Writing this article doesn’t seem real to me. I mean, I understand the basics of the idea: I’m a senior, about to graduate, reflecting on my time in college. Maybe I’ll even say something that could be useful advice to an incoming freshman, a way to use my experience to help others out. But the fact that I’m in a position to be writing it, the fact that I’m graduating, still hasn’t hit me yet. It’s terrifying, thinking about the expanse of unknown laid out before me. It’s sad too, knowing that an experience that has meant so much to me is nearing its end. But ultimately, it’s exciting because a world of new opportunities shines in my future.
I know that I am lucky to feel sad, because it means that I have had an experience worth grieving. It is an experience I’ve fought for, and worked towards. However, I also acknowledge that there have been a fair share of challenges in the past four years, and while I wouldn’t change anything about my college experience, there are some lessons I wish I would have learned earlier.
- You can’t keep every friendship, but work hard on the ones you can.
Contrary to popular belief, you CAN keep high school friends in college. I have childhood friends who I still talk to regularly and plan on making part of my post-grad life as well. But you have to be realistic about the friendships you want to keep throughout college. It’s a-okay if you don’t stay in touch with your entire AP Government group chat, or your entire prom limo, or even people you were once really close to. It doesn’t mean those people aren’t amazing and that your memories with them aren’t valuable. But college is a time to grow and you can’t keep people who hold you back from that. At the same time, your closest besties are worth making time for. Call them, text them, write them letters—it’ll take effort, but you’ll ultimately know it was worth it for a lifelong BFF.
- Try out a bunch of activities, but don’t forget to unsubscribe from the email lists.
Whatever kind of club fair your school has, it’s probably extremely overwhelming. I remember at my first one I was exposed to shirtless water polo guys, a fully-uniformed quidditch team, and the entire Greek life section all at once. I put my name down for anything and everything that interested me, and it led me to the exact right places (after I suffered through a million introductory meetings and ice breakers, of course). However, there is so much going on in a college experience, it won’t serve you to overload like you might have in high school. Choose a few things you really love and follow through on those.
- If you’re going to splurge, do it on experiences.
College is super expensive and if you’re someone who has a limited budget for fun things, it can be really difficult to manage all the pricey opportunities that arise. Dining hall food gets boring fast, Starbucks becomes a necessity, and your wardrobe feels smaller and smaller the more times you have to lug a laundry bag down to the laundry room. I definitely don’t want to tell you not to ever Postmates something—takeout saved me many times during finals season - but I do want to tell you that you're always better off splurging on something that will make memories. Concerts, brunches with friends, special museum tickets—those are the things that will define your college experience and will remain in your mind and heart for years to come.
- Learn how to say no.
I hate saying no to people. Can I edit your essay? Of course! Can you do me this quick favor? Absolutely! Can I borrow your insert whatever? Sure, just take it! It took me a while to learn how to say no, and I still struggle with it. It’s so important to prioritize yourself when in college. If all your work is done and submitted, and someone asks you to edit their paper, then by all means, do it! That’s being an awesome friend! But if you’re completely swamped and have an exam the following day, saying no is completely valid. Don’t drown yourself just to keep someone else afloat. This is especially true when it comes to social activities. I’m not someone who can go out multiple times every weekend, and that’s totally fine. If you are super extroverted, more power to you. If you’re more like me, take that day you need to chill with a book and a microwave mug cake. More opportunities will show up, and you’ll be able to enjoy them so much more.
- Be proactive. If something isn’t working, fix it!
If any of my friends are reading this, they’ll definitely call me out for not taking my own advice on this one. I prefer to keep my head down and not cause issues, but it forces me to suffer through a lot of sucky stuff. If something in your college experience isn’t bringing you good vibes, try to think of how you can alleviate the situation. If you feel yourself slipping in a class, go to those office hours! If your major suddenly seems like a dark cloud in your future, make an appointment with your advisor ASAP. And if something is not working with your roomie, speak to them or an RA as soon as it gets rough. It’s not about being confrontational, but rather about being proactive. I could tell my major was not right for me freshman year, and I’m so glad I spoke to the right people so that I could switch to the track that makes most sense for me. I wish I took this approach with more of my struggles, but hey! I can be proactive now.
This was the article I pitched when I applied for Her Campus this September. I had no idea what sort of year I was going to face at the time, but as a senior, I wanted a final way to leave my mark. I wonder now what messages I would have shared if I wrote this then, but I know what I want to say now. All of these tips are really just fancy ways of saying self-care is the key to success. Take care of yourself, make yourself a priority, and have fun. Everyone will tell you college flies by, and they’re telling the truth. They’ll also tell you it’s the best time of your life, and they aren’t lying about that either. But it will challenge you, there will be tears, and you’ll have the urge to run home some nights. It’s all worth it though because it will make you a better, stronger, and more independent person.