10 Things I Would Tell My College Self
This August is the first one in my life that I will not be having a "first day of school". It's crazy to think, but also refreshing to be able to focus on developing my career on the job. I've had first days with a lot of different academic environments. In high school I was a big fish in a small pond. In college I was culture-shocked as a tiny tadpole in one of the Great Lakes. In pharmacy school it was ~150 people in the same lecture room all day long. And then getting my MS, it was a whirlwind balancing evening coursework with a full residency program. Each environment had its own challenges that built from the previous experience, but I believe the hardest transition of all was the one from high school to college. It almost feels like an extension of your teenage years where you think you're invincible but at the same time feel pressured to be a completely functional #adult. What does that mean, anyway?
Below are 10 things I would tell my college self!
1. Embrace not having things figured out. College is a difficult time. You're trying to reconcile the structure you had in high school with the open freedom of living on your own for the first time. Throw in the highlight reels of social media and fantasy of TV shows/movies, and you have a perfect storm to create a ton of insecurity and identity crises. Now that I'm in my late 20's and just really getting going, I think back to my 18-22 year old time frame and think, "Man, I wish I had spent less time worry about finding my path and trying new things instead." You don't know what you don't know. Take advantage of it now so that when you have a lot more responsibility you will have the wisdom and perspective to ground you in the future.
2. Fail. This is something that may seem like a ridiculous tip if you're used to achieving everything you work towards. But by never failing, you don't develop the coping strategies to overcome the stumbles. In college, you have a lot of buffer around you that allows you to experiment and fail while still seeing the light of day. Reflect on what went wrong and what opportunities you could learn to improve. Have your support structure (mentors, family, friends) there for you as a sounding board (and shoulder to cry on). Know that you'll fail time and time again throughout the rest of your life. If you embrace it as a positive now and you will be able to develop building blocks of resilience in the future.
3. Save money. I'm hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt with no savings account. When I think back of all that I splurged on and money I spent to eat out just because I was lazy, I realize how much I could have automated to my savings account and never touched. I could have been in a much more financially stable place now if I had basic financial advising right out of high school (if not earlier).
4. Go to class. I can't emphasize this enough. It's so easy to skip once you go to college and your parents aren't keeping you accountable. I don't care if you pay attention (although you should), but get yourself out of bed and into the classroom. Not only will it help you start making good habits, but you'll do so much better in that class just by being there and listening for key examination points. Go with a friend! Help each other with class attendance.
5. Take advantage of study hours. In addition to going to class, if your class has homework assignments then go to study hours if you need help. Study hours are usually conducted by Teaching Assistants who have taken the class before, have an ear with the professor, helps write exams, grades exams, etc. Also, if you're like me and went to a large university with lecture halls filled with hundreds of students, study hours are a great way to get individualized attention to ask your questions in front of a smaller audience.
6. Stay in your dorms for at least a year. I left the dorms after a few months because I was uncomfortable. I spent a lot of time off campus at other apartments because my friends were older. By doing this I missed out on organized social events on campus, meeting new people in the dorms, and learning to persevere through the discomfort. My recommendation: lean in to everything your campus has to offer in your first year. Apartments will always be there later.
7. Change your major. The identity college students feel with their major is strong. It's essentially the equivalent to your name, since introductions always go to "What's your major?". The stamp of "Undecided" can feel like a dunce cap surrounded by people who seem like they have their lives figured out. The truth of the matter is, the major you have now may not land you the job you envision because you may change your interests, the workforce will change, and life will change. If you don't like what you're doing now after giving it a fair shot, take advantage of your resources and explore something new.
8. Try a new hobby. Campuses are full of clubs for anything you can think of. And if it doesn't exist, feel empowered to create it! Joining clubs and exploring hobbies are a great way to create balance in your life, have fun, and in some cases pursue leadership positions within the ranks.
9. Learn to share spaces. With the first taste of freedom of living on your own, it's easy to let go of the rest of your self-care. Make your bed, keep your room clean, wash your dishes, and maintain your regular hygiene. Odds are you share a space (dorm, kitchen, living room, bathroom, etc.). It's important now to develop productive habits and make sure your cone of freedom doesn't interfere with anyone else's.
10. Don't isolate your family. If you're lucky, you made it to college with the support of your family in one way or another. In this phase of your life you begin to learn that your parents are human beings who went through similar struggles with their sense of self. Take advantage of their wisdom. If they don't treat you like an independent adult yet, give them time to also learn to let go. And never deny the gift packages from home. Your roommates/dorm-mates will appreciate it, too!