Dear College Freshman, I would kill to be in your shoes. If I were granted a single wish, all I would ask for is the chance to start college over again. Not because I would want to change a single thing, but because every day of my college experience has been a blessing, and I wish I could stop time and exist in these days forever.
Unfortunately for me though, the real world is calling and the days are ticking down to graduation. With one year to go, the denial is unreal. But what I can’t deny are the lessons I’ve learned in college, the person I’ve become, and the advice I have to share. That’s not to say I’ve done everything perfectly. I’ve stayed up too late, taken tests I should have studied harder for, spent too much money on take out food, and had to ask for an extension once or twice. You’ll make those mistakes too, it’s part of the experience. But here’s some of what I have learned.
Advice to College Freshman from a College Senior
The first and most obvious piece of advice I want to share is, simply, to learn. “Learning” and “getting good grades” aren’t necessarily synonyms. Learning can happen outside of the lecture hall as much as it does inside. Of course, classes are the reason we go to school and to a certain extent they need to come first. Some classes will be harder than others, but I always felt that if I was doing the best work I could in a subject, if I was proud of the effort I had put in, then I had succeeded.
But learning does happen outside those classroom and library walls. Go to office hours and ask questions, get to know your professors and find out more about them. They’ll take notice. Learn from your peers. Ask people about their studies and interests, find out what makes them tick and what lights their fires. Everyone around you can teach you something.
Learn from exploring. This is where my second piece of advice comes in. Be open to the enormous amount of new opportunities you have available to you. This is a special type of learning that instills an appreciation for the world around you. Go to a student theatre production or art gallery. Hear a guest lecturer. Sit in on a class you’re not enrolled in. Go to seminars, sports games, concerts, and workshops. Engaging in the vibrant world around you will create the richest of college experiences.
Similarly, explore yourself and your interests. You’ll have more free time than you’re used to. Get involved in something. Ideally, get involved in multiple things. Follow what you’re drawn to. Try things you’re not sure you’ll like. Try something that scares you. You don’t have to stick with everything, but find something that makes you happy, challenges you, or helps you meet a new group of people. It can be a club sport or intramural sport, greek life, volunteering, writing for the student paper, art, politics, cooking, or photography. Chances are there’s a club for it, or at least a few other students who share those interests.
Like learning, exploring comes in many forms but it starts with being open to the world and people around you. It also involves becoming aware of your comfort zone and pushing right through those invisible boundaries. Explore a new hobby. Try something and fail at it. Try something and find out you’re great at it. Stop saying you’ll “do it tomorrow,” start today. Explore the town or city around you. Drag your friends on a hike or to a new restaurant down the street.
Train for a 5k, take guitar lessons, try cooking classes. Trying new things in college is the best way to find out what you like and don’t like. It shows you roads you might want to pursue and ones you’ll realize aren’t for you. Both realizations are important.
Lesson three is about finding balance. Again, this comes into play in different ways. Most important is to find a balance between work and play. Learn to prioritize, in relation to school and everything else. Life is too short (and college is most definitely too short) to make time for people or activities that aren’t a good fit in your life. Be open to new people and opportunities, but don’t feel like you need to stick with a leadership position that’s too demanding or stand by friends who drag you down more than they lift you up. Cutting out negativity in any form is one of the easiest ways to succeed in college.
An important part of finding balance is finding time to rest and recharge. Coffee is great, but a good night’s sleep is akin to magic. It’s easy to feel like you’re “missing out” when there’s so much going on around you all the time, but it’s okay to take time for yourself too. There will be other parties, dinner invites, and movie nights. Make that time for yourself. It’s okay to hang out alone sometimes.
My last main piece of advice is to document your time in college. Take pictures, take an obnoxious amount of pictures. Write about it, blog about it, take Polaroids or videos, but find a way that works for you to capture some of the memories you’re making. You’ll be really, really glad you did one day.
Soak it all in, every day, the good and bad. Learn from mistakes. Don’t dwell on them. Learn to ask for help. Make apologies when you need to. Call your parents. Be honest with yourself and others. Don’t take life too seriously. Seek out opportunities. Say yes to things more often than you say no, but know when to say no and say it firmly. Learn to manage your money. Learn to laugh at yourself. Mean what you say, and say what you mean. Be a loyal friend. And lastly, find something good in every day, and if you can’t find something good, be the one to create it.
Kaleigh Watson is a senior at the University of Virginia, majoring in media studies. She stays busy with her sorority, competes with the club snowboard team, and tutors kids in Spanish. In her free time she loves to run and spend time hanging out with friends!