With my college graduation date approaching, I can’t help but reflect on what I’ve learned from my four years as a pseudo-adult. Here’s a year-by-year breakdown:
Academically: Read your assignments. While high school essays and tests largely covered what was discussed in class, this is not the case for college papers or exams. Everything in all the class materials is fair game. Don’t be fooled into thinking that going to lecture, or, God forbid, only looking at the lecture PowerPoints, is sufficient. Sometimes, it’s not the material that’s challenging; it’s the sheer quantity of the work. It’s easier said than done, but don’t fall behind. Read all of your assignments between classes, in the mornings, or even when your friends are in class. You’re not going to want to do much work on the weekends.
Personally: Be patient. I loved, and still love, my roommates, and I made a solid group of friends. I went shopping, to the beach, to the school pool, and to Santa Barbara and Lake Tahoe. I started running outside for the first time — LA humidity has nothing on Hong Kong — took figure drawing and yoga classes, but I was so unhappy. Being more than 7,000 miles away from familiar surroundings and people took adjusting to. Everyone acts like the first year of college is the time of their lives. In some ways it is, but it looks different for everyone. Do everything you can to be happy and make the most of your time, but embrace the sad. Be patient with your homesickness.
Academically: Go to office hours. I’m sure you’ve heard this advice before, but I cannot press it enough. As a second year student, you’re still taking overpopulated general education or preliminary classes. If you want to do well, make sure your teacher — the one grading you — knows who you are. You’ll likely get better participation scores and do better on tests with this one-on-one time. Above all, if your major or class is based largely on papers, office hours are essential. It’s pretty much impossible to get anything but a good grade if you’ve been to office hours and discussed your brainstorming, thesis, outline, and draft(s) with your teacher’s assistant or professor.
Personally: Make more friends. Don’t let the security of your freshmen year friend group lull you into social complacency. You are still young in the college world. Join the groups you wanted to but didn’t get around to checking out in your freshmen year.
Academically: Start applying for internships and jobs. Don’t make each application precious. During my junior year, I would spend a month on an application because I really wanted the job. Don’t be me. Applying for internships and jobs is, in some ways, a numbers game. Apply to as many as possible. Use your college career center for help, to find opportunities, and advice, and, also, don’t be afraid to check out Craigslist if you’re looking to make some extra money — I made $300 in a month by being a user in the beta run of a mobile app.
Personally: Cut out people who are in toxic places in their lives. Perhaps this isn’t as applicable to juniors as it is to my individual experience. Either way, look out for yourself. I like to believe that people are ultimately good. This means that the term “toxic people” doesn’t refer to bad people, but rather refers to people who are going through a bad stage. While you want to be there for your friends who are going through hard times, make space when it starts to really damage you, too. Some people aren’t looking for help yet, and you should give these people the resources and direction they need, and then give them space.
Personally: No new friends. This is the year of lasts. Last college Halloween, last winter finals session, last spring break — you get the picture. Make time for the people who matter. While you may see them again, you will probably not be seeing them as frequently. Enjoy the now and try not to freak out about [the lack of] post-grad plans.
Wherever you are in your college journey, maybe some of this advice will help.
…Now if someone could give me a list of what they’ve learned since graduating college, that would be great.