It’s odd to title this “Post-Grad,” considering I’m still a student, but I can, with confidence, say that I am no longer in college. Recently I’ve been comparing my graduate experience to my undergraduate, which probably isn’t fair, because the two are about as similar as oak trees and color crayons. I complain about my college days a lot. Despite the overall disservice I have done myself through this complaining, I’ve gleaned some good things, I think. Aside from the academic stuff, I learned so much in college, mostly basic things about life. I’ll leave a lot of lessons for you to learn on your own, but if you’re preparing to embark on this journey, here are some things I wish I would’ve known first:
1. Friendships: Something magical happens at college, and I like to call it the “connection of the firsts.” You have them a lot with people, the ones you share those initial, stunningly-fabulous experiences with. You vow to be BFFs after your first session of dorm ridiculousness, and you might very well be BFFs, but don’t discount the others you don’t notice until two, three months, maybe even years, in. At every turn you, will have the opportunity to meet someone new. Go with your gut; talk to that person who interests you, even if he or she is outside of your group of magical firsts, really “different” from you from faraway glance, or intimidates you a bit. By the end of our four years together the midnight slurpee run that seemed magical at the time wasn’t enough to keep us friends, and the ones sitting next to me through the real, gritty moments were the ones I never shared a magical first connection with but an authentic one.
2. Homework and Class: Do it; it matters. When you think it doesn’t, it does. And when you think the professor doesn’t notice, he or she does. Okay, you definitely don’t have to do it perfectly every time, and I’m not saying to get a 4.0, but make learning a priority. Inevitably you’ll ditch class a few times, but try to go and take it seriously. It’s a respect thing, and it will make more sense later, even if you have to doodle your way through that boring lecture now. College might feel like an obligation or an expectation of your parents, etc., but don’t forget that it’s a privilege many people in the U.S. and other places would give everything to have. Once you have your degree, even if it’s in some obscure discipline you won’t touch again, it can’t be taken from you, and few things in life are like that anymore.
3. Money: If you don’t know what to do with or how to use it well, learn. This is your time to mess up and figure out how to make it work. Don’t get a million (heck, don’t even get one!) credit cards that you use for midnight pizza delivery and impulsive shopping trips for things you don’t need or want. Get a job, even if it’s only 10 to 15 hours per week, and learn how to use that money well. Don’t take out student loans to live off of if you can help it. Take money seriously, and if you don’t know how to do that, seek out the help of someone older who does. Set yourself up for financial freedom in your post-college days, when life will only get more expensive…
4. Exploration: Use your time at college to do new things. You want to study abroad? Do it. You want to try out that activity or get involved with that organization? Do it. You think it looks fun to make lattes? Become a barista. You see something that needs to be done or find something you really care about? Use your spare hours to volunteer. Now is your time to begin the never-ending process of finding yourself, so take advantage of the time and opportunity to do it. Yes, college life is about sitting around in sweats and watching an entire season of Lost in one weekend, but don’t let it be just that.
5. Be Uncomfortable: It’s all too easy to get comfortable in your college rut; you live in a bubble after all. Every once in awhile do something new, or, even better, do something by yourself, for the experience of it. You’ll learn better and more. Read the news or listen to NPR. If your campus is in the ‘burbs, go to the city, and vice versa. Explore the area where you are, even if you’ve “lived there your whole life.” There is inevitably something you haven’t seen or done.
6. Communicate: It’s amazing how awful I was at communicating before college. I’m not necessarily better now, but I know my pattern. Learn how to talk about things in person like that growing annoyance you have with your roommate over the sink of dirty dishes or how mad you are at your significant other. Don’t do it over chat, Facebook message, or text. Do it in person. Sit through that awkward confrontation. Unplug for awhile. Relationships will be a part of your life for the rest of it, whether they are healthy or hurtful, and knowing how to communicate is essential to keeping them strong.
7. Parents: Call them weekly. Tell them what you’re up to. Ask them about what they’re up to. Prioritize this relationship, even if feels like you’re ready to ditch ’em, you’re so over them, or you somehow know more than them after one semester at college. Your relationship will go through many phases, and you’re beginning possibly one of the hardest but best ones. Cut them some slack; they’re learning how to let you go. Cut yourself some slack; you’re learning how to need them in an entirely different way.
8. Love & Relationships: Balance is the key word here. Go on dates, have fun, and decide to be “official” or whatever it’s being called these days. You can do all that or none of that, but you should be the one to choose. When everyone around you is in a relationship, I assure you, they are not. Don’t let dating get in the way of friendships or new experiences, and don’t let the fear of missing out on experiences keep you from investing in a relationship with someone who is truly awesome. And don’t be that person who has to bring your significant other out for friend time. You might meet Mr./Mrs./Partner right in college and you might not; either way, it is okay, and you are okay. You are complete as is, and no one else will change that in college or post graduation.
9. Investing Yourself: You’ll have so many opportunities to get involved with things in college, and definitely do something or several things, but don’t do everything. When part of you is going every direction, you’re really going no direction. Be intentional with your time, and interact meaningfully with others; you’ll never go wrong. When you feel overwhelmed, chances are you’re overwhelmed, because you’re trying to have it all. This isn’t possible; learn this now. Breathe in. Breathe out.
10. Be Your Own Best Friend: Take care of yourself. Listen to your body. Don’t feed it empty calories, junk food, and a dinner of pizza and beer (at or after the age of 21) five out of seven nights of the week. Exercise. Journal. Listen to music. Figure out your stress triggers and what relaxes, centers you. SLEEP! I can’t stress that last one enough; I averaged five hours most nights. Why and how I ever did that is completely beyond me. Learn how to take care of yourself now, because it will only get harder as you age. Seriously, watch your own back. Do what’s best for you, even if no one else is thinks it’s the “right” or “cool” thing. Invest in things and relationships that challenge and support you. Be the person you are, and keep the person you want to be in sight. Work toward that person, but don’t be distraught when you’re not that person. Love yourself; if you don’t, others won’t.
🙂 Really, just have fun, and enjoy the ride. College was awesome, but I look back on it fondly, trusting that my best days wave at me from ahead. Cheers to THAT!