This past spring I was standing in line at the campus bookstore waiting to buy my cap and gown with my best friend and roommate for 3 years. Right as I was being rung up, Green Day’s Time of Your Life came on the overhead radio speakers and I started to cry. Until then, I had tried to stay strong, mainly by way of denial, but the looming fact of graduating and leaving this amazing world became all too real, and it finally hit me that College was about to be over.
Everyone hopes their college experience will be full of the kinds of friendships, memories, and life experiences that mine was. College is what you make of it. You are going to be faced with a lot of decisions and new situations while you’re off on your own and you need to be prepared for that. Hindsight is truly 20/20 so here is a compilation of some lessons I learned along the way.
Stick it out. It truly takes a full year for most people to adjust comfortably into the college lifestyle. If you are not having the time of your life and are begging to come home or transfer closer to home or your high school best friend, don’t give up that easily. Don’t rush out of the situation or go running home because your first 3 months didn’t exceed your expectations. Stick it out. It’s amazing how much difference one semester can make in your overall perspective and experience at college. Stick it out for the second semester. Remember that classes change each semester, so you might find a new group of friends in the spring, who will make you feel comfortable and give you a better home-base feeling. Also, sorority and fraternity rush, which takes place at most schools in the spring, can be a great way for you to make those friendships and feel a part of a group and more comfortable in the larger campus community. And those bonds can last a lifetime. However, if, after your first year, you are still not happy, you can always consider transferring and beginning elsewhere in the fall.
Call your parents. Keep the communication lines open with your parents. They are going to be worried about you, but also curious to hear about all the new friends you are making, fun things you are doing, and interesting information you are learning. Share your stories with them. Whether it’s a short call or text in between classes or as you are getting ready to go out, they’ll be so happy to hear from you and see that you are doing well. They’ll also be less likely to hound you with missed calls and voicemails if you reach out to them, rather than leaving them in the dark. Plus, your parents, as much as you might not like to admit, can really offer some great advice and comfort in times of high stress or confusion.
Facebook. Everyone has one. Sure, you’re going to want to show off all the fun you’re having to your ex, your home friends, and your random Facebook friends or stalkers, but use some discretion with the statuses you post, and the pictures you leave tagged. Even employers these days check applicants’ Facebook pages and if you are looking a mess in all of your pictures, you won’t be getting that great summer internship you were hoping for!
Start Exercising Your Independence Now. Learn how to do laundry. Have your parents show you how to separate and do different loads of laundry at home before you are off on your own. Call and set up your own doctor’s appointments; learn how to deposit and write checks and how to check your account online. If you start learning to manage your own life and absorb some of the responsibilities that you have previously relied on your parents for, you will better adjust to the independence and self-reliance that comes with the beginning of college life.
Be safe, have fun, make friends, have fun, study, have fun. These words of advice are a combination of what my parents told me as they got into the elevator after helping me move into my freshman dorm four years ago. My Mom reminded me that I was here ultimately to learn, study, and graduate with a degree. My Dad continued to interject, “Yes, but have fun.” College is a time like no other. You will meet your best friends for life, you’ll just barely pass a class at least once, and you’ll discover what truly excites and interests you, both in coursework and lecture halls, and out of them. And, yes, while it is important to study hard and be safe throughout the next four years, it’s also important for you to enjoy the ride and make everlasting memories. But while you are out having fun and making these memories, there are some important points to keep in mind so that you wake up every morning safe and without stomach wrenching regrets.
- Don’t leave your drink unattended. I’m sure you’ve heard this one over and over again, ever since you started going out in high school. However, this is college and you are going to be surrounded by lots more people, some of whom you won’t even know. You can’t trust everyone. There are people out there looking for an easy mark and things like roofies really do exist.
- Party smart. Just because others are experimenting with drugs and alcohol, doesn’t mean it’s right and that you should, too. Stick to your beliefs and personal rules. Don’t compromise who you are to fit in with new friends. There are temptations everywhere and it can be really easy to get carried away and lose sight of your limit. But in the long run, if you let yourself get wasted, you’ll just end up feeling embarrassed…or worse.
- “Hooking up.” College is a time to meet new people and form new relationships. But you need to be careful. If you have sex, always use protection, and remember that actions come with consequences. Alcohol can complicate hook ups and other situations, so be cautious with whom and how many people you get involved with, especially while intoxicated. Hangovers eventually go away, but a moral hangover can last much longer and an STD lasts a lifetime.
Smile. The thing that I loved so much about my freshman year was all the people I was constantly meeting! Some of them became my best friends, and some were acquaintances I’d see at parties, in the dining hall, or in classes. Especially during freshman year, everyone is new to the environment and looking to make those unrivaled bonds of friendship that you’ve heard older siblings, parents, and friends talk about. The diversity in a college community helps expose you to all kinds of people from different areas and backgrounds. You can learn so much about yourself just by keeping an open mind and a positive attitude, and getting to know people you had never imagined being close with. This for me is when peer influences took on a positive connotation. I learned and gained so much from my friendships with others, and this helped shape me into the person I am today.
Now it’s your turn. I hope that when you are sitting in your cap and gown, waiting to be called up to receive your diploma, you can look back at your own college experience with pride, smile, and say that you, too, had the time of your life.