I’m way past my college days, but I’ve been thinking a lot about college after seeing my nephew off to his dorm room last week.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could go to college at 28 instead of 18? What a difference 10 years makes. If the confident, experienced me could return to college, I’d be so much more successful and productive. (Not sure I can say I’d have quite as much fun…)
What would you tell your 18 year old self if you could go back in time?
1. Open your door.
Throw your inhibitions out the window. Everyone in college is in the exact same boat. They’re looking for like-minded people and new experiences. This isn’t high school. No one’s here to judge you or make you feel different. This place is for finding the niche for the real you, not trying to squeeze into one mold. So wear what you want, do what you want, be the real you, and keep your door open for those who respect that.
2. Try something new.
It’s going to feel weird, it might be uncomfortable, you might look like a total fool. But this is the time in your life when opportunities are placed in your lap, change doesn’t come with any strings attached, and you can dive into something you never thought you’d try. Maybe it’s running, basketball, or some sort of club. You only have to commit to showing up on the first day and giving it your best. This is the only time in your life everything lasts just one semester. If you hate it, you can try something new in the spring and chalk it up to experience.
3. See another city.
Most of the kids I know pick a college based on the sports program, the reputation of the campus, the proximity to home, or the academic lineup. You might be lucky enough to be in a beautiful city like Boston or New York, or you may end up just a few small towns over from your home. Either way, be sure to get to know your new city. Walk around, check out the coffee shops and tourist attractions. Take bus trips to other nearby cities. No one tells you how hard it is to pick up your life and move to a new place once college is over. You might as well make this your second home in case life makes it too difficult to explore like this again.
4. Use the resources.
Never ever in your life will resources be so readily available to you as they are in college. But never ever in your life are you so afraid to use them as you are when you’re 18! Did you know your college most likely has a department to help with your computer troubles, an office to help you edit your papers, and a place to work on your resume? They have an office for information about clubs, food, and activities going on at school.
I know the library may seem boring, but you might be surprised at how good it feels to sit in a comfy chair in the corner and read by yourself for a while- especially if your roommate is getting on your nerves. Go to all over campus. You won’t be inconveniencing anyone, all of these resources, and all of the people working in those offices are there just for you- keep them busy! Get your money’s worth.
5. Talk to your professors.
Hopefully one of the main reasons you’re in college is to pursue your career. In the first few years of college, I hardly knew my professors and probably couldn’t name one of them now. But, once I got into classes for my major and started actually talking to my teachers, I realized something special about them. First of all, they’re REALLY smart. They’re experts in the field of work you’re interested in. They probably have tons of experience and connections.
I went to school for teaching, and I assumed I’d easily get a job as a teacher when I graduated. But, like so many other college programs, they seem to lead to one path where alumni are competing for jobs once college is over. It just isn’t that easy to get a job. This is where your professors come in.
Your professors will be your first reference. If you get to know them, they can talk to potential employers about your work and learning habits. Ask a professor in your major area to set up a meeting where you can talk about other avenues in which you could use your degree.
I always wished someone would have given me ideas about how to use writing in the education field other than as a teacher. Luckily, I got to know my professors, and I could still give them a call today for references or connections if I wanted to take a turn in my career.
It’s easy to see it all in hindsight- let go of your fears, try new things, meet new people, and dive right in to your new city and possible career paths.
But confidence is built, not given, so I guess they’ll just have to figure out this wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime college experience themselves.