After 5-1/2 years of tests, books, lectures, essays, and lots of studying, I finally received my bachelor’s degree. I’m relieved that I will never face another assignment in a college classroom. But the first August after graduation, I sat behind my desk at an insurance office and realized that I missed the chaos and uncertainty of the first day of school. I missed the nervousness of not knowing fellow classmates, the intimidating personal introductions to a classroom full of unknown faces, and the anxiety of reading a syllabus and seeing how many presentations and tests were scheduled.
The small town I grew up in had 200 students in my graduating class. I knew every teacher from kindergarten through senior year before meeting them at open house, and I knew my classmates. I sat with these people at high school football games, saw them at church on Sunday morning, and stood in line with them at the grocery store. Safe to say I was comfortable with them.
Starting college was uncomfortable. I didn’t know a single person on campus, I didn’t feel comfortable asking for help, and I didn’t know how to navigate the campus. It took me graduating with my Associate degree, attending a different college, and then returning to my original college to feel comfortable with college. By then, I knew the campus, I had friends in my classes, and I knew I could trust my professors.
During high school, there was very little college guidance. My mother didn’t attend college, so she wasn’t able to help. There was no one to answer this question for me: what should I do in college? Basically, I felt like I had thrown myself into an unfamiliar and scary situation.
I was terrified at first, but I pushed myself to overcome my fears. So, besides the history lessons, science experiments, and literary quotes that are etched in my mind, here are a few essential lessons I wish I had known before college.
What Should You Do in College? My Top 10 Best College Tips
1. Read every word of the book you are assigned—it won’t kill you
I promise. Yes, the first few chapters may be boring and a total pain to get through, but by the time you read the final word and close the back cover, you’ll have learned more about both life and yourself than you could have imagined.
2. Make friends
They are part of the most valuable things that will stick with you after graduation. You may not see them every day or even every six months, but they are there for you when you need them.
3. Don’t stress about speech class
The day after you give your first big speech, no one besides you can remember anything about your speech, and, honestly, six months later, neither can you. At the end of my speaking notes for all of my speeches, I wrote three simple words: You’re still alive. And after gut-wrenching stress, shaky hands, shaky knees, and about 20 squeaky speeches, here I am, still alive.
4. Listen to your professors—they’re way smarter than you think
Professors are tough, but they’re supposed to be. They don’t want students to miserably fail their class only to return the next semester and try it once more. Instead, they are selfless people who want students to excel. When professors give harsh, brutal advice, take note because they’re only helping you learn and grow.
5. Stop by your professors’ office to talk about something other than class
As intimidating as some professors may seem, they’re people, too. When you have a few extra minutes between classes, stop by your favorite professor’s office and ask if they’ve read your favorite book or watched your favorite movie. You may be surprised when their eye lights up, they say “yes,” and they invite you to have a seat.
Even if your friends are ready to hang out, take an hour to study before you put on your new favorite outfit and meet your friends. You will never regret spending an extra 30 minutes reading over your notes and acing your next test.
7. When a professor gives an assignment, don’t procrastinate
Whether it’s a six-page essay or a 30-problem math worksheet, when you wait until the last minute to do the work (even those of you who say you do your best work under pressure), you don’t have the necessary time to revise and edit. Don’t procrastinate, start early, and you’ll be happy with both the work you turn in and the grade you receive.
8. Be involved
My biggest college regret is my lack of involvement. Although I often thought about joining a club or writing for the school newspaper, I never took the chance because I was too scared to take a risk and step out of my comfort zone. I wish I could tell you how much I learned and experienced from a club, but I can’t because I wasn’t involved. Don’t make my mistake—be involved.
9. Do something that scares you
This may sound like strange advice, but risks are often necessary. I was offered a summer internship with a small town newspaper, but I was scared to commit because I knew nothing about writing for newspapers. Despite my fears, I took the internship, which turned out to be a decision for which I am thankful. I gained experience, knowledge, and a few new friends, all because I did something that scared me.
10. Trust your instincts—and your heart
If something feels wrong, make a change. After I earned my associate degree, I moved away from home to earn my bachelor’s degree. At first I was excited, but soon I was unhappy. I finished the year out, moved back home, and re-enrolled at the first college I attended. Going back was a great decision for many reasons including:
I made friends—classmates and professors—I’ll have for life. I took some insightful, inspiring classes from a few of the smartest, most caring professors, and I was given the courage to share my thoughts and feelings. If I had not trusted my instincts and followed my heart, I may have never had the courage to write these words that I hope will help you on your journey to college graduation.