As the starting weeks of college approach and my dear freshmen begin to pack their bags for the greatest adventure of their lives, I’ve decided to share a few pearls of wisdom regarding the college career path. As a recent college graduate, there a number of things I wish someone had told me, things I wish I had heard when someone did tell me. The following is my own advice to my brothers and sisters as they start their journey towards the ivy covered halls of my beloved alma mater.
1. Don’t be afraid to change your major (10 or 15 times if necessary)
When I was a freshman, I wanted to go into medicine. Delivering babies was my idea of helping the world. As a sophomore, I wanted to teach Latin to high school students and change the world through the younger generation. Then, right before my junior year, I started an internship at a local radio station in Seattle.
Within the first two weeks on the job, I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life. I love stories, I love hearing about adventures and how people think and change over time. I love seeing God’s hand in history and philosophy. I chose a profession that requires creativity and organization but also allows me to use my brain ways I find enjoyable.
Right about then, I should have changed my major. I knew I didn’t love Latin as much as I thought I did and that history and philosophy were much more up my alley. But I didn’t. Fear kept me from doing what I wanted and stubbornness made me stick to something I knew I should have changed. My teachers told me switching majors was wise, but I was determined to prove I could do it.
In the end, I graduated on time, but I still feel like I might have been happier with a major I loved rather than the one I started with.
2. Listen to your teachers and advisors
The educators at your college have been there longer than you. They know the ins and outs of the school and how things are run. Often, they are your best allies in navigating the next four years of your life. Get to know your advisor as early as you can and make sure you visit often.
The hours I spent in Jim Stephens’ office are some of the most treasured of my Hillsdale career. You will learn more in these moments of honest discussion than you ever will in the classroom. Don’t be afraid to disagree with them, but listen to what your advisors have to say and take it to heart.
3. Don’t move off campus
Due to tight finances, I moved off campus my senior year and spent most of it alone in my room trying to get the Internet to work. It became difficult to attend weeknight bonfires and even harder to stay as late as I wanted to. The family I lived with was very gracious. They allowed me to use their car, come home after 1 am, and live in their house rent-free. I am forever grateful for their hospitality.
The move, however, changed my relationship will nearly all my friends. I wasn’t “part of the group” anymore. I wasn’t around for those unplanned, last minute, goofy moments that made those final months of school so precious.
Unless you are moving into a house with a group of friends, staying in a dorm will help maintain your social circle. You will make friends, go to meals together, and spend much of your time outside of class eating junk food, watching the cable TV you won’t have after graduation, and whining about the ridiculous amounts of homework you’re not doing.
4. Realize you can make your own schedule
Most students don’t realize when they first start out that the schedules handed to them at the beginning of the term are merely suggestions. You can change things are around whenever and however you want. If you decide to take molecular biology instead of attic Greek, you can do that.
I ended up taking or withdrawing from several classes that I didn’t even need to register for my freshman year. Just remember again that your advisors are there to help you. They can walk you through the registration process (which, at Hillsdale, is much like navigating the Labyrinth).
Take the classes you need to take, then look at taking the ones you want to take, and leave everything else. Drop/add cards will quickly become your ally and the registrar office will know you by name.
5. Take pictures (then take more)
When I was a student, my camera was my most valuable possession. I took so many pictures I had to buy a new hard drive halfway through my freshman year. The years you spend in college are some of the best of your life. You want to remember them.
6. Don’t be afraid to fall in love (but remember what you learned)
If you’re attending Hillsdale College, you probably fall into one of two camps. You came to get an education and a spouse at the same time, or you are branching out into the world of romance for the first time. For all I know it could easily be both.
While the world is still at your feet, don’t forget that you are at school to learn but also remember that not all learning is done in a classroom. More than half of college is the growing up part, learning to jump back on your feet and realize that the world demands your responsibility.
Part of growing up is learning to be in relationships. Whether that’s romance, friendship, or business related, it takes time and experience to learn the ropes. Be warned, you’re going to mess up, you’re going to fall down, and you’re going to get scraped up. The important part is to remember what you’ve learned and use to take the next steps in your life.
As a student, you have to study, but make time for the people around you too. The friends you make here are going to last the rest of your life. They are the ones you’ll remember long after the papers are turned in and you leave school forever.
7. Finish your classes
I know it sounds painfully obvious, but seriously, if you start a class and aren’t smart enough to drop it before the deadline, finish it. Do not leave those last minute pieces hanging until the registrar tells you that you can’t graduate because you’re missing a paper or need to finish that lab leftover from last semester.
It will kill you when the last three weeks of classes are spent in agony when you could be wandering the halls worrying about where you’ll be when the food plan runs out. You’ll want time to think about what really matters, like what to wear at the commencement ceremony and how to tell your girlfriend she can’t come to Phoenix with you. Trust me, those last few weeks are special and you don’t need the extra hassle before you walk up on that stage.
8. Go abroad
It doesn’t matter if you can’t afford it or of you just don’t have the time, SPEND A SEMESTER ABROAD! I cannot stress this enough. The rewards of going to France for six months outweighs any unhappiness you may feel about cleaning your mom’s garage over the summer.
It can be a complicated process, but I promise the trip is worth the effort. Immersing yourself into an unfamiliar culture is a huge part of a fuller education.
If you’re short on money, find a way to get it. If you’re nervous about leaving, pick up some courage on the way to the airport. No matter what, find a way to make it happen. In the end, you’ll be glad you did.
Realistically, most of this is stuff you’ll figure out as you go along. You’ll learn the ropes by experience. Trial and error will teach you more than anything else. As you start your first semester at a new school, remember that the things you learn here will shape you into the adult you will become. If that sounds cheesy, that’s because it is … but it’s also true.