If I Could Do College Over Again

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.

Your Two Cents: Leave a Comment!

What would be your advice to my mom’s mentee? (Short or long, I’ll make sure she gets it.)

Comments (4)

  1. Darren

    Great advice!

    I was amazed towards the end of college at how much my worldview had changed–so much so that it’d be difficult to describe myself as the same person who graduated that I was when I entered.

    (I’ve tried telling this to my student loan lenders in an effort to show that the person who borrowed the money has changed so much that it wouldn’t be fair to expect me as an enlightened graduate to be responsible for my freshman self’s debt…no dice.)

    Here’s a copy & paste of the advice I’d sent:
    The biggest adjustment I had to make in college was how to deal with all of the free time. It’s the first time no one’s standing over you telling you what to do or where to be for large chunks of your day.

    It doesn’t mean you have to study for eight hours a day, but it does mean that you should set up a basic schedule for yourself. If you have an hour in between classes, why not get your reading out of the way instead of playing video games or playing on Facebook? Lots of people would stay awake until late hours and then sleep until 1 p.m. This is probably not a good schedule to keep.

    The main thing is to be conscious of how you’re spending all that free time, so that you can wrestle control of it from the forces of procrastination.

    Good things about dorm life:
    There’s always people around.
    It’s the last time you’ll not have to pay for utilities. Enjoy the ‘free’ internet, electricity and cable while it lasts!

    Bad things about dorm life:
    There’s always people around.
    You’ll share a bathroom in some fashion. Definitely get a shower caddy to haul all your stuff. And however many towels you think is enough, get a couple extra, because you’ll probably go longer than you should between laundry trips.

    College is the first time you get to take the classes you want. Go ahead and take a couple fun things mixed in with your major classes.

    See your advisor or department office to get the checklist for your major. Right away as a freshman, you can start mapping out the next four years to make sure you’re on track and figure out where you can fit in your fun electives.

  2. Ide

    1) Do what you want. Take the classes that interest you, choose a major that excites you and take some risks if you’re not sure. One of my only regrets about college is that I never studied abroad because I let laziness and my relationships with others hold me back. I wish I had been a bit more energized and a bit more selfish when it came to my education.

    2) Take part in extracurricular activities. Join the newspaper staff if you like to write or get on an intramural sports team if you like to keep active. Joining professional organizations at the college level is also a great idea because, in some cases, that means you get the discounted membership rate for life.

    3) Don’t be afraid to ditch things if they’re not working out. I joined a sorority for a semester and I hated it, so I quit. I started taking a design class and became quickly aware that it wouldn’t be worth my time, so I withdrew from the course. I’m not saying you shouldn’t apply yourself; I am saying that some things just aren’t worth the aggravation. You’ll know what those things are pretty quickly after you encounter them.

    4) Get yourself on a schedule. Figure out when you’re in class, when you’re working and when you’re studying. Don’t forget to pencil in time for fun. I always knew that I would be working on the school newspaper every Wednesday night, but I also knew I would be at my favorite bar with my friends every Monday night. Having at least a loose idea of what you’re doing when means that you’ll rarely have to skip the fun stuff.

    5) Take advantage of internships and other career-training programs whenever you can, and start as soon as you can. Though internships look good on your resume, they also serve a higher purpose in that they give you a taste of what you’ll be doing for a living if you remain on your current path. You want to start early because it’s way better to figure out that your chosen major isn’t for you during the first two years of college then, say, the summer before (or after) your senior year. It’s still possible to fine-tune your plans at that time, but it’s way easier to do an overall switch early on.

    6) College is an amazing experience. Because I went to school about 800 miles away from my home, my friends became my family there. I know these people will be there for me for the rest of my life. Cherish the experience and create memories. Sometimes grabbing a burger at 2 a.m. IS more important than last-minute cramming or getting eight hours of sleep. I don’t remember all the papers I got As on or all the tests I aced. I do remember the sometimes life-changing adventures that I had with the people I met along the way.

  3. Alicia C.

    Some big things I would do differently if I woke up tomorrow and found that it was the day after high school graduation: live on campus and culminate friendships/relationships with students AND instructors, visit a counselor every semester and talk to him or her about what my current plans are (not just sit back and be told it’s time to take this class, this class, and this class), study abroad (I have a hard time recommending the Spanish program at SFSU now because I was NEVER informed about studying abroad, and as my family’s first college student in over forty years, I had NO CLUE what typical college milestones were), and take an internship or two or three (this once again goes back to bad counselors and not knowing college milestones).

    However, the most important thing I’ve learned about college: get in, get out in four years is not for everyone. If you find that your college isn’t a good fit, it’s okay to change schools. If you don’t think you can finish in four years, it’s okay to take an extra semester or two. If you no longer feel energized by your major or minor, it’s okay to find something else. And if you find that college just isn’t for you at all, that’s okay too. You might find each other somewhere down the road, and there are plenty of ways to live happily without a BA.

  4. Melia

    Thanks, ladies – I’ve passed this on to my mom for her mentee. I’m struck by how much our advice still resonates for those of us “older folks.” Don’t be afraid to change direction if a situation isn’t working out. Take advantage of opportunities for hands-on learning. Schedule your time so you can balance work and play. These are things I’m still applying to my life…or at least trying to.


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