Updated: Jan 29
Going off to college is just the beginnings for launching into "the real world". It's a suspended reality that for some, is a taste test for the truths of adulthood that come after turning the tassel.
The college experience, while it's different for everyone, is not completely boiled down to what you learn from lectures and projects. In fact, much of the renowned "college experience" is rooted in the "experience" part, meaning what you truly take with you in life goes beyond the four walls of a classroom.
College is an opportunity for identity exploration, forging independence, and learning what is means to transition into a free-thinking adult. With this, I've compiled a list of life lessons I have learned so far in my college journey, with hopes that my accumulated wisdom could help inspire and motivate future generations.
Tip 1: Accept that no path is linear- especially when you're following your heart. Plans change and waves come, but you can learn how to surf!
High school students are often expected to have a major decided, a career in mind, and plans for the next ten years before they even put on their graduation robes. Where it's definitely a good idea to have at least brainstormed these things before deciding where you want to enroll in college, (technical school is much different from a liberal arts degree), allow yourself the freedom of discovery.
I was fortunate enough to test-drive college through dual-enrollment in my senior year of high school. I used my positive experiences and current interests to select my classes at my first university, thinking I was on a track that was set for the next four years.
After amazing work experiences, friendships ending, and a whole list of life events, I found my old university just wasn't meant for me anymore. I transferred schools and even then, after a summer internship, I found my interests and goals changing again because of the life experiences I was building. I had realized that I would only be staying with my current major due to prior commitments and these expectations I had set, when the reality was, that I had fallen into new love with a field that I received greater fulfillment from. I changed my major in my junior year and even though it was a really tough decision, I knew that I could trust it because I was following my heart. I never thought I would be where I am today at the start of my freshman year, but I'm happy that I didn't let a bunch of predetermined checklists and timelines set limitations for me following my passion.
Tip 2: Remove unnecessary stress from your life by being proactive in organization from the very beginning. At the start of every semester, I print out my class syllabuses and grab a wall calendar, my pocket agenda, and my phone. Through each class, I review and mark down the dates for all of my assignments, holiday breaks, and exams. It might seem extreme, but do yourself a favor and give it a try. Don't worry about balancing the semester by keeping things on your radar ahead of time. For exams and long assignments, I will also mark in my agenda the week before they are due, so I can prioritize and manage my time based on my work schedule, other assignments, and my busy life. The stress of, "oh, crap, that's due today?!", can totally be avoided if you're mature and responsible enough to stay ahead of it.
Tip 3: Following tip #2, set the intention to complete assignments at least the day before they're due. The assignment itself is stressful enough, don't create greater stress by worrying about if you'll have time to complete it. If you go ahead and have it in your mind to complete it early, then you can take your time on it and you're not scrambling to finish it. Then you can also have time to edit it, send it to your professor for feedback, and possibly score even higher.
I can't tell you how many times I've seen my friends rush to complete a paper 30 minutes before their class starts or pull all-nighters for exams. They look so silly because this is self-sabotaging behavior and it can be prevented with simple maturity.
I admit, I've waited until the last minute to do assignments a few times myself but I came to my senses and put a stop to it because I'm aware at how much it sucks! It's a recipe for disaster so just cut out the nonsense. You think you're a grown up because you're in college now? Then show it! Be the responsible adult that you say you are, and leave that mess behind in high school. Figure out what works for you and stick with it to make it a habit. Then, when you want to go to that party or binge-watch Game of Thrones, you can do so with zero stress and have peace of mind. Trust me, you will thank yourself every time.
Tip 4: Get to know your professors! Be humble, respectful, and mindful that they're human beings, too. Forging relationships can go a long way. Not only do you have a friendly face to look forward to, but this helps remove the "Us vs. Them" mentality that many students have, thinking that "defeating" their professors is the only way to pass a class. The professors are there to help you learn (yes, even if they're strict), and they appreciate and respect students who care about their educations.
Start by creating a dialogue of communication with your teachers. If you have to miss class because you're sick, shoot them a quick email to let them know. There's potential for extensions, make-ups, or extra credit, so they don't think you're just blowing off the class. Cultivating relationships with professors can be extremely beneficial because it makes the class more meaningful, gives you an ally on campus, and it can even help your grade.
I once received a C on a paper so I went to speak with my professor about what I could improve on for the next paper. Just because he appreciated the fact that I took the time to meet with him, he marked my paper to a B, on-the-spot, and then he gave me another week for revisions, boosting my grade up to an A!
Maintaining relationships with your professors can also lead to letters of recommendation if you're thinking about grad school. Approach professors as mentors but also as possible future colleagues! You never know where your path will take you and it's possible that you may meet again at networking events or when you're pursuing your career goals.
Tip 5: In regards to Tip #4, professors are humans, meaning bias can be present in the classroom. Listen and appreciate the knowledge your professors share with you but don't be afraid to be a free-thinker and challenge ideas.
Sometimes students will just nod along and take lectures as the gospel truth but remember to have a filter and do your own research. Challenging ideas is innovative and it allows for greater learning opportunities!
There's an old expression that says: if everyone is thinking the same way, then no one is truly thinking!
Group-think is an enemy of creativity and it's a growing epidemic. Pave your own way and use your unique knowledge as your fuel!
Tip 6: Be bold! Engagement is the difference between being physically present and hearing, versus active listening and classroom participation. It makes the lesson more fun and memorable. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Most times, professors love it because it gives them feedback on how their teaching is. It also shows your professors that you are engaged and actually care about the class and your learning.
Asking questions is also helpful to other students who might be wondering the same thing, but may be too shy to voice it. You can choose to be a leader by expressing that you want to understand what's going on. You may miss the opportunity to understand if you hold back and that will just lead to you having to work extra hard to figure it out on your own.
And for the rare circumstances of professors who don't like questions? This is just a reality of college. Sometimes professors can get their PhD's too far up their asses and view their podium as a power trip. To hell with them, check them (with respect of course), and ask questions anyways because news flash: it's their job! You are paying to go to this school so advocate for your expectations to learn. Be a friend to yourself and speak up. It's always worth it.
Tip 7: Maintain a value system to stand by. It's important to have morals when making decision and establishing your identity.
College throws a lot of things at you: losses, defeats, temptations, life-altering decisions, the list goes on. It's valuable to square up with yourself and have clear standards for how you wish to be treated, what is worthy of your time, and what you believe is right.
Take a moment every so often to really contemplate your values in the sense of what earns your self-respect. What do you want to maintain within yourself and in your relationships? Do you value honesty? Integrity? Ambition? These will reflect in your personality and soon you will attract others carrying this same energy.
Having these clear-cut expectations and boundaries makes difficult decisions easier because you already have a starting place for weighing your options.
Maintaining integrity will get you far in life, but accept the fact that it won't always make you popular. Lose the popularity priority mindset- that is something you can leave behind in high school. If having morals makes you "nerdy" then you can nerd-it-up all the way to the bank with the check you'll cash from being a CEO, doctor, engineer and so forth. Morals create priorities that will lead you to accomplishing your goals, not winning the chugging contest. Those people with easily swayed mindsets or disorganized ideals will be lost for some time, but hey, maybe they'll work for you someday.
Once you can come to terms with looking out for yourself and not caring what others think, it's incredibly freeing. You will always be satisfied when you do what you want because you truly want it, not because you're trying to make someone else happy.
Tip 8: Don't Be Afraid to Change
College presents opportunities to grow wisdom through experiences. Chances are, you will discover new insights to issues or topics that you once had a confirmed opinion on. Don't be afraid to educate yourself and change your mind on how you feel. This is growth!
Tip 9: Remove Toxic People
Best friends forever? Likely not, as college is a time of individual expansion. You may enjoy someone's company but remember to be a friend to yourself. If you're instincts are telling you that a someone is hindering your progress in school, manipulating your emotions, or that you're realizing your goals and interests are in conflict, then give yourself some distance to see how you feel without them in your life. If you begin to feel more relaxed and in control, then accept the reality that some relationships have expiration dates. Not everyone is meant to be in your life forever.
Don't fall victim to sacrificing yourself, your future, and your values to maintaining someone else's happiness and immaturity. Boundaries and space are healthy and toxicity will only get worse if you allow it to. Stand your ground and have the courage to honor yourself. True friends will grow with you; fake friends will fear it for themselves.
Tip 10: You're on no one's timeline but your own. This goes beyond college and into the rest of your life, but I fear that college is the start of solidifying the pressures of sticking to a formulaic destiny. Historically, it's been the expectation that you go to college right after high school graduation, or that you have to graduate in 4 years to be considered "on-time", however, I feel like these systematic social norms are outdated and restrictive to others who may not benefit from the design. Your life is your own so keep your values at the top of the list. Major in what makes you happy and inspired, not because it's what's trending or it's what your parents want you to do. You're the one going through the motions, so you get to decide what song you want to dance to. There's no law that say you have to graduate in 4 years, get a desk job right away, get married by 25, then have kids at 30... that may work for some people but it's okay if that's not your jam. Your path is just an unique as you are! Make it an original adventure.
Savannah Rose Johnson