College is a new and exciting chapter in your life, and the beauty of it is learning. I’ve learned a lot back in the day, but I wish so much I knew some of the stuff before rather than after. Okay, kids, gather up and listen to your wise auntie. Here are the top 10 things (because there are a gazillion more) that I wish someone had told me before my time in college.
High-School Drama Is So Irrelevant
You don’t need all this stress – you have enough on your plate as it is. Don’t let all the petty rivalries, mean remarks, and toxic people drag you down. Because you know what? In a couple of months, all this drama, all these people who upset you now, will not matter at all.
Generally, just chill. College-bound students spend too much time preparing and stressing out about the future, so they miss the last chance to enjoy their freedom. College, finals, workforce – you won’t get an opportunity to chill like this probably until your retirement.
Where You Go to School Should Be Your Ideal Future Home
People always tell you how you must decide who you want to be, but no one really speaks about how important it is to figure out where you want to be. Four years of internships and part-time jobs give you a wealth of professional connections, but they are usually concentrated in your college vicinity. If you plan to move after graduation, you might find yourself starting everything from scratch.
Of course, it isn’t set in stone, and there are schools that have relationships with employers all over the USA and the world. However, Frances Bridges, NYC-based freelance writer for Forbes, warns students: “In general, schools have the strongest relationships in their home state cities. So go to a school where you think you want to live.” If your school isn’t situated near the city of your dreams, the sooner you start networking, freelancing, and building connections in your target area, the better.
Appreciate What Your Home Town Has to Offer
Take advantage of everything your place has to offer before you leave for college. Swim in the sea or go hiking on those mountain trails. Visit the site you used to go for picnics with the family. Soak in the atmosphere of your favorite haunt. And definitely savor all the home-cooked meals your parents prepare for you. You are going to miss it, believe me. Ramen is great, but it gets old pretty quick. And while we’re at it: learn how to cook – at least the basics.
Hang out with your friends and take as many pictures with them as possible, because soon you wouldn’t be able to do it. Yet also, don’t feel sad if you don’t have many friends you can connect with because in college you will meet a bunch of new interesting people who have so much in common with you.
It’s Okay to Take Time While You’re Figuring Out Your Major
Although the major you declare when applying seems terrifyingly finite, 80% of students change it at least once. I know I did. My roommate changed her major three times! Of course, this is not ideal because it postpones your graduation and costs you money. Yet continuing towards the goal you fell out of love with is even less ideal. Don’t fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy! College is the time when you figure out who you are and discover your true passions. Try new things and listen to your heart. I never thought I would find my calling two years into studying economics. I know. It seems wild now. Yet, I noticed that the only assignment that didn’t feel like a chore was when I’d write my paper on psychology or other human-centered stuff. So yeah – it’s okay to make that 180-degree turn.
Taking a gap year between high school and college to work, volunteer, and explore your options is also very much okay. Put serious thought into this decision, but don’t feel like you must make it right now.
Your Life Isn’t Going to Change Magically
Well, obviously, college is different in many ways, and there is a lot to get used to. Yet you are still the same person – lost and full of angst. Just getting into college won’t resolve all your problems or make your life a dream, as seen in an ad leaflet. College is only what you make of it. It’s a place to create the life you want. You must work for changes – they won’t just happen. Take risks and explore. Pursue your interests and personal projects. Go study abroad, start a Youtube channel or a podcast, found a startup. Don’t be afraid to try new things because what scares you the most will grow you the most.
Also, being smart won’t save you as much as it did back in school. You will have to apply yourself and build some work ethic to succeed. Learn to respect the deadlines.
Don’t Do What You Think You Are Supposed to Be Doing
Many students arrive at college full of stereotypes about what they should do as freshmen: party hard, sign up to all the available clubs and societies, go to concerts every week, or hit the books without even unpacking their bags. Everyone has their own idea – or maybe they are told what they are supposed to do as students. Either way, it’s nonsense.
By all means, try new things, but don’t push it if you don’t enjoy it – just because it’s somehow considered “a must.” If they call you to party, but you feel that your time would be better spent studying or sleeping, you are probably right. Learn to respect your wants and needs and be proud of who you are as a person – there is only one you in the universe.
Some Classes Will Be Meh
Admit it. You thought that all the boring stuff stayed behind in school. You expected everything to be exciting. You saw yourself picking the coolest courses out of the entire buffet of awesome ones. I know you did. So did I. However, the truth is that you still have a bunch of compulsory core subjects. Moreover, not everything that sounds exciting will set your soul on fire.
For some classes, you will just have to pluck up and carry on. However, if you have a choice, read about the professor on sites like ratemyprofessors.com before signing up. Also, ask around on campus. Maybe senior students will point you in the direction of a great class that you haven’t even considered. By the way, for this very reason, making a four-year plan is a waste of time. You don’t know what will be available later – the course catalog doesn’t even go that far. Besides, you are probably going to change your major anyway, remember?
Your Health Always Comes First
Your physical and mental well-being should be your top priority. Before school, before classes, before GPA, before internships – before anything. You are your own primary caretaker now – fill these shoes responsibly.
Don’t sign up for early classes if you aren’t a morning person. You will just end up skipping lectures or hating the subject for being sleep-deprived and groggy all the time. If the class is very appealing or required for your academic progress, consult your academic advisor. They are enormously helpful in scheduling classes and planning your academic load.
Also, don’t sign up for too much. If you find you are overwhelmed, it should be addressed. Grinding your teeth and soldiering on isn’t the answer if it comes at the cost of your health. Pumping your body up with caffeine and promising yourself to “catch up” on sleep in the summer should be made illegal!
Professors Are the Main Treasure
College means different things for different people: social life, degree, structured classes, research facilities, and so on. Yet by far, the most important thing on campus is the faculty. Your pay for having them close within your reach – grab this opportunity! Pick their brains, ask questions, expand your mind. You can always read books or watch educational videos, but your ability to just raise your hand and ask for clarification from these brilliant people has an expiration date.
Also, make sure you take advantage of your college counselor services. If you don’t, you are doing yourself a huge disservice, according to Elaine Rubin, a communications specialist at Edvisors. “College counselors can help you get access to the resources you need and help you start to develop goals after graduation.”
Start Working on Reducing Your Student Loan
I’ve already covered this topic earlier, but still. At the risk of sounding like a broken record: start now. Eating out, treating your friends to a drink, or buying some little non-essential things can crop up gradually to a huge sum that will make you buckle under its weight once you start paying it off. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have fun, but monitoring your spending is vital. Remember, your loan is not free money, and you will need to give it back.
One of the things you can do to keep track of your expenses is preferring cash over credit cards. I know, I know. “Build your credit history” and all that. Yet one is plenty enough, and it should only be used for emergencies. Whereas students are bombarded by offers of “free” credit cards left, right, and center. Jed Macosko, Wake Forest Professor of Physics and President of Academic Influence, advises: “Avoid credit card debt (extra funds from college loans will cost you far less in interest).”