Today I feel like a slow, chunky acoustic version of a nostalgic song. Like each step I’m taking is a deep strum of a heartfelt chord leading me forward. As cool as classic rock, and as confident as 90’s pop.
Next year is my ten year high school reunion. I still feel like a child in so many ways, but the thought of being ten years distanced from my first lottery ticket purchase is disorienting.
If you’ve been reading along, you probably know that I’ve been a little hung up on my college years lately, so I wanted to take this evening to share some thoughts and advice I have for college kids, freshmen especially.
Let's dive in.
When I first went to college, I believed I could do no wrong. I had emerged from my little high school bubble with quite the high horse in tow, and I started to get bad grades on subjects I had breezed through in high school. I was wrong about how hard I'd have to work.
I had a world built from assumptions that was challenged and soon my wrong, but well-constructed ideas about everything came tumbling down. And I was able to build a new world based on hearing the experiences of others and listening to people who knew more than I did. I had to check my ego at the door and put on the humble collegiate cardigan. It’s okay. You’ll have plenty of time in your life to think you're right.
Like I said, I came from a pretty conservative, judgment-heavy bubble, so when I started meeting people who had wildly varying life experiences, I had to stop making my classic snap judgments. I learned to listen better than I ever had, and had a richer experience because of it.
Be open to new experiences, to joining new student organizations, to taking a class that might make you uncomfortable, to giving ballroom dancing or public speaking a try.
Write shitty things, then write better things.
Your first year will likely include a nasty writing class that will ring you out like a sopping towel. It will drain you of all your worst words, and make room for you to soak up better communication tools.
This will come in handy. If you can construct a few decent sentences and string them together in professional emails and messages, you’ll be ten steps ahead of the fools who didn’t pay attention in this class.
It also helps with critical reading, so you can impress people at parties with your analysis of things like The Odyssey. Or use that new vocabulary to blow people away with a deep dive into the metaphors and themes behind the newest episode of South Park.
Work a bit, if you can.
This one isn’t fun. I worked quite a bit during my school years, but I wish I would have just added a few hours here and there. Mostly because I could have started to chip away at my student loans while they were still interest-free.
Work a few different jobs—you’ll meet fellow students and odd townies that you’d never have met otherwise. I rolled burritos in my dorm's food court for a couple of months, I worked at the bookstore during the beginning and end of a semester, and also as a writing tutor (hence my previous tip). All of those were strange and wonderful experiences that I wouldn’t change.
Live alone, and live with others.
I can’t stress this one enough. At some point in your life, live alone and get used to being by yourself. It’s helpful when you wake up one day ten years not knowing who you even are anymore—you’ll have those experiences to anchor you. Plus you can get to know just how truly messy you are.
But then live with roommates. It’s the most challenging and rewarding experience. You’ll learn how to communicate intimately with someone who isn’t sharing your bed. You’ll get confronted with your own bad habits in surprising ways, and it can be enlightening. But if you’re lucky, you’ll find the best shoulder ever to cry on when you’re all totally drunk at 3AM. Or who will be there when you say, hungover, "I've made a huge mistake," and they'll say, "me too" and you'll share your sadnesses and help one another bear the burdens. Roommates: challenging + best ever.
Find your tribe.
It’s so cliché, but really. Find the people who make you feel safe to be yourself. Don’t join things just to join them, find the group that really lights you up.
Go to open houses, check out a few meetings, go to events that sound interesting to you. Sometimes that means no one in your dorm wants to go with you, and that’s okay. You can handle going to things alone. Do it—you’ll surprise yourself.
Find your vibe.
Do you love wandering aimlessly around campus for hours watching the magic of academia unfold? Or do you love meeting up with your friends at the hole-in-the-wall pub off campus? Or hanging out playing pool in the rec room? Or hiding on the tenth floor of the library where all the good poetry is kept and there are no windows?
Seek the moments that you love, for no other reason than that you love them. Relish those moments of doing whatever the eff you want to do, because those are the memories that will stay with you a decade later.
If you can muster the introductions, hang out with the people you live near, meet new people at events, say hello to the custodians. Go to office hours (oof, a great regret of mine is that I didn’t go to enough of these, as nerdy as it sounds) and get to know the professors that are most inspiring to you.
Go see the speakers who are invited to your campus and ask questions to people you’ll rarely have the chance to see for free in the “real world”. Take internships and ask questions about careers that are interesting to you. Email people you find inspiring to say thank you and ask them about their life's path that led them to being so awesome.
And date. Flirt with interesting people, go on dates with them. This is a little hypocritical since I started dating the man who would become my husband within the first four weeks of my freshman year, but I do think it would have behooved me to attempt dating other humans. But then somehow to find my way to Victor. It all goes so well in my head. Just, date.
And speaking of dating interesting people, please be safe. Don’t go with strange men to strange places, especially if you feel uncomfortable. Don’t take drinks from strangers. Have a trusted wingman or wingwoman if you’re going to get wasted.
Always try to have a plan or someone you trust babysitting you. Don’t do hard drugs. Wear protection. Have someone check in on you if you’ve been out partying. Drink plenty of water and sleep it off in your own bed. Don’t ever, ever, ever drive if you’re drunk or even tipsy.
Be a little wild.
That all being said, I do think college can be a safe place to experiment with your edges. I pushed my own limits more than I’d like to say, but I was always with my group of trusted friends or my dear roommate (whom I will never properly be able to thank for her protection and friendship, because there just are no words—she's the "me too" roommate I mentioned earlier. Hey girl!)
Drink a little, smoke a little, do things you want to do because you want to do them. Don’t let other people influence you to make a decision outside of your comfort zone—you are the captain of your ship, so you should navigate your own waters in your own time.
My greatest wish for college freshmen is that they don’t feel like they wasted their time. Waste money, waste office hours, waste yourself, but don’t leave college feeling like you haven’t learned anything.
You don’t have to take away a 4.0 GPA, and you don’t have to take away full self-knowledge. So few people know unequivocally what they want their life to look like when they’re 22, so don’t push yourself to figure out just what that is in those four short years.
What college should do for you is equip you with the questions to help shape you further, the tools to dive a little deeper into the rest of your life, the relationships to help support your next jump into the “real world”.
Enjoy yourself, explore, and release all expectations. You’ll love what you find.