It’s that time again. College students bid farewell to a care-free summer with “Throwback Thursday” Instagrams of beaches and late-night beer debauchery. They express their excitement for the new school year with Facebook statuses littered with exclamation marks and emojis. Recent graduates now stuck at work tweet nostalgic memories of their first days at school.
A small part of me wishes that I can go back. I sit here, marveling that it’s been more than three months since I became a Fairfield University alumna. Three months ago, I was in class, staring at the blackboard, and desperately waiting for a nap. I was so tired by the end of my senior year. Waiting to be finished with homework. Waiting to relieve some burden that came with working at the school newspaper. Waiting to have more freedom. And now I’ll never get to go back to this time—that is, unless I decide to continue my education.
As a student I was sometimes naïve when it came down to simple tasks, sometimes wild-eyed after many sleepless nights—the result of writing essays the night before—and sometimes firmly rooted to the ground in bouts of striking certainty. Like a sculptor with a block of clay, my years at school had chipped away at my being, molding me into the person I am today. I loved my college experience, and don’t regret much, but there are still a few things that I wish I’d known from the beginning.
- It’s impossible to be perfect.
Like many peers, I’ve learned from plenty mistakes. I evaluate each school year by measuring my mistakes. Freshman year? I made plenty of mistakes, so it was a bit rough. Senior year? I made just enough to help me learn. My biggest mistake, however, had to do with trying to be perfect, and for a few months in freshman year, I didn’t understand what it meant to learn.
Dr. Sonya Huber, one of my favorite English professors, recently posted a shadow syllabus with her thoughts on what students should take away from her courses. She writes, “Those who aim for A’s don’t get as many A’s as those who abandon the quest for A’s and seek knowledge or at least curiosity.” You might attend a university with students raised in a certain culture of expectations. Take this many AP classes. Get involved in as imany extracurricular activities as possible. Volunteer just about anywhere. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. These experiences padded your resume and got you into the school, but they have no true worth unless you value what you learn. Fixating on that A sucks the fun out of learning! In freshman year, I received a C on a journalism assignment, a grade that pretty much slapped my A-slaving side right out of me. I didn’t deserve a better grade because I didn’t actually understand my assignment. When you pay attention to what you do have and what you do know, you live and breathe the process. Remember that it’s the process that matters. The end result is your reward.
- Similarly, show professors that you’re responsible and willing to learn.
I’ve often heard my classmates complain about professors. She’s such a hard grader. I don’t understand him at all! He doesn’t understand us. If these complaints are true, and the professor’s behavior persists, I would suggest dropping out of the course and finding another professor, if possible. But thankfully in most of my experiences, professors have been brilliant and compassionate, and it’s the students who need to adjust their attitude. Professors actually want to help you, so let them see that you’re willing to strive, not just achieve. After graduating, I think about the professors who not only taught me, but also inspired me, and I wish that all students could find professors like them, people whom I truly respect.
- My next advice is to forge supportive, drama-free friendships.
Going to college means finding your social group. Yes, it’s one of the most nerve-wracking feelings. At first you might feel like reinventing yourself. Here’s where people won’t know that you peed in your pants in sixth grade! They haven’t seen your glasses and braces phase! This is your chance to be cool! Chances are you’ll find a nice group of people and you’ll go everywhere with them: to dorm parties, late-night Starbucks runs, campus excursions. There’s a chance that you’ll stay friends with these people (that’s me!). But just like the teddy bear that you carried around everywhere as a toddler, you might find yourself outgrowing these friends. Know that this happens all the time. It just means you’re changing and you can’t have people holding you back.
When you have your friends, and you know them as well as you know yourself, then that’s the group to have. Challenge each other, but also be each other’s biggest supporters. Now that’s lifelong friends.
- In the grand scheme of things, your physical existence is small, but your decisions and your actions can make a great impact.
It’s easy to get stuck in a bubble of oblivion when you’re stuck on a small campus. But these days, schools encourage their students to have a global viewpoint and to be leaders. How will you become this person who’s set to change parts of the world? Do your own work. Listen to your mentors. Go out of your comfort zone.
I suggest keeping one foot on campus and another foot somewhere in the outside world. Internships are invaluable ways to do just that—places where you learn and also save connections for later. You can also find an extracurricular activity that aligns with your career goal (Mirror, FTW!)
College students, this is your chance to become who you’re meant to be. Don’t waste your time. Embrace yourself and embrace the life that you’re creating in college.