It’s almost that time of the year when the traffic gets ridiculous, there are no parking spots in a one mile radius of my office, and the meetings led by long-winded professors begin once again. A relatively calm and quiet college town turns into a chaotic whirl of students and parents. The start of a new year at the university.
As I enjoy the last few breaths of summer and quiet, I think back to my first year of college and time as an undergrad. I’m thankful many of my misadventures are only captured by the photos in my mind. I’m thankful for the friends I made and for my many great experiences. There are also a lot of things I wish I would have figured out earlier or that someone could have told me. So, I’ve come up with a list of seven things I wish I knew when I started college. Most of these are things I didn’t figure out until after college, so it’s also a list of seven things I wish I knew while I was in college.
It’s great if you have your future mapped out, but it’s ok if you don’t.
I entered college as a geology major. I ended up changing my major to geophysics. Beyond that, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do as far as a career was concerned. I had a vague notion that I might get a Ph.D. and be a professor one day. Knowing this much, I was still ahead of the game compared to a lot of people. At least this gave me a direction, but the truth is that I wish I spent a lot more time thinking about a direction and what I really wanted to do with my life. Some people come into college with a very clear path for their education and career, but it is actually fine and quite healthy if you do not. Don’t feel pressured to have it all figured out before the first day.
Take time to explore all the things and classes that interest you.
Even if you think you have the future all figured out, this is your time to explore your interests a little more. The types of classes you can take and activities you can try are seemingly endless, so go ahead and check them out. You will never again have so many opportunities for learning set in front of you, so you need to take advantage of all of them. I have friends who took a class in bee keeping! While that was not for me, I continued private music lessons, took a creative writing class that resulted in getting my first poem published in the university literary magazine, studied Italian, earned a minor in Medieval Studies, and completed two years of Army ROTC courses. Still, I wish I had taken the time to do even more. Since I really only needed one class in my last semester for graduation, I wish I had taken the chance to try even more.
Go on a study abroad trip
Although I traveled to Italy twice before college, I did not go on any of my university’s study abroad trips. This is one of my biggest regrets about my university experience. Some of my closest friends had these amazing trips to France, Switzerland, and South Africa. I had to go to Wyoming and Montana for field camp. It’s not quite the same. There were not study abroad trips related to my major. I had so much extra time in my schedule towards graduation, however, that I could have gone to take electives or just interesting classes. Take the opportunity to immerse yourself in another country and culture.
Where you go to college matters.
If you are already in college or made your college decision, I’m sorry you are hearing this too late. People are going to tell you that it doesn’t matter where you go as long as you work hard and do well. Unfortunately, that is not entirely the truth, and I wish someone had been brutally honest with me about this from the start. Yes, you can still attend a top grad school or get a job with Goldman Sachs if you don’t attend an Ivy League undergraduate school. The probability, however, is extremely low. It’s easier to get to the top when you start closer to the top.
You need a disciplined study schedule.
I did my homework in high school, but I never really studied. I diligently practiced my instruments for an hour a day, but I was one of those annoying people who didn’t really need to study to do well on a test. This, however, did not help my transition into college. I had friends who made neat, organized schedules of daily study time and tasks for each class while I struggled. To be honest, I didn’t even start to get into a study routine until grad school. I definitely wish that I had learned better study habits because my life would have been a lot easier.
Professors are there to help.
One time. I only went to office hours to talk to a professor and get help one time. It never occurred to me that they were sitting there waiting and wanting to talk about the class or answer questions. I was content to struggle alone in silence. This was stupid. Now that I am on the other side of the desk, I will tell you that is true. Professors want to help if you have questions or are struggling. I don’t mind spending time helping someone who wants to put in the time and work to do well. We’re not your parents, but professors are there to help you learn and grow. Sometimes that involves “tough love” like parenting, but students don’t need to be so scared to talk to us. I’m only scary sometimes.
You are expected to transform from child to professional in four years.
I was completely unprepared for the process of looking for a job, interviewing, and actually being a professional adult. It was all just thrust upon me within a period of a few weeks, and I once again managed to survive and thrive on my raw intelligence and adaptability. Seriously though, avoid my mistakes and realize by junior year that you are actually going to need to figure out this whole adulting thing at the end of the road.