It has been a little over a year since I graduated from college. I’ve been thinking about what I wish I would have known five years ago, before moving away and starting school. Some of it may be obvious to you, some not. Much of it may relate to humanities majors, but hopefully my mistakes and realizations will help those who are going off to school in a few months.
Your first year is NOT the year to spend on Facebook or Twitter
Yes, it’s super cool to be able to bring your laptop with a cup of coffee and spend your 101 lecture on Facebook while occasionally taking notes.
I felt that being on Facebook during lectures wasn’t a huge deal because I had the notes and I’d read them through later on. What did I end up doing later on? More Facebook (It’s ridiculous how that site can take over your day if you let it … That, and online Scrabble.) That being said, sometimes you will have lectures that mean little to absolutely nothing. If that’s the case, listen to the teacher and don’t worry about reading slides beforehand, or choose to study the slides and not listen to the teacher. You’ll have to make choices because your time will be limited.
Realize that you will have less time than you need
I know we all have 24 hours in a day, but I felt like I never had enough time to get things done when getting my degree. In high school, I was really good at doing all of the work assigned to me: readings, studying, making note cards and going through them.
I attempted this same strategy in college and found myself still trying to make note cards the day of an exam and get through them. Although I was determined, I knew I had to adopt a new study method when my test grade came back a C. High school studying tactics will probably not work, and you’ll discover that soon enough. Just accept that for this short period of time in your life you will find it impossible to get everything done and you will have to make choices. Perform the tasks that will help YOU the succeed most in the class. For me, it was having a basic idea of what was going on in big lectures, and knowing the readings well enough to summarize them (skimming is big; you don’t have to read that 500 page book in depth), and attending study groups, discussions, or using online databases where students sell their notes. Seriously, this is a pretty amazing tool.
For the first few years, you will have to take general education classes
I want to encourage you to try to pick ones that are as interesting to you as possible.
I came into college not having to take math classes, but a lot of science (even though I was an International Studies and French major). I decided that taking the easiest classes would be the best, and so I checked out my options.
I remember one of the classes – “Map Reading and Interpretation” – seemed to be one of the easiest. However, I was so uninterested that after a while even the most basic information was gibberish to me. I ended up with a B in the class. Not bad, but it known for being an easy A class. I knew I wouldn’t be interested, yet took it anyway. After a while, I noticed a trend: I performed better in classes known to be a bit more challenging or with a strict professor because I was genuinely passionate about the topic or subject matter.
Your books won’t be cheap, either. Even for a seemingly meaningless general education textbook, you might end up paying upwards of two hundred dollars. Thankfully this doesn’t happen too often, but when it does you better sell back your textbooks as soon as you’re finished with it. Most books are being revised on a yearly basis, which means that your two hundred dollar textbook might only be worth twenty bucks in a couple years, and that’s if you’re lucky! Besides, are you ever going to open any of those books again once you’re finished with them?
You don’t know it all
In so many ways college makes us smarter and prouder – prouder of going away from home, of accomplishing our first year, of studying abroad, and the list goes on. And it is a remarkable achievement.
However, it’s also important to let college humble you. Instead of pretending that college makes you the smartest person from your high school graduating class or in your family, try to view all of your incredible experiences as examples of how much you do not know and still need to learn. Also, do your research.
There is nothing worse than taking opinions from others and just repeating them as fact. If you are intrigued by something, do your own research and develop an educated opinion. Know what you believe and understand how to defend it. It is OK to let yourself be influenced, but make sure you have all the facts before just spitting out something you heard a friend of a friend say. I’ve noticed that people (including myself) can sometimes get so bent out of shape over a subject or idea that they (I) know nothing about.
Don’t make snap judgments about people
This can be really difficult, because we can often do this without knowing. I’ve always been polite for the most part to everyone I met, but if I’m being truthful, I’ve always been a bit standoffish to individuals who were very different than me. I went to the very big University of Wisconsin at Madison and, coming from a small, conservative Christian high school, it was intimidating to suddenly having classes with many people unlike me.
My first reaction was to shy away from that, find a protective bubble, and stay there, constantly convincing myself that that was the right thing to do. I told myself that I wasn’t judging people by doing this, just staying where I was comfortable. But you know what? Writing people off and walking away just by what they say or the way they look the first time you meet them is judging without really knowing who that person is. And it isn’t really OK. It was only after I studied abroad my third year of college that I willingly stopped being afraid and started enjoying people who were unlike me. Allowing oneself to grow and challenge our past and what we’ve known is one of the most difficult, but most rewarding parts of life.
All-nighters can help, but realize that unless you are in that group of people who can only get things done when it’s dark out, they are not always as productive as they seem
Endless amounts of coffee, tea, Red Bull and Monster energy drinks will only make you feel like crap the next day, not actually concentrate well and get s*** done.
Only your brain, determination, and mad typing skills will actually do that. That being said, sometimes the inspiration doesn’t come until the last hours before your paper is due, and sometimes you need to accept that. If you really don’t want to do things at the last minute, try to find inspiration to start on projects and papers early. Mine included going to new coffee shops, sitting in a place with no Wi-Fi, setting mini-goals for myself, and rewarding myself by looking at cat pictures when I finished.
You are going to change, and that’s OK
For a long time I was hesitant to share that I started dating for fun and not courting, and also that I was a feminist. People would (and still do) Facebook message me because I shared something or because I put a certain picture up, and they are worried about me or want to enlighten me. In the past, I would probably try to be more careful about what I shared or posted in order to avoid “scandal” (and seriously, if you see my Facebook even now it’s not even close to that, but hey), but now I just make sure that what I’m sharing or posting is important to me, and that I feel is important for others to read and understand.
If you have the choice with living with a roommate or not your first year, live with a roommate
I put a single on my first choice because I was afraid of the haunted roommate stories I had heard. However, your first year in a huge university can be pretty lonely. While the privacy is nice, I think I would’ve appreciated the company more.
Don’t have regrets.
Take a road trip. Go out on a school night every once in a while. That boyfriend isn’t the end all, be all. Don’t forget your friends. Throw house parties with them. Rely on the good ones and dump the people who aren’t there for you. Try to imagine a time when you won’t have this environment, because you will finish your degree and it will be bittersweet. And always remember: beer before liquor, get sick quicker. Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.
Lastly, if you go to UW, stay away from the fishbowl … please.