Now that the my college chapter of life is coming to close, I thought it was appropriate to reflect on the last three and a half years. I had such a great time in college and really grew up in so many ways I didn’t expect to. From studying, hanging out with friends, to traveling, I believe I almost lived the full college experience! But that’s the thing…I almost lived the full college experience, and there are so many things that I would tell my eager-freshman self to do if I could go back. So I’m hoping to share with you all the things i wish I knew or had done freshman year in hopes that you will not make the same mistakes I did 🙂
1) Find out who you are.
I remember being so wide-eyed at orientation at all the things I could do and people to meet. For some this may be an exciting opportunity to spread their wings and become a social butterfly, but for others (like me) it can be overwhelming, intimidating, and extremely stressful. Take this time to get to know yourself – your interests, your strengths, your weaknesses – so you can develop good study habits, join organizations you like, and make new friends. It doesn’t have to happen at once, but understanding what makes you comfortable and happy will make a difference in how you shape your early college years.
2) Avoid excuses.
I attended a university in my home town so I was a commuter all of college. My house was 20 minutes away — 40 with traffic. Commuting had its drawbacks for me — I never wanted to stay late on campus, I didn’t want to drive to campus on the weekends for events, and I didn’t join many organizations. Looking back, I was just really using my commuter status as excuses for not being able to do more “college-y” things. If I could go back to my freshman self, I would make a really good friend who stays on campus and stay at their place every now and then. Get off my lazy bum and go to football games or other socials. Take the bus if you don’t want to commute so far. There will always be excuses for not doing things in life, but that doesn’t mean you should make them, because excuses are just a shortcut to regret.
3) Do things you never thought you would.
Study abroad, go on a mission trip, go to a play, join a dance club, take interesting classes, or start your own org! There are so many things to do in college and endless opportunities to explore. Be confident and hopeful so that doubt will not cast a shadow over your college experience. Don’t let anyone else dictate your life, and live it according to how YOU desire. No one thought I would travel without my parents — I went on a medical brigade in Honduras. No one thought I’d have the money to study abroad — I went for 3.5 weeks in Italy. No one thought I’d get into an honors program — graduating with honors. The point is, you can do anything you put your mind to and even then you won’t know your full capabilities until you give things a chance. If it crosses your mind, then it’s worth looking into.
4) Don’t be shy.
I am a really shy person. I’m quiet around people I don’t know well, and I just don’t talk a lot in general unless you’re my boyfriend, mom, sister, or bff. I’ll be outgoing when I have to be and social if I really need to do something, but other than that I’m always afraid of being judged, embarrassing myself, or not fitting in. As you can see I pretty much deprived myself of meeting so many people at this great university. Don’t get me wrong, I still joined an org, worked my way into the leadership ranks and made a few friends along the way — but that was a pre-med org and I didn’t explore my other passions. I didn’t challenge myself to join a sorority, a volunteer org, or just something plain fun. I wish I stepped out of my comfort zone more often and joined Habitat for Humanity or some dance club because those are what I’m passionate about too! Don’t let shyness hinder you from making the most of your college career.
5) Keep in touch with your friends.
There’s no way to describe college other than as a constant tornado. There are always assignments, lectures, review sessions, study groups, volunteering, working, and plenty of other things that makes you go “I just don’t have the time!” We’re so busy in our lives that it’s so hard to remember to make time for those who aren’t directly in our microsystem. Make time to grab lunch with your high school friends, go eat ice cream with your old chem lab partner, drink coffee with your study buddy in biochemistry! It’s easy to say it slipped our mind or we don’t have the time, but do you really want to miss out on the relationships you form during college? Keep your friendships alive even outside the lab and after the semester. You won’t regret it.
6) Buy all the university gear you can get!
I’m so serious about this one. I used to say that all the university gear for my college was so expensive and I wouldn’t buy them. Plus, burnt orange does not match well with other colors! Despite all that, I know the pride of trotting along campus with your campus cap, campus shirt, or campus bottle because it feels so great to be a part of such a large community. Even when wearing them off campus, there’s such a great amount of pride in saying “I’m at the greatest university in the world!” Also, they just look so cool.
7) Go to office hours
I hate going to office hours. Not only are they out of the way, a pain in the butt to go to, but you also have to pretend you like the subject in front of the professor if it’s one of those classes you simply hate. Okay okay, they aren’t THAT bad. I had some really great office hours where it helped my grade, got me letters of recs, and formed a great relationship with the professor. My advice is that no matter how annoying office hours sound, PLEASE GO TO THEM. You can only benefit from attending them, and they make you more active in your learning. Take control of your GPA and do whatever is necessary! It starts with office hours.
8) Take advantage of everything.
By everything I mean free food and free shirts. Just kidding. But really….take advantage of the opportunities offered at your school! Go to that info session about Teach for America, go listen about medical school applications, visit that guest speaker going on, and go talk to that pre-health coach! There are so many things offered to you during college that you wouldn’t get in real life. Push yourself to explore new opportunities. Your future self will thank you for that.
9) Budget yourself
You will spend so much money. Like so much. Whether it’s on tuition, housing, food, org fees, textbooks, etc. It never ends! It’s like the world plucks you out of high school and expects it to rain down dollar bills for you. Well if only that’s how life worked. But NO! Most of us will be in debt, and have so many expenses to deal with. So it’s important to budget yourself and be careful with your spending. That means you may have to pass over that Michael Kor’s bag you’ve been eyeing for months because that’s worth a week of dinner.
10) Have fun
Because college isn’t college if you don’t have fun. These are the years you will never get back. Go and enjoy your youth! The real world is nothing like it.