Advice from Seniors to Underclassmen

As I sit at my desk writing this, I clamor through all the end-of-term assignments I have due in my head; somehow trying to rationalize feeling the way I do about how my college life has been for the past year and a half. It’s a lot of uncertainty mixed with a myriad of emotions I can’t quite put into words. So when I think of the word advice, it feels almost redundant. When have I ever taken someone’s two cents on how to live my life seriously? And, as much as life should be lived on one’s own terms, I do sometimes wish I had an elder sibling to walk me through the ebb and flow of college life before it smacked me right in the face.  

On that note, I think one of the most prevalent feelings to address would be the jitters we feel. Be it your first day or not, it’s something we’ve all dealt with at some point or the other. I discounted that feeling as extreme anxiety, rather than excitement, only to later realize it could be both! Getting swept up in the former can lead you to truly miss out on the little things, be it a pretty tree on campus or an empty classroom to finish that book in or simply enjoying the taste of that much-needed iced tea at the end of an exhausting day. 

A daunting presence throughout life at university can be the pressure to do everything. And I mean it. I saw my peers try out for countless extracurriculars - be it theatre, debate, entrepreneurship as the need to be the jack of all trades seemed like the utmost priority. But to be the master of none was also not an option. The self-preservation skills that arise at the cost of missing out on some great opportunities can later come to be a regretful memory. So, advice? Go, try it out. Whatever it is that seems even mildly interesting to you. But don’t let it consume you. Remember, this is a place that can give you an opening to reinvent yourself and dive into all the uncertain waters you hitherto tip-toed around.

Now, of course, there’s the ubiquitous and all-consuming stress of classes, I can’t not address that! No matter how much you love (or don’t love) your major, there’s always room to take things lightly. If we talk about now, yes some professors can be relentless, and sometimes you just have to bend over backward to get that one grade or pass that one class. But overall, I just wish I’d been more present in my own classes. This sounds ridiculous sometimes, given how that means staring at my laptop for five to six hours straight but it douses the subsequent cannonade of tension and breakdowns over finals. And the best part is, that irrational part of you which nags at you to be productive and beats you up if you aren’t, it shuts up. At least for a while.

Covid or not, unpredictability seeps into all spheres of university life. It could be about an activity you want to take up, a research project not working out, former ‘friends’ sabotaging classwork, or just professors and administration being impossible. What I’m saying is, with strict schedules come a lot of aspects that are beyond our control and the lack of which drives frustrations into our everyday life. So, advice is barely going to help anyone deal with something like that. It’s a process. And what I’ve come to understand is that it’s an exhausting but invaluable learning experience. No programming language or thesis research is worth what the learning and unlearning can imbibe into you - a level of maturity and understanding that will stay with you for years to come. 

As I slowly wait for this routine life to be over, the getting up, attending (or not attending classes), taking tests, handing in assignments all via the ‘blessing’ that is the internet, I try to imagine what I’d be doing in an actual classroom. And the difference in the form of nostalgia that might hit me years down the line versus the batches that went years before or will come after me. It’s easy to say that these are extraordinary times; cheers to the fact that we can sleep a little bit longer and show up for classes in PJs with the click of a button. But it does put into perspective how we’ve been living our lives and taking worthwhile experiences for granted. The platitudes of “not knowing what something means until you don’t have it” really takes a pure form and I do find myself yearning for the places and the company I didn’t particularly appreciate back then.

That being said, no one will fully be able to guide you through the rollercoaster that is college life. What matters at the end of the day is to minimize the regrets you hold once it’s all over. I have mine, everyone does. But it’s also important to have moments you can look back on and laugh and maybe cry a little (or a lot. Hey, it's cathartic after all!) As is it crucial to look back and tell yourself, “Hey, I did this. I learned this and got rid of that. I met new people,” and hopefully a pinch of “maybe I found myself, if only a little!” 

So do whatever it is you think will enrich you in any and every way possible. Judge yourself (and others) a little less. Have fun, take life a little less seriously, because then only will you be present in moments to reminisce later. Just know that there are no hacks and you’ve got this!