As my college career ends super unceremoniously, I’m left reflecting on the students still in the middle of what should be an immersive journey of self-discovery and those who were looking forward to beginning their own in the fall. And I think back on everything I thought college would be like years ago in contrast with how these last four years have actually unraveled.
So, here I am, freshly graduated and looking at a world turned upside-down with most of my prospective plans thrown up in the air instead of my cap and with some brutally honest advice to give.
They’re Not Smarter Than You (They Just Act Like They Are)
Starting off on a sassy note but this needs to be said: smart people know how to express themselves without simultaneously injecting their speech with language that makes others feel inferior.
You will face classmates and faculty (that includes professors) that will make you feel lesser and like you don’t belong. Don’t listen to them.
Repeat the truth that you earned your spot at your college to yourself until you accept that you deserve to be there. Take each moment of faulter as an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to learn and to grow, and take pride in your accomplishments and acknowledge milestones when you cross them.
Peer Pressure and FOMO Are Real – Don’t Let Them Control You
We all have that little voice in our head or that feeling in our gut that tells us whether or not we feel good about a situation, but that doesn’t make the sense of missing out any less real when we see others connecting over something we wouldn’t otherwise want to be a part of.
It’s human to want for connections and media across screens, both big and small, have painted a very specific picture of what that experience is “supposed” to look like in college. Throw every stereotype and cliché of what it means to be a student out the window and have a heart-to-heart with yourself about what you want out of your four years because you’re never going to be able to go back and do them differently – so you might as well be true to yourself.
No matter what anyone else says, making yourself painstakingly uncomfortable does not mean you are “getting the full college experience” – it just means you’re putting yourself in a situation you don’t want to be in because you felt pressured.
Life finds enough ways to surprise and push you without you going out of your way to disturb your peace, so get comfortable with turning things down and saying no. And remember, you’re literally going to be in your early twenties when you graduate, you have a whole great, big life ahead of you, so don’t ever be made to feel like you’ve missed out on anything.
Take Risks (That Will Show You What You’re Made Of)
Learn to spot what experiences you truly have zero interest in and which you are avoiding out of a fear of failure.
Rejection, mistakes, embarrassments, those are all a part of life which means every single person on this planet goes through them, you will too and that’s okay. It’s actually more than okay as demonstrated by every notable person in history with a past of trials and tribulations that shaped them into the success story they are known as today.
Failure enables us to know who we are when we’re down and who we are when we rise. If you don’t take chances because you are afraid of the risks you will not only lose the valuable lessons of failure but also the moment of redemption when you take on a challenge and realize you had it within you to triumph all along.
As I said, if you’re doing something purely because you feel like you’re “supposed” to and not because any part of you wants to – don’t do it. But if you are avoiding opportunities because you don’t think you have what it takes then you undermine your own ability. If you can’t give yourself your trust, how do you expect others to give you theirs?
Self-care is Not A Waste of Your Time
I read somewhere that sitting down to watch TV while on a bustling college campus was a waste of time… I savored the moments I had to just sit down, eat my microwaved noodles and watch YouTube videos after a long day of work, classes, assignments and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life. At times, browsing the internet, playing Sims 4, or binging a few episodes of a show were all I could do to regain some of the energy I had expunged.
Your college experience is not going to mirror mine exactly because only you know how you handle pressure, external and personal expectations, the juggling of relationships and responsibilities, and everything else that comes with the highly personalized path through higher education. So, become acquainted with your own limits and realize when you need to assess where you are at emotionally, physically and mentally.
Fatigue, burnout, homesickness, depression, anxiety, insomnia – these are all extremely common amongst college students and many institutions have been expanding their mental health resources to keep up with the needs of the student body. During the constant hustle it’s terrifyingly easy to forget that your self-care is a non-negotiable priority.
You’re not working toward just any piece of paper, you are on your way to earning a diploma with your name on it, so give yourself the tender loving care you deserve (and if that means, staying in on a huge frat-party night to watch some Netflix, so be it).
Try for Internships as a Freshman – Avoid Panic Later
Try for internships and similar programs whenever possible so that when you just can’t seem to snag one you won’t be left panicking over not being able to build-up your resume.
I was unable to get an internship the summer after my Sophomore year, but I felt comfortable dedicating my time to other hobbies and a part-time job because I had done an internship the summer prior.
Keep in mind apprenticeships, workshops, summer projects, study abroad programs and other such opportunities can all come with benefits equal to those of an internship and can contribute resume-worthy experiences and skills.
Set Clear Boundaries with Your Roommate(s)
Setting boundaries is important in any context, but the place you’ll be calling your college home should definitely be somewhere you look forward to staying in after a lengthy day of classes, grueling study hours, or late night with friends, not somewhere you dread going back to because your roommate is unbearable.
Be forewarned that some of you may be put into the unfortunate circumstance that is requesting a housing transfer if your roommate situation absolutely won’t smooth out for any number of unresolvable reasons. But make sure to have made your boundaries known and listened to theirs in return before the issue escalates beyond repair.
Some things will require compromise like when and how long guests are allowed or the preference in room temperature (it will come up, believe me) and others will demand indisputable respect from all parties involved such as the sharing or untouchability of property.
Be straightforward and polite, be considerate of others, and have the courage to remove yourself from situations that are negatively impacting your living environment. Your boundaries are valid, so speak them.
Take Classes That Have Nothing to Do with Your Major
Some of you will need more of a self-imposed push than others to enroll in classes that are unrelated to your main field(s) of study depending on how your college structures its General Education demands.
My university put an emphasis on interdisciplinary studies and involvement in the arts and humanities. I appreciated these efforts when I attended several Gender Studies classes and discovered the unsuspecting joy that was my Biology of Food class, but I admittedly felt overwhelmed and frustrated when forced to take classes merely for the sake of fulfilling an educational requirement.
Try to find a balance, to the best of your ability, between the classes your major and school necessitate and the subjects that spark your interest outside of your field. This will supply you with a well-rounded education that, as one of my Dance Studies professors put it, may allow you to attend a networking event with your fellow tech employees and contribute some sprinklings of your knowledge of camera techniques for dance to your conversations.
Choosing to minor in a topic that holds your curiosity is also an opportune way of making sure it is integrated into your class schedule. As you can tell, I experienced quite an eclectic education throughout my four years at USC and I obtained both a B.A. from the School of Cinematic Arts and a minor from the Kaufman School of Dance.
Keep your options open, explore everything that captures your attention, and don’t needlessly limit what your higher education has to offer.
Going to College Doesn’t Mean Life is Figured Out
Given the circumstances that the Class of 2020 is graduating under, it’s safe to say my last piece of advice is that attending college and obtaining a degree don’t bring with them any guarantees of the future. Whether or not you achieve success, whatever you envision that to look like for yourself, is entirely dependent on an unforeseeable series of events and the decisions you make throughout the span of your life.
That means who you choose to call a friend and who you cut ties with, whether or not you move to the other side of the world or stay where you are to become a PhD, picking between working under an established company or for yourself as a freelancer. The possibilities are endless and there is no obvious right or wrong way to live your life post-graduation.
Remember, life can and will change its mind; be flexible enough to change with it.
College life is so effortlessly pigeon-holed into a picturesque work of fiction that if you come from a poorly funded public high school system with severely limited exposure to collegiate options – the reality of it can hit a wide-eyed teenager unforgivingly in the face.
The reason people continue their education is because knowledge grants power, and fuller awareness of the good, the bad, and the beautiful ugliness of college will leave prospective students better equipped to make informed decisions that will put a diploma in their hand.