The young woman whom my mom mentors is going out of state for college in the fall, and my mom is compiling a booklet of advice for her. (Yes, my mom rocks.) Here’s my contribution:
If I could do college over again, I’d spend less time in the library and more time living. As a student, I had the attitude that the most important part about school was academic achievement, but now I realize that it’s about so much more. It’s about playing frisbee on the lawn at 10 pm. It’s about sitting around with your girlfriends in the dorms, giggling about silly inside jokes. It’s about the little moments that will stay with you the rest of your life. This may be the only time where you live on a campus with people who are all your age, so enjoy your time there. Don’t believe people who say that college is the best time of your life, but make it one of the best times.
Fall in love with learning, if you haven’t already. Get excited about the hundreds of class listings available to you each term; realize how cool it is to get to learn as your full-time job. You can stay engaged in your classes and work hard in them without putting too much stock in grades. Do not let your transcript define you. It does not reflect how much you know, and certainly not how happy you are.
Get to know your professors during office hours and social events. Make them your mentors, and keep in touch. They are some of the smartest people you’ll meet, and they can help you in doing whatever you choose to do.
Jump at any chances for real-life learning in addition to book learning, out in the community and on campus. Use all the resources available to you as a student: lectures, concerts, and sports games a few paces from your door. Study in another country if you can, and travel. It will be life-changing.
Graduate with the least amount of debt that you can by applying for as many scholarships as possible. Some student loans are OK, but money that you don’t have to pay back is always better. Get a part-time job if you wish, but don’t work full-time if you can avoid it — you’ll miss out on other opportunities.
Know what services are available at the gym and health center. Usually you can get a therapist for free at college (instead of for $150+ per hour), and God knows that everyone could use one. Make an appointment with the career counselor, who can help you brainstorm possible career paths and internships. Remember that there’s no need to pick a career right out of the gate. Explore. Take lots of different classes: mythology, creative writing, and behavioral science, for example. Don’t worry about picking the “right” career. Try on possibilities like hats, to see what fits you. If one doesn’t appeal to you, there are plenty more to try.
If you choose to drink (or do other things that would get you in trouble with your RA or your parents), use good judgment. Go with your instincts, always, about whether you’re being safe. If you choose not to drink, etc., don’t judge others who do. Let people do their thing, as long as they’re not stepping on your toes or putting you in danger.
Instead of limiting yourself with labels — “I’m an X kind of person, not a Y kind of person” — be open to new experiences, friends, and identities. You’ll be surprised at how much you change by the time you graduate. During tough times, remember that “This, too, shall pass.” It always does.
Above all, be grateful for the opportunity to go to a four-year college. The time there is yours, so don’t let anyone tell you how you “should” use it. Do what makes you happy — truly happy, the “I want to do this all day” kind of happy. It’s the best habit you can pick up in college, and everything else follows from there.
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What would be your advice to my mom’s mentee? (Short or long, I’ll make sure she gets it.)