Let me lead off by saying that I truly enjoyed high school, but I saw it for what it really was: just high school. Most of my peers were people that I had grown up with, played sports with, or we went to the same church. I got along great with my friends, but I always had a feeling that there was more to come afterwards. I can remember sitting around at various functions throughout life listening to the dads talk about their glory days in high school and all of the touchdowns they scored. Anytime I confronted my parents with my worries that this was as good as it was going to get, they would say, “just wait until you get to college. Those are going to be the best years of your life so be sure to take advantage of it”. Oh boy, did I take that to heart.
My college experience has been one of the most pivotal moments of my life so far. I chose to go to school that none of my classmates were going to and saw it as an opportunity to finally become who I wanted to be (even though I didn’t know who that was yet). Don’t get me wrong, I had never felt so scared and alone in my life as the moment when I stood outside my tiny cinderblock dorm room on move-in day and watched my parents car disappear down the street. Luckily, I had taken a chance at orientation and applied for a student organization that would change my life. That first meeting on move-in day introduced me to some people that would continue to play key roles throughout my college experience and would continue to become some of my closest friends over the next five years.
My path is a bit different than most. I took 5 years to complete my bachelors degree instead of the traditional 4. My grades are nothing to brag about, but the life experience I have gained during my time in college is a 4.0 without a doubt. That being said, here are the top 5 things that I actually learned in college:
A college or university is a place filled with people who care about their future. They’re there to make themselves and their lives better. Talking to classmates, professors, staff, and coworkers is a great opportunity to become acquainted with the future leaders of the world.
My first two years on campus were spent working in the cafeteria. The work wasn’t particularly prestigious, but every single person living on campus was required to have a meal plan, so ultimately I became a familiar face to every student that came through. Simply telling someone hey or asking how they are doing on a regular basis builds a trust and can benefit you down the road when the professor speaks the dreaded words, “pair up” and you have a familiar face in the class.
Take the time to get to know you’re professor. They’ve taught thousands of students and can hook you up with internships, jobs, and provide invaluable sage advice on career decisions. If you go to a large school with several hundred students per class, try to get to know at least one.
2) Get Involved
The student group that changed my life was the Campus Activities Board (CAB). This is behind-the-scenes group of students would work shifts at events, plan spirit weeks, run the talent shows, and sponsor the big spring concert. It was in this group that I got to hang out with all of the performers and celebrities brought to campus such as Kevin Hart, The Fray, Panic! at the Disco, 3OH!3, Ben & Jerry, the stars of Duck Dynasty, and T-Pain. I started as a general member and got to meet other students that felt the drive to make their campus a better place and knew how to have fun. I then took on two committee head roles over the next two years and was responsible for planning the spring concert the first year, and the entire Spring Fever Week the following year. Finally, I competed in a campus wide election to become the secretary of that group. In that position, I was able to have my full tuition paid for by CAB, I was provided an office, and received a nice stipend for my work every month. All that came from just getting involved.
Like I said, this is an unusual path, but there are many different student groups you can join based on your interests, and if you are not happy with the selection your school offers, talk with your Office of Student Life & Leadership about creating your own.
3) Time and Money Management
In high school you start class around 8am and finish around 3pm. Do that Monday though Friday and you’ve spent you’ve spent 35 hours being a full-time student. In college, 12 hours classifies you as full-time and the average semester load is 15 hours. That is less than half the time you had spent in school in the past four years. The question now is what to do with all of that free time. Study? Work? Hang out? Sleep? The most accurate description I have heard about college life that you have three options: grades, social life, and sleep. Now pick two.
I encourage you to get a job while in college. If you can’t drive of commute off campus, then find an on campus job. This will serve as a way to fund your night’s out, a way to network and meet people, and perhaps most importantly: help you find out what you don’t want to do with your life. Everyone loves the broke college kid excuse, but that doesn’t have to be you. Work hard in high school so that scholarships pay your tuition, then spend some time doing some honest work to put some money back in your pocket.
4) It’s okay to change your mind
People love to poke fun at me when I say that I’ve spent 5 years in undergrad, but I have my reasons and don’t regret a single moment of it. As mentioned a couple times before, my path is not the regular path. This next part is actually not encouraged, but I have had 5 different majors. I know, that’s a lot, but here’s the thing: I can continue my career after graduating not dwelling on the “what if I” or the “I wish that” that so many people who hate their careers ask themselves many times a day. Most places have a major called Undeclared or Undecided. Unless you are 100% sure on what you want to do, please consider those majors. That way you can keep on track to graduate in 4 years while getting a taste of all of your different interests. It is better to change your mind now than to be 30 years into your career and dreading work everyday because of a decision you made when you were 18.
5) Be you!
College is your time. If you were forced to play sports to fit in in high school, you don’t have to play sports in college. If you had an obsession with a tv show that was uncool to your friends, you can make a group dedicated to it in college! If you want to be that guy or girl that only wears flip flops, or rides a unicycle, or plays hacky-sack constantly, or spends way too much time in the gym, or anything you can think of: do it! This is the time when you get decide who you will be for the rest of your life. This is the best time to start forming habits, breaking old ones, and to start being comfortable in your own skin. The most important thing in life that you have control over is to be happy with who you are. One of my close friends always has this saying,”you do you, boo boo”. If you’re too scared that something you love will prevent you from where you need to go, chances are you weren’t meant to go there. If someone tells you that you can’t do something because of your passion, remind them of a little quote from Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Life… uh… finds a way”.
I am finally graduating in a little under three weeks and will be closing the most influential chapter of my life so far. I have cherished every moment and cannot wait to see what the world has in store.