My niece left home for college this morning, and keeping up with her over the summer as she prepared for this sweet new adventure has brought back so many memories of when I was in her shoes. It seems like just yesterday that my mom and I were crying and hugging goodbye in my freshman dorm room at Franciscan University…right down the hallway from a little chapel, where I immediately ran to sit and try to collect myself, but 7,000 miles from Qatar, where my family was living at the time. I had no idea that over the next five years, I would:
– Meet lifelong best friends
– Meet my husband (though he is actually not the person I dated through most of college)
– Transfer schools not once, but twice
– Discover my dream career path
– Start a blog! Oh hey :)
I’m chatting a lot more about the first point over on Blessed Is She today in a post about finding Catholic friends in college. I was excited to write this one because I’m so grateful for the sisters in Christ I met through both my Catholic university experience and my gigantic public university experience…I know many of them are probably reading this (love y’all, Carae Domini and Mu Epsilon Theta)! You can find that post here.
With five years of college, three schools, and five years out of college to look back and reflect under my belt, I thought of a few more things I’d love to share with my niece, and anyone else starting college this fall. My college experience looked nothing like what I originally thought it might, but it ultimately led to a wonderful job, precious memories, and people I love. What more could I ask for from college than that?
Hold your vision in open hands. I can’t stress it enough…three schools in five years was NOT what I had planned on or wanted, but when it came down to it, transferring around was what I needed to do in order to land on the program and school that I ultimately needed. I don’t regret any decision I made about where to go to school because I can so clearly see now that God had a purpose for each one (the Cliff Notes: Franciscan was for laying a foundation for my faith and meeting Dave and many of my dearest friends, Pitt was for gaining independence and starting my blog, and Texas was for being part of one of the best magazine journalism programs in the country, growing in my faith, and having a little bit of time close-ish to home). I wouldn’t be where I am today without a single one of those experiences.
Seek out wonderful professors. Whenever you can, choose classes based on the professors. The classes I remember most from college weren’t the ones that best pertained to my major; they were the ones with the most engaging, interesting, and life-impacting professors. On the flip side, the few classes I remember with a particularly bad taste in my mouth are the ones that had terrible instructors. (Dave is admittedly sick of me re-telling him about one of my journalism professors every time I hear the song “Mean” by Taylor Swift, ha!)
Take a class (or a few classes) on something totally unrelated to your major. Want to know my number one favorite class I took in college? Human Embryology, which I took to fulfill a science credit. It was so different from the subject matter and type of learning I was used to, and the professor was legendary, for good reason (see previous tip :)). I love hearing about people who took seemingly random classes in college to fulfill electives because let’s be honest, when else will you have the opportunity to learn some of these things? If it sparks your interest, give it a try. If nothing else, it will open your worldview just a litte more, and that’s always a good thing.
Put in the work. Whether or not you’re paying your own way through college, never forget that your being there is EXPENSIVE. It doesn’t matter how late you were out with friends the night before…do not skip class unless you absolutely need to (read: you’re sick). Study hard. Try not to procrastinate. College is a privilege that I think a lot of people (myself included) sometimes take for granted, but the opportunity deserves respect and attention.
Care for yourself. For many, this is the first time you’re responsible for your self-care…what you eat, how much you sleep, how much water you drink, how often you exercise, etc. I saw the importance of this play out the most when I was at Pitt for my junior year. I had moved from a dorm with a meal plan at Franciscan to a bus-ride-away-from-campus apartment and subsided on cereal, Lean Cuisine, and pasta. Within a few weeks, I felt incredibly sluggish and frequently light-headed, and realized I wasn’t giving myself any good fuel. Yes, the occasional late-night dorm room delivery pizza or all-nighter is part of the college experience, but be conscious of making those things the exception rather than the rule. You’ll be a better student, and person overall, because of it!
Step up. Don’t be afraid to be a leader! One of my favorite experience of college was taking on a co-chair position in my sorority (along with this sweet girl), which included planning and leading a retreat. I felt incredibly unqualified, but it became one of the things I did in college that I am most proud of.
Consider not dating for your first semester/year. Give yourself time and permission to focus on finding your place and your friends on your own, without the distraction of a romantic relationship. This felt especially important at a faith-affiliated school, where the unspoken pressure to find your future spouse was a big part of the student culture. You do NOT need to “get your MRS degree” in college. My favorite story is that of one of my best friends, who was sometimes frustrated that she wasn’t meeting anyone special in school…and then she met and started dating her now-husband a few weeks after graduating :)
Intern, as much as you can. This might be specific to my field or similar ones, but when people ask me for my number one piece of college advice, it’s this one: gain as much “real life” experience as you possibly can. I honestly put more effort into my blog and internships for three out of my five years in school than I did on many of my classes, and while I do wish I had relaxed a little more at times, there’s no denying that this was the biggest factor that contributed to my landing my dream job right out of school. The job market in most fields is tough, and in order to land any job, let alone one you really want, you must have a way to set yourself apart from the many other applicants. Respectable internships paired with glowing recommendations is one of the best assets.
Enjoy it. Yes, work hard and gain as much experience you can, but also, cherish this unique and incredibly short season of life. There’s likely no other time in life that combines both independence and security, the opportunity to experience all different people and subjects, and to live in such close community with friends. It’s supposed to be fun! I all too often fell into the trap of thinking that college was solely to prepare me for life after college, and my one regret about my experience is not relaxing and enjoying the present a little more.
Bonus tip: study abroad if you can! I’m a little biased having grown up abroad, but I sincerely believe there is no better way to broaden your worldview and become a better person than by immersing yourself in a culture completely different than your own. Don’t be afraid to go somewhere far away or somewhere that uses a different language. I think you’ll find that for as many differences as there may be between your culture and another, there are far more similarities, and that is a beautiful thing to experience.