. You grow up a lot at 20 and beyond, and some friends just can’t, or won’t, grow with you. But I guarantee you that some of the friends you make right now will remain in your life for a very long time.
7. Take a class on a topic you know nothing about.
You may be surprised by how much it peaks your interest. I took a Criminal Minds course my senior year of college and I truly wish I had taken it earlier. If I had, I probably would’ve become a Criminal Justice major because the topic fascinated me so much and I wanted to keep learning about it.
8. Remember to take time to practice self-care.
When you’re 20, whether you’re in college or not, this is an extremely stressful time. A myriad of changes are happening all at once, and you’re probably juggling a hell of a lot. Life is transitioning into a whole new world of full-blown adulthood. Remember to take the time out to stop, breathe, and relax. Take up yoga, meditate, hang with friends, try something new – do whatever it takes, but you must find time out of your busy schedule to care for yourself.
9. You’re not alone in your struggle.
I never knew what common humanity was until recently, but it means recognizing you’re not alone in any struggle you face. Someone out there is facing something similar, if not the same or worse. At 20, it can become easy to feel isolated or down on yourself. But in those dark times, you must always remember that you’re never alone.
10. Just be yourself.
Don’t live for anyone else. This is your life. Don’t ever pretend to be someone you’re not. If someone doesn’t accept you as you are, then you don’t want that person in your life anyways.
11. Surround yourself with good people.
You’re bound to find many people who are bad influences in college. This is where just being yourself comes into play. Stick to your morals and values, and that’ll be easy if you surround yourself with good people. Don’t let someone have an influence over you. Again, this is your life, no one else’s. And the more good people you surround yourself with, the more that good will rub off on you and allow you to grow into your best self.
12. Make as many connections as possible.
These connections could provide you with a reference later on in life. I made great connections with many of my professors during college. When I was 24, I actually called one of them for their wonderful career advice. My former professors also provided me with my recommendations for grad school. Your connections could truly shape your future.
13. Don’t hang onto the bad.
When you’re 20, it’s easy to feel like your life is over when something awful happens. But it’s not. Life is a long, long road, and a bump or two is not only a part of the journey, but it will make you stronger. Let it go and move on.
14. It’s okay to party, but be smart about it.
Don’t stay up until 3am when you have an exam the next morning. More importantly, do not get into a car with someone who has been drinking, no matter how convincing they might sound. This is why Uber was invented. Nothing is worth risking your life for, and it can all end in an instant. Alcohol is a typical part of the college experience, but you can still be safe and smart about your choices if you remember that one bad decision could impact the rest of your life.
15. Go to class.
It may sound self-explanatory, but so often I saw students skipping a lot of classes. For one, you or your family are paying for those classes with hard-earned money. Secondly, what a waste of time and energy. Why be in college if you just want to skate on by? You’re only hurting yourself, your wallet, your brain, and no, you don’t look cool doing it either.
16. Go on adventures.
Now is the time. Travel as much as you possibly can. See the world, explore, and learn about yourself.
17. Let go of that person you were in high school.
Now is your chance to start over. No matter who you were in high school or years leading up to 20, you can be someone new. It’s almost like a clean slate. Use it wisely.
18. There is strength in getting the help you need.
Suicide rates are at an all-time high for this age group. This is partly because this is the age at high-risk for anxiety and depression, and this is when those symptoms can begin to creep up on you. Go talk to someone, join a support group, whatever it takes. There are so many ways to get the help you need and deserve. Getting that help for yourself is a sign of strength, not weakness.
19. If you have a dream, this is when to start reaching for it any way you can.
It’s never too early to start reaching for your dreams, so why not start now? Because time is ticking right on by…
20. Enjoy the ride. It all flies by faster than you can imagine.
Enjoy the good, the bad, and everything in between, because one day you wake up, and you’re almost 30 years old and you have no idea how that happened. You’ll never be 20 again. Live in each moment, take one day at a time, and enjoy the ride while you can.