Disclaimer: This is a really long article. But do consider reading the whole thing.
THANK GOODNESS!!! I’m nearly done with college. Now, less than two months from graduation, I find myself reflecting on my college experience. What did I do right? What did I do wrong? What do I wish I had done differently? What would I do over again given the chance? Granted, I should probably be more focused on getting a job and facing the real world soon, but all that will work itself out in due time. For now, I’d like to share my best advice and wisdom garnered from years of experience. So for any of you thinking about going to four year college or university, LISTEN UP and PAY ATTENTION!
1. Don’t go to college just because…
There’s a reason this is the first thing I mention. When I was graduating from high school, I didn’t really think about or look for other opportunities outside of continuing my education. My parents, high school advisor, teachers, and friends all had the expectation that I would apply to college or university and go on to get a degree. Of course, that is what I ended up doing, but in retrospect, I don’t know if it was the best option. I certainly could have looked harder at finding a job or volunteering.
For many people, going to college means taking on student loans and debt. Really, this is a gamble if you aren’t sure if you’ll get a good paying job when you graduate. Unlike credit cards and other loans, student loans never go away… even if you declare bankruptcy. If you plan to take on debt, try to find some kind of work to do while going to school to help pay off the debt or keep up on the interest payments. Many of my friends face the arduous task of paying off thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt before they can actually start doing things like buying a car, buying a home, or saving for retirement.
Also, if you are thinking about going to college, try to have a rough idea of what you want to major in and the kind of job you want to get coming out. It’s okay to go in undecided if you aren’t sure, but figure it out quickly or don’t stay in college too long. If you aren’t sure, go to a community college and pick up an AA degree maybe and consider transferring in to a four year college to get a B.A. or B.S. An AA is better than nothing and gives you time to think about what four year degree you’d want to pursue. It also helps meet many core requirements at four year universities so if you do choose to go back to college, you only need to spend two more years learning rather than the full four. If you are going to change majors, make sure it doesn’t end up costing you extra time and money to do so. The longer you’re in school means the longer you are paying to go to school and earning less money.
This leads me to one more side note before the next point. If you are serious about going to college, find a good school to attend. Do your homework and research to find the one YOU like and that offers the most. This includes finding a college that will give you a good financial aid package or scholarships, has facilities you want like gyms or dining areas, etc. There are thousands of colleges to choose from, so make sure you find the one that best suits you.
2. Take college SERIOUSLY
If you decide to go to college after everything I said in the first point, then don’t slack off or take your studies lightly once there. Put your best effort forward from start to finish. This is especially essential if you go to college on student loans and debt. College is not high school. It’s not a walk in the park. It is the most professional academic experience you can pursue besides post-graduate studies. How you prepare yourself during college will matter when you try to find a job after graduation. It is tempting to get sidetracked by other activities and things, but doing poorly in your studies will reflect badly on you in the job market and in the real world later on. Aim for a 4.0 GPA. Don’t go below a 3.0 or, better yet, a 3.5. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and money.
3. Get involved
I personally did not get involved in a lot of things in college but rather stayed in my dorm or at home gaming and doing homework. In retrospect, I wish I would have been more involved. Most colleges and universities have tons of clubs, upwards of 100 or more. I guarantee there are at least five clubs that will interest you and two you should consider joining. Along with clubs, there are usually lots of non-club events and activities you can attend on campus. If you like politics, try your hand at student government. If you love sports or working out, head over to the gym or sign up for club sports, intramurals, or even the varsity team. If you love listening to your professors’ lecture, attend talks by visiting guest speakers that come through. There are so many things to do and get involved that you’ll never have a dull moment if you so desire.
Also, consider doing some community service. My university had lots of options to choose from. Not only will you be helping out the local community, but it will help build your resume by adding volunteer experience. You’ll feel good about yourself, find a good use for your time, and impress future employers with your selfless activities.
4. Meet people
Talk to your professors, chat with your dorm buddies, and meet as many different people as you possibly can while in college. Meeting people and establishing relationships is among the top three most important things to do in college. Friendships made in college can and often do last a lifetime and they can have their benefits later on. Not only are friendships good socially speaking, but having connections can lead to better chances at finding jobs down the road. Friends help friends. Don’t just be a hermit and keep to yourself. Learn to start up conversations and get to know people. Improving your social skills will help with any job and you’ll make some valuable connections from meeting lots of new people.
5. Find elective or core courses that interest you outside of your major
If you are at a liberal arts college and you need to find “filler” courses to get your credit count up to graduate, look for ones that either have great professors teaching them or cover a subject you find interesting. For example, as a History major, I had no reason to sign up for classes on Economics, Accounting, Political Science, or Journalism. All these classes, though sometimes partially related to my major, were often completely irrelevant to my area of study. Yet, they were all good courses to take and I enjoyed all of them (with exception to maybe Accounting because unless you are a math/accountant type, you’ll struggle with it a little). If you’ve ever wanted to learn about something or pick up some experience in other areas, college is the time to do it, just remember to keep up with your other studies.
6. Build a reading list
I hardly ever cracked a book in college. I did a couple times, but really, I rarely ever did reading. I don’t like reading. Of course, when a professor lectures on the book and gives you all the information in the reading, you really don’t need to read the books assigned all that much. However, I wouldn’t advise not reading your textbooks like me. It can be helpful to read your books. But, if you are like me and don’t open a book that often, then build a booklist OR hold onto your books even after you have finished the class. Here’s why. Once you graduate, you’ll find yourself with a lot of time on your hands. Sure, you might have a job, but when you aren’t working, eating, or sleeping, you’ll want to find other things to do. Reading can be one of those things. If you kept your books from college classes or kept a list of books your professors recommended on whatever subjects, you’ll have lots of good reading material at your disposal.
In college, people find it easy to stay on campus where all their wants and needs are met. But usually, colleges aren’t in the middle of nowhere. Most of them are in towns and cities. If that’s the case, you’ll find it worth your while to spend some time exploring your new city. Cities typically have lots of things to do. You can eat out, go to community events, move theatres or go ice skating. On top of what colleges offer their students, cities make it so you’ll never be bored. Cities also provide an outlet from the drudgery of being stuck on a college campus and trust me; it’ll hit you sooner or later. So spend some time off campus checking out other things in the city you are in.
8. College isn’t an excuse to start or further vices
Yes, many people in college drink, smoke, sleep around, and indulge in other vices. This doesn’t mean you have to and I wouldn’t recommend you do it either. For one thing, it’s simply not healthy. Drinking especially takes a heavy toll on the body, especially the liver. Unlike your kidneys and lungs, you only have one liver, so take care of it wisely. Second, there are plenty of things to do and ways to have fun without drinking. Third, occasional habits can turn into addictions and problems later on. In addition to having a degree, you could leave with a drinking problem (or worse) and that will have a major impact on the future you have worked towards.
9. Don’t forget about family
Some people get homesick going off to college initially and being a long distance from their family. That’s okay and only natural. Almost everyone gets over it eventually. However, many people start to forget about family after their homesickness wears off. That’s not good. Make it a point to go back and see family during holidays and in the summer. College is one of the last few opportunities you’ll have to do a lot of things before living real life out on your own. Getting in as much time with your family now is more important than ever. You don’t have to go back every summer and holiday, but do try to make it more often then not, especially for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summer.
10. Of course, have fun
To end on a lighter and more positive tidbit of advice, simply have fun with college. Yes, take your studies seriously and make sure you do a good job, but don’t forget to have fun and relax once in a while. Don’t aim for the extremes of pure studying or pure fun, but a balance between the two. As long as you keep up on your homework and don’t over indulge yourself drinking and partying, you’ll have plenty of fun while in college. As mentioned before, college is one of the last chances you’ll have to essentially be a kid before having to get a job and face the real world.
So, there you have it. Some tips for any reader considering to go to college. You might be asking yourself “Is that all you’ve learned in four years!?” Well of course, it’s not everything, but I’ve covered what I think are the most important things to know and strive for. But I can’t stress enough the important of the first point: be sure that college is something you want to pursue. Once you’ve decided that, everything else will fall into place. If you really want to get through, you will though you’ll have to work hard at it. But just remember, it’s only four years and it goes by fast. It’s best to try and get your experience right the first time. Better to be prepared and know what to expect rather than going in blind.