I remember the exact day of my high school graduation. It was pouring. Graduation would have to be in the gym. It was going to be hot. I would be sweating. Mostly because I had to give a heartfelt speech to all of my senior classmates about the days behind us and the days to come, and I had to tell them that the best times were ahead of us- college would be the best years of our lives. And with shaking hands and voice I told them to go out and take risks, they’d be better for it. So we all walked, grinning ear to ear, grabbing our diplomas and hugging our peers and in a blink it was over as fast as the previous four years.
I lived up to my own advice and took a risk by attending a college 8 hours from home. I felt a lot of pressure throughout my high school career to choose a school that would prove how much I excelled academically and I probably let everyone down when I turned down the NC dream school and picked a small, Christian college in Nowhere Town, Kentucky. I was told to be a doctor, a lawyer, or something that would guarantee a beach house, but I chose psychology because I knew I couldn’t live a satisfying, full life if I weren’t helping people through grief.
I went into college with the most terrible assumption that I was walking into the best four years of my life. Looking back on it now, I realize how silly that is because I’m barely into my twenties and have so much life to live, and to think that those 4 years will be the best is the biggest disservice you can do to yourself.
I hope you find that more encouraging than discouraging- it should be a relief to know that the pressure of having “the best years of your life” in college can now be lifted so that you can actually enjoy and appreciate what college will teach you. Although they may not be the BEST four years, they are some of the most formative, so keep these things in mind as you make this transition from teenager to young adult:
- Take freshman year seriously. You will have more free time on your hands than you need and although you think that will give you more opportunity to study, you’ll most likely choose to waste time with new friends or take naps or avoid your mom’s phone calls, but I urge you to start working on time management before you realize you’re losing your scholarship because you didn’t give your classes their deserved attention (may or may not be speaking from experience).
- Take making friends seriously. The people you choose to invest in can determine the course of your college career. Don’t cling to the first people you see just because you’re lonely. Choose friends that share the same goals, cheer you on, stick by your side even when it’s inconvenient, and remind you of your worth. Life is too short to hang around people who tear you down, or make you forget who you really are.
- Appreciate and embrace the loneliness. I experienced loneliness like never before when I moved to Kentucky. I knew absolutely no one and spent many days in my room, staring at the walls, wondering if I should walk into the caf alone or just starve. By the time you reach your senior year, you will yearn for that kind of solitude, I promise. So learn how to be successful and content alone. It’s a life skill you can use forever and will help you develop into an independent person.
- Go out of your way to talk to your professors. This was easy for me at a smaller school, but your professors are there to help you and should be viewed as a valuable resource. Not only can they assist you academically, but admit to yourself that they’re wiser and smarter than you and you might end up like them one day. Who knows, you may even get free MLB tickets or be invited to their house for breakfast once a week- and again I might be speaking from experience. 😉 When I look back on who shaped me, pushed me, and helped me grow the most, the first people that come to mind are the ones who taught me in the classroom.
- You don’t need to find your spouse. If you listen to nothing else, listen to this. College is not the time to find your spouse, it is the time to find yourself. You may go in thinking you know exactly who you are and what you want to do, but you are wrong. College will destroy some of your pre-existing beliefs and strengthen others. It will make you realize new hobbies and help you break bad habits. It will change you in the best way and when you graduate, I hope that you’ll be happy about the person you’re becoming and you’ll have a better sense of the person you want to be with.
- You DO need to go on dates. I know this totally contradicts what I just said, however, you can’t know what you want in a person til you know what you DON’T want. And the only way to figure that out is to give people a chance. Honestly, people will teach you more than books can, so let failed attempts at relationships shape you and prepare you for the next relationships to come.
- Find your stress reliever. Each year of college will become more hectic and stressful, but no matter what you should make time for yourself and the things that feed your soul. I once had a professor tell my class that he stopped saying, “I didn’t have time to do it” because that’s a lie. There’s always time, it’s just all about how we manage it. The truth is that you either make time for assignments or people or you don’t.
- Keep an open mind. You’re going to meet people who have a variety of beliefs, and most of them won’t agree with you, so as important as it is to stick to your guns, there’s nothing wrong with considerate discussions with those who could stretch or shape your views. Don’t let yourself be easily offended, be confident and educated in your personal convictions so that when they are challenged you don’t fall apart.
- Your biggest competitor is yourself. Once you get into your major, it’s easy to focus on what everyone else is doing and accomplishing. As a psych major, everyone was trying to get into grad school and complete research projects and make the highest grades, but the only person who is going to get in your way is you if you focus too much on others. Everyone’s success looks different, so ask yourself what you can be better at and set personal goals.
- Keep in touch with your high school friends. After everyone parts ways and makes new friends it’s so hard to maintain those old friendships, but they are so important. To this day, my high school friends are some of the first people I think about when things go wrong or when I need someone to celebrate with. They’re also the people who will be there when you go back home and they can use their own unique college experiences to help you through yours.
- Take risks, have fun. I said this when I was 18 to the class of 2013 and I’ll say it again to the class of 2017: take risks. Go to that concert in the middle of the week when there’s so much else to be done. Apply for the summer internship away from home. Visit your friend’s family in a different state. Change your major from what everyone else wanted to exactly what you want. Get to know the professor everyone is scared of. Speak up when everyone else is silent. Do the things you won’t have a chance to do when you’re tied down to grad school, a job, or the real world.