The 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting College
I’m about six months away from finishing my last exam, walking campus one final team, and leaving the place that defined the start of young adulthood. There’s a million articles you could read about how to prepare for college, but truthfully no one can tell you what to do or expect. Everyone’s experience will be different, but there’s a few virtues that I wish I would have accepted and embraced prior to moving to Boston just three years ago. If I met the person who nervously moved across the country with eagerness and excitement, I probably wouldn’t recognize them. I’ve grown in so many aspects that it proves college is far more than the academics. It’s embracing newfound independence while learning exactly how to treat yourself.
Here’s just ten things I would tell that kid if I had the chance. He probably would just brush these off, but who knows what doors they could’ve opened if I’d had embraced them earlier.
10. Your new life will take a while to fall into place.
I blame movies and media for painting a picture of what college will exactly look like. I remember everybody moving in freshmen year thinking your new life will be that movie, that your roommate will be your best friend, you’ll spend every weekend partying, and you’ll meet somebody to spend the rest of you life.
So when a few months later you find yourself alone on a Saturday night watching a Netflix show that reminds you of home while everybody else on Instagram is out and about, it’s difficult to accept the normalcy in that.
The best advice is to move in and begin with clear expectations. Have goals — talk to someone new, eat three meals a day, budget your money, get a job — but allow flexibility to prevent disappointment. And this is hard, trust me, I was constantly fantasizing and attempting to manifest the college dream. Do it. It’ll sort out and make the many decisions coming your way easier, but don’t let it be the rubric to your experience.
If you’re home alone on a Saturday night calling your mom, that’s not wrong. It takes time to grow comfortable with life. I think we often forget that everybody is ultimately having the exact same experience. If somebody’s at a party while you’re in bed, their experience isn’t perfect either. If your current friends aren’t fulfilling you like your high school friends did, give it time. Or let them go. Even seniors will tell you their routine wasn’t established until recently, and maybe it hasn’t even yet. Remember that this is part of the fun, though. Embrace the changes and allow yourself to figure out exactly what you value.
09. Say yes to every opportunity (with rationale, of course).
I have to preface this by saying don’t do drugs, anything that contradicts values up until this point, or anything that puts you in harms way. Now that I’m done parenting, say yes to everything.
Almost every moment that has defined my college career or opportunity I’ve been given was a result of accepting something new and saying yes when I didn’t want to. You build connections insanely quick, expand your network, and discover new passions only if you do so. Don’t stick to what you did in high school. My very first day of freshmen year I went to BUTV10, Boston University’s own television station, to explore broadcast journalism. I’d never stepped foot in a studio before. Now, three years later, I’ve been producing the show for the past semesters and have created lifelong friendships through the show. I’ve been able to coach newcomers on everything I’ve learned, connect with new alumni for insight and job opportunities, and build a portfolio of producing experience and on-camera reels. It’s all because I simply said yes when my friend Josee invited me to shadow back in September 2017. I couldn’t imagine my life if I had passed.
I also said yes to a job offer that I didn’t feel I qualified for freshmen year. Now, I’m still working there, have been able to declare more financial independence, connected with professionals at the university, been able to attend special events, and network with communication professionals at the university who have offered to share their network with me upon graduation.
I could list a million more examples — but say yes. It’s also better to say later on that something’s not for you than to have never tried it at all.
08. The choices of others won’t matter, and shouldn’t matter, as much as they do.
In high school we are heavily influenced by the decisions of others. There’s a sense of status based on popularity, too. However, when you move to college there’s thousands of people and ultimately too many to determine popularity. No one knows everyone. Most people will never even met beyond 50 percent of the student population.
When you first arrive, you’re confused. You have so much time. No one is telling you what to do. You don’t have to ask permission for things as often. So, naturally, we look towards others to fill this void and add familiarity. Most of the time though, we find ourselves in situations under their guidance our own intuition wouldn’t lead us to, and then we validate this by listening to advice (like I’ve just given) to try new things.
This is inevitable, but when it comes remember that you have every right to define your own decisions and path. If something isn’t for you (and you’ve tried it!) say no. Allow yourself to stay in. The biggest lesson in adulthood I’ve learned isn’t about my role in the world, it’s about my role to myself. It takes us a bit longer than it should to learn that taking care of ourselves is more than finding dinner or getting enough sleep. It’s about recognizing what’s for you and being unapologetic about it.
07. Focus on the relationships you need to build.
One of the toughest things to navigate will be the relationships you build and break down. It’s simple, though. If you get a text and you don’t immediately want to reply, your heart sinks, or you feel a weight, this person isn’t likely somebody you need around. If somebody reaches out to you and you both mutually go out of your way for one another, this is a relationship worth building.
It’s confusing because all relationships when starting college are new and everybody acts a certain way out of insecurity of jumping into a pond of fish they’ve never met. Allow time and opportunities for new friends to show their true colors — but not at the expense of your health and energy wellbeing.
06. And in return, don’t bear the burden of maintaining relationships.
Don’t be afraid or hesitant to let a friend go. This especially is important in keeping in contact with high school friends. I maybe still talk to one or two people I went to high school with. That number shrinks over time and it’s tough to let go of people who have defined your life up until this moment. Relationships of any kind are work, but when it becomes work you don’t adore, then that’s when you have to ask yourself if it’s worth maintaining. It’s never easy, but nothing about adulthood is either. I guarantee once the band aid is ripped off though, you’ll feel better and be open to starting healthy relationships to support the other inevitable stress headed your way.
05. Recognize your needs and ask for help.
Nobody is inherently equipped with everything I need. The truest form of maturity is asking for help and realizing you aren’t able to accomplish everything on your own.
Your college tuition isn’t just for academics. It’s for the resources exclusive to the student experience. Whether it be resume help, an innovation center, or advising, the most successful students are the ones making the most of every penny of tuition.
04. Being selfish is okay.
You’re in school to improve yourself academically, professionally, and personally. The objective is to take care of yourself and do what you need to do for yourself. I struggle with being overly empathetic to the point of losing focus on caring for my own wellbeing. Any feeling of selfishness whether that be letting a friend down by passing on a night out or taking time for yourself is temporary.
It’s okay to be selfish. You’re supposed to analyzing yourself from a new perspective that you couldn’t when living under someone else’s roof.
03. Plan your exit strategy. What do you need to do in the next four years?
The last thing you want to think about is leaving, especially when you start. But it’s an important step. As you’re in the car or on the plane to move in to school for the first time, think about yourself in four years. What do you need to do? What defines that success?
You might not know these answers yet, and that’s completely normal. But think — what made you pick where you’re headed? What about that school is equipping you with something unique? This is likely where your end goal comes from. Keep this in mind. I’m motivated by the future, but I understand this is intimidating for some. Incorporate your confidence and feelings when you envision walking across the commencement stage as much as you feel healthy.
02. Budget yourself, but find yourself.
You’ve definitely heard about how college students are broke. It’s true, and because your full-time job is school. I’d say just about all my friends ended up working a job of some sorts. This is absolutely a case-by-case scenario. All my friends budget differently. Some invest, some save, while others have a surplus of disposable income. It’s a topic I’ll definitely address in another blog post, but for now I will say creating a budget isn’t obsessive — it’s necessary.
Despite having housing and likely a meal plan paid for up front, you’ll be surprised with the additional expenses of living on your own. My freshmen year surprised me. It was no longer my mom picking up essentials or heading to our cabinet to grab more toothpaste. It was now up to me to head to the store, and receipts add up quick.
Take the first few months or semester to watch how you spend and evaluate from there. I love spreadsheets, so that’s how I work with mine. But learn what works for you — and hey, don’t forget to ask for help!
01. Accept your interests, routines, and expectations will change. Expect the unexpected. Do what scares you.
Alright! Here we are. I wanted to end on hopefully an uplifting note.
Accept that all of this will change. The life you know one day will seem foreign in a months time. You’ll think you’ve learned it all until tomorrow when you realize you no longer recognize the person you were.
Do what scares you. College is a safety net. If you fall, you have plenty to fall back on. Take risks. Dream up something and create it.
I started a media company while in college. I hosted a conference in downtown Boston to network young creators and artists from all backgrounds. I ended up touring the country with music I’d written about my college experiences. If this sounds all out of reach for you, I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised with where you’ll be by the time you approach graduation. There’s not a moment I regret of my college experience. Some were more impactful than others, and some are best to forget, but ultimately they craft you into the adult you leave as.
Remember to be selfish, say yes, take risks, and quite frankly the most important — call your parents. They’ll miss you. And you won’t admit it, but you miss them too.