As I sit in my single room as a sophomore at a Big Ten college, rifling through a book T let me borrow titled “1001 Things Every College Student Needs to Know”, I’m reflecting on my own experiences in college thus far and I want to share what I’ve learned along the way. It’s not all warm and fuzzy, but I do hope it can be useful.
1.You will fail. Maybe a test, a paper, a class, a relationship, a friendship, or something else. And it will suck, especially if you’re like me and have never really “failed” at anything major before. But everyone does at some point. College wouldn’t be college without failures along the way, and each one is a step in helping you find what you don’t fail at.
2. College homework is hard. Well, dependent on your major, but most of the time even the liberal arts or social sciences majors require you to test your knowledge further than you had to in high school. There is often a lot of reading. Learn to speed read, it will benefit you. And for God’s sake, do your homework. Maybe you don’t have to do everything on the syllabus (see no. 3 for more info), but if you continuously skate along hangover after hangover, you won’t be successful.
3. There is one document critical to your success in every class: The Syllabus. In high school, these were a joke. However, in college they are your lifeline. Everything you need to know about a class is likely on that document and actually reading it will do you some good. The excuse “I didn’t know it was due today” or the question “what’s the homework for tonight?” will both earn you a glare from your professors and likely not earn you friends in that class.
4. Make yourself uncomfortable. In the best way. Obviously, you should leave a situation if it’s dangerous, illegal, etc., but college is about finding your limits in more ways than one. Take a weird class you never thought you would. Join a quirky club. Go outside of your comfort zone and you’ll be surprised at what you find.
5. Go to office hours. I know this has been burned into every college orientation list there is, but I would not put it on here if it wasn’t legitimate. Contrary to some misconceptions I’ve heard from fellow students, office hours are not just for the struggling students. They are for everyone, and if you want to build a friendly rapport with a professor, this is the best place to start. Professors can be really cool people and of course, they are well connected, so they can help you find a job, write you letters of recommendation, suggest a new book, etc. Seriously. Do this.
6. Have at least 5 people you can ask for references at all times. Put them on a rotating schedule, obviously, so they don’t get sick of telling employers how great you are. But if you can name 5 right off the bat, job applications will go much smoother. Remember, these don’t necessarily have to be professors. I still ask my former high school band directors for letters of reference. Another good source is a volunteer supervisor. People surrounded by and involved in academia know how to write these and could do it in their sleep. Take advantage of it.
7. Never underestimate the value of alone time. Especially if you live with roommates. I know quite a few people who are social butterflies, and they absolutely refuse to even eat a meal alone. It’s great to have friends and be social, but if you don’t appreciate time to just sit without pants in your bed, scrolling through Pinterest or whatever by yourself, you will probably go nuts. Make sure you take time in the week to do something for yourself, by yourself.
8. Take advantage of free stuff. Now, I go to a big school, so smaller, private schools may have different experiences with this but I think I speak for every college student when I say that free pizza tastes the best. Colleges will have tons of opportunities for free pizza, cookies, T-Shirts, whatever, especially during the first week or so as an incentive to join clubs and organizations. And don’t be afraid to show up to a random organization just for the free food. You might meet cool new people you otherwise wouldn’t have and learn something.
9. Who you were, what you did, and who you hung out with in high school? No one cares. Sorry to disappoint anyone, but your future employer is likely not going to give a rat’s ass if you were on the football team in high school (unless, of course, your future employer is the NFL). And if you were valedictorian, that’s a great accomplishment, but you’re likely going to a school with hundreds of other valedictorians. While high school is an important time for development, and you may miss your friends from your hometown, no one likes to hear you dwell on it. And for the last time, no one cares about your SAT score. No one.
10. Please, for the love of everything good in the world, bring some flip flops. Or Crocs. I don’t care what as long as you don’t ever go into the shower barefoot. Scientists should study the bathroom floors of college dorms.
I hope this list was somewhat useful for anyone that is in college or is scared about going to college. Again, I understand that my school is different than others, and so some of these may differ depending on where you go. But I do hope that college is a great experience for all of you.