When I first set foot on campus, I was petrified — of accidentally making eye contact, knocking into someone, or tripping over a curb and acquainting myself with the freshly poured asphalt. In just ten minutes of college, I had experienced more emotions than I had in all my four years of high school. College was an entirely different beast, and would require much more tact if I was going to be successful.
As a recent college graduate, here are some of my pearls of wisdom:
1. Do your homework.
I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, solid advice. I’ll just file that away with the 12 years of my mom and teachers badgering me about that.” *cue dramatic eye roll* But joke’s on you, oh basic one; that’s not what I was implying. Don’t get me wrong, you should totally do your assignments; your GPA semi-dictates your future. But perhaps more important than that is learning to plan things out. Do your research before taking a class. “Oh, this class on Greek mythology sounds awesome!” I bet it does, but check out the professor’s ratings, look up past syllabi, and actually read the class description. Some of the most fun-sounding courses end up being the most work-intensive.
2. Get involved as soon as possible.
This is actually easier said than done, because incoming freshmen can get so overwhelmed with how different the college atmosphere is that they forget to involve themselves. High school should never be the last place you get involved in clubs and sports. Look up the tryout dates for club sports. Find an online list of clubs that your university offers. Don’t know where to start? Try Google. Turns out the Internet can be used for more than Facebook and Tumblr.
3. Network like your life depends on it…
…because it just might. College will inevitably introduce you to new people, but you need to monopolize on the time you have. Befriend your professors. Contrary to popular belief, they are actually people whose life goal isn’t to sabotage your future (though I will admit, there are those that are questionable). These men and women will most likely be writing you letters of recommendation, so get on their good side fast. Same is true for TAs as well. It can be hard to relate to them, but chances are they’re the ones grading your assignments and you’d be surprised how much favoritism makes a difference. Networking is a prime example of the snowball effect at work: you meet someone, who puts you in contact with someone else, who knows a guy’s sister’s aunt (twice removed), who has this friend who works for this company and he can help you get that internship. You get introduced to more and more people and suddenly you have a job when you graduate, or research experience, or at the very least some new friends. Take every opportunity to build your social network, because it can and will make all the difference.
4. Discover your passions.
In movies, college is portrayed very differently from what you will likely experience. It’s true that college is a wonderful and exciting time, but there are many struggles that don’t get the attention they deserve. You will have stressful moments — be they bad breakups, a contorted body image, identity struggles, and/or the hell that is finals week. These things can make or break college for some people, so it’s very important to find things you hold sacred and keep doing the things that make you happy. If you like to run, hit the pavement. If you like to sing, belt it, honey. If you like to play the trombone on a unicycle wearing a tutu and rain boots…you are what I call a “special snowflake” and I think we’d be great friends. Point is, college has good times and bad, and in order to be successful you need to find your happy place.
5. Prioritize (and be realistic).
Everything in your life has a place on your priority list, and while your parents have a different idea of what your priorities should be, in college, you’ll be deciding them for yourself. Your friends are all going out to lady’s night and you have a test coming up? Your crush invites you to see a movie, but you have an assignment due in an hour? These are all very real scenarios (and personal experiences). I’ve sat down and planned my days and nights down to the hour — ok, I’ll spend 3 hours studying this, then I’ll start this paper, then I’ll stop by the bar just for maybe an hour, then I’ll head home and sleep for 5 hours, then get up to study more. Trust me, it’s chaotic and sleep deprivation is a thing. Always focus on what’s best for you and your immediate future, and the rest will eventually fall into place. Set realistic goals and be honest with yourself. Just do yourself a favor and make time for some fun (that’s what all-nighters are for, right?).
6. Use your gym membership.
Chances are that gym membership is a part of your tuition, so you’re paying to use it anyway. If gyms aren’t your thing, at least find a way to stay active. The Freshman 15 is not a rumor; it is very real. One minute you’re sliding on your favorite pair of jeans with ease, and the next you have a triple chin, thunder thighs, and you’re reduced to wearing fitted sheets and sweatpants. Ok, a slight over exaggeration, but don’t let it happen to you. Never be ashamed to look yourself in the mirror and decide to get active. Besides, “exercise gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands,” and they’ll enjoy college significantly more.
7. Diversify yourself.
It’s easy to stick with what and whom you know. Many people relish the complacency, but get out of your comfort zone. Talk to someone different than you — someone from a different religion, race, gender, or sexuality. Study abroad and familiarize yourself with how beautiful diversity can be on a global scale. Take a class that interests you that has nothing to do with your major (keeping #1 in mind). I’ve learned more from people I’ve met and experiences outside the classroom than I ever did in a lecture hall. Keeping an open mind will bless you with more than you can imagine.
8. Remember where you came from.
I’m from a small town and I jumped at the chance to get out of there. I was ready to start my life in college and never look back. What I failed to realize was that it was because of my friends and family back home that I was able to achieve all that I have. These were people that I’d grown up with and it was because of my interactions with them that I learned so much of what I know now. And I didn’t just leave my friends behind, but my family as well — my mom and younger siblings. Literally, my lifelines and the people who tolerated me and provided me with everything I could have ever needed for 18 years and I tossed them to the wayside. Appreciate your past and be thankful for everything and everyone along your journey to college (and then some).
9. Never lose sight of why you’re there.
In all of its grand glory — drinking until the wee hours of the morning, laughing with friends until you cry, serial dating frat boys or girls who communicate through cat memes — it’s important to never lose sight of your goals. Never stop working towards your dream job or dream school. In times of hardship and in times of pure bliss, remember to keep moving forward and become the person you set out to be when you first came to college.
10. The beauty of goodbye.
Four years is such a tease. When you come in it sounds like an eternity, but don’t let it fool you. As cliché as it is, time flies, and much like how everything started so abruptly, it seems to end that way, too. The friends that you’ve made along the way leave for their new jobs, graduate school, professional school, or find themselves in the African safari. At first it’s hard; it’s painful to see the people who have always had your back leave your side. You know it’s coming, but there’s nothing quite like the sting you feel having to finally accept it — your paths are now diverging. But think of it this way: all of those nights you and your friends spent talking about becoming teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers, CEOs, or just complete badasses, are finally coming to fruition. Your life aspirations transform from merely dreams to tangible entities. As you say goodbye, keep mental snapshots of their personalities, loves, dreams, and desires. Your paths may cross again, and when they do, see how much they’ve grown. Goodbye may be difficult, but there is a certain beauty in witnessing the success of the ones who made your time in college as unforgettable as it was.