Graduation is knocking on my door and I can’t wait to answer it! With that in mind, I decided that my first post for the great month of October should be a reflection of the past [FAR TOO MANY] years of college that I’ve gone through. Also, I went through a list of prompts for posts and this was one. When considering what lessons I’ve learned, I tried to only pick the 10 most essential lessons to my growth into adulthood.
1) I should have taken high school seriously
I feel old for saying this, but my memories from when I was a high school senior have become foggy. What I do remember though, is that I was not very concerned about college or high school. By my senior year, I had come to the realization that I would probably not live past the age of 30 and I did not see my dreams of becoming a scientist or moving to Japan as realistic.
I applied to one college after high school, which I wanted to be accepted into very badly, but they rejected my application. My parents were very against my wishes to enlist into the Army instead of going to college, so I applied to a random school up in the mountains of Georgia and got accepted. It was on my first day of orientation that I realized I should have taken high school seriously. I struggled with the SAT and was administered the COMPASS test, which determined that I needed to take remedial math.
Truthfully, it wasn’t until about a year or two ago that I realized that I should have been more career-driven and focused in high school. The revelation was brought on by my need for more money to pay for school and my desire for a scholarship. However, I hadn’t done anything- not even the bare minimum in high school to put myself in the running for funding, so I would have to prove myself during my college years.
Looking back, I also wish that my mental health had been addressed in high school, especially following traumatic events. Seeing a counselor regularly or at least attending a church summer camp/youth group to build my confidence and overcome trauma would have probably helped, although I might have rejected the latter. (I lost interest and faith in religion by high school.) If I could give advice to a hopeless teen, it would be this; start hanging out with people who don’t make you feel hopeless, seek free mental health opportunities (if you’re unable to get to paid sources), and don’t give up on your dreams.
2) College is seriously expensive
When people talk about the cost of college, they don’t just mean tuition. If only some had helped me to visualize the costs of college and how difficult it is to come up with the money, before I even entered 9th grade. I didn’t realize until after I entered my first year of university, that tuition was the least of my concerns. I never knew how expensive food was or how the costs add up for laundry and toilet paper. Not to mention the cost of transportation when you don’t have a parent to take you everywhere.
When people talk about how expensive college is or how students are always broke, they’re not joking. It wouldn’t be until nearly 2.5 years later that I would develop a sense of urgency to even get a job to help to support myself.
3) College roommates and neighbors are inconsiderate
Accepting this is the first step of learning to live with it.
My first year of college, I learned something very new about myself. I am a quiet home dweller and I am very sensitive to noise. This pairs horribly with the fact that college students are usually young, immature, inconsiderate people. It’s not out of malicious intent, but they aren’t used to living on their own and having to consider someone else. The idea of a white noise machine and earplugs never even came to my mind until years later and instead I would constantly call the leasing office and campus security on my neighbors (who grew a strong disdain for me). Most people grew up in a house where their parents were the enforcers of co-existence, and without their presence, college students tend to do what ever they want without considering how it affects someone else. By now, I’ve grown to recognize this as normal and I would probably not live with or near young college students ever again.
One thing that I never took advantage of until the end of my freshman year was the idea of a roommate agreement. A lot of my roommate issues could have probably been easily resolved by simply talking to my roommate about our expectations, rather than getting mad at one another and harboring the frustration until it bubbled over. I didn’t give my first two roommates this courtesy, but once I did learn to, I always had an enjoyable roommate experiences because we understood what it took to co-exist and what we would be called-out for not upholding. This also helped me to become a better roommate when I would get called out for being a hypocrite or not holding up my end of the agreement.
4) If you can afford to do unpaid work (in your field of study), do it
I have never really been deeply invested in the idea of internships. They have never appealed to me because I have not heard enough success stories to link them to a higher chance of getting a job, post-graduation. However, my freshman year, I was offered the opportunity to work on a microbiology research project. I accepted the offer because I thought it would be fun, not to mention being a research scientist was my dream-job. What I didn’t know or consider, was that I was doing actual work that could be put on my resume. Oh, how I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to do as many of those unpaid projects as I possibly could. I had the time and I was not working a job, so I didn’t have much of a demand for money.
I was fortunate enough to begin working as a (paid) researcher when I began to take college seriously. However, I am now aware of how research projects work and that many of them may begin as being unpaid. They are perfect opportunities for young, new students who need job experience for a resume or to learn if they like that occupation.
5) Start making decisions without anyone’s approval
I used to have a “best friend” that I would call before I made any major decisions. He “would” call me before he made any serious decisions too. But one week, he was too busy to talk to me or discuss what I had going on. Then he became habitually unavailable. I had (far too many) other friends who I would call before I did things, but he was my official consultant because I’d get so many different recommendations. I had become entirely too dependent on him to make any decisions and I struggled to make smart choices without him.
Fast-forward past many bad decisions and the excuse of “not knowing any better” and I have learned that I can do for myself is to make decisions on my own. There will be many choices that I would be faced with that I needed to deal with on my own. In fact, the less people involved, the better. I may consult with my mom first, but even then, I have finally begun to grasp the ways to determine if a choice will be “right” for me. I have also learned to pray and become sensitive to the convictions of the Holy Spirit.
6) Do lots of research into your future career
This is a habit that I should have gotten into as a high school student, in my opinion. I should have taken career compatibility tests that were offered, attended career-based seminars, and volunteered more in my future field so that I could ask the professor in charge lots of questions. Even if you don’t know what you want to do, college is the time to start figuring out the direction that you think you want to go into.
A simple start would be to google jobs that you can get with the degree you’re seeking. Look through potential job lists, watch YouTube videos, etc. Also, FYI it is possible to have a career in a combined field. So, for example, if you love Biology but you’d like a job in art- be aware that opportunities for a career in that exist.
7) Use free time for self-enhancement
I mean this in every way. Experiment with your wardrobe and your look, learn how to shop on a budget, get a hobby, invest time in gaining expertise in your field of study (beyond what you learn in class), learn how to properly clean and maintain cleanliness, learn how to cook, and practice becoming a better, more tolerable person with friends.
Especially when I was a freshman, I spent my free time sleeping. If I wasn’t doing that, I was shopping, talking on the phone (about nothing), or watching TV. When I returned to college 4 years ago, I spent my free time at a job that gave me nothing but headaches, online dating, and sitting at home depressed/lonely. About a year and a half ago, I finally realized that free-time was a gold mine of opportunities to ensure my success post-graduation.
8) Worrying about the future makes things go slower
When I graduate, I want to move and start to grow some roots somewhere. I want to find love eventually and start a family. I want to make no less than $40,000 per year and I want to pay off my student loans. But that is so far from now and I can’t afford to get caught up over things that have yet to happen. Even simple things like my grades, I can’t afford to stress over them. Instead, I have finally learned to do things that align with my goals and allow the rest to happen on its own. Believe me, it’s tough. I have only began to master this over the past couple of months, but it’s worth trying to start.
9) Friends are still regular people
I wrote a post a while ago about my take on friendship. It was inspired by the lessons I’ve learned about elevating people in my life to an expectation that they can not uphold. I have experienced the loss of friendships that I never expected to end, as well as the pains of simply growing apart. However, once I stopped putting so much weight into the term “friend”, it really did not bother me anymore.
A friend is someone who can support you through the good and bad times. They can be great companions for adventures and some of the best memories. Friends can be life long or simply seasonal, and both are okay and should be treasured. But, friends are only human. They may disappoint, abandon, hurt, or even betray you and it will sting for a lot longer if you hold on to the situation because they were your “friend”, instead of seeing them as only human and moving on (with or without the relationship continuing). It’s not good to lean too much onto friends for this very reason and the best thing to do is to learn how to appreciate and enjoy your friends, while still learning to be independent and enjoy times when you’re by yourself.
10) It’s better to graduate later, with more experience, than to graduate on time with nothing
Not counting my first attempt at college, which only lasted 1 tragic year, I’ve only been a student for 4 years. Several semesters of the first 2.5 years were spent as being a part-time student. Yet, I managed to let myself feel like I’ve been a full time student for 5+ years. That is, until this past summer came along and I had a chance to put my mind at ease for the first time in my adult life.
If I had graduated on time, from my very first college, I would have finished at the tinder age of 21 years old. However, that’s all that I would have had when I graduated. I would not have grown as much as I have as a person, I would not have met the people I’ve met, I would not have converted to Christianity, and I would not have much insight on what to do after I graduated. In fact, my parent had moved out of America, so I couldn’t even really “go back home”. Or, even if things went exactly the way they have so far, but I graduated last December, I would not have had the job experience that I’ve got now or gained the scholarly status that I now hold.
Graduating on my currently anticipated date is the best thing for me. Sure, it’s later than I’d like. Sure, I’m really tired of undergrad. But I can graduate now and not really worry much about what I will do after graduation because I’ll have the time, wisdom, and the accolades that I need for success. Would I suggest that someone intentionally takes as long as possible to graduate? Not at all. But if your date gets pushed back, look at it as an extended opportunity to prepare yourself.
I am a firm believer that you can get so much more than just a degree when you decide to go to college. It is an opportunity to learn and grow among peers. It is (unnecessarily) costly, but it’s an investment. You have access to so many opportunities and people to network, that by the end of it you can gain experience that will carry you through life. Or at least, that’s been my take on things.