This time roughly three years ago I was sitting at my friends kitchen table staring at a waitlist letter from my dream school feeling like I had lost all energy to decide what to do next.
Maybe it was partially because of a classic case of “senioritis” sneaking up on me, or maybe it was because the decision to decide what to do next for the next 4 years of my life at only 17 was too much for me to comprehend. But as I sit here now, reflecting on my choices as someone about to re-enter another year of senior year, this time with a much more daunting task of job searching and potentially moving who-knows-where for the next chapter of my life, I’ve learned a few lessons from the past that I wish someone had told me while I sat there, staring at a letter that was a blessing in disguise.
Where you choose to go for college is not the main determinant of your future.
It may not feel like it now and it can be distracting to stare at the stats, rankings, and endless online forums of internet strangers giving contradicting advice, but at the end of the day your college experience is what you make of it.
I was determined to go to my dream school, and despite getting waitlisted at first, there was a feeling in my gut that wasn’t all to disappointed because deep down I felt like there was a reason why. Financially, I was already unprepared to pay nearly $75,000 a year for an undergraduate degree, and part of me couldn’t reason with the idea of graduating at 21 and having over $100,000 in debt. Looking back now, I have no regrets for where I ended up because what I experienced at my current university has brought me to exactly where I was meant to be.
Where you choose to go to college is a stepping stone to so much more. You will encounter so many new ideas, people, and experiences that will make you realize that getting that job, internship and that career really has nothing to do with your degree if you can focus on your own skills and strengths and how to best utilize them wherever you are. Success isn’t measured by accomplishments, but by growth and your ability to move forward no matter what you’re doing and where you are.
That first year of college DOES matter – so don’t slack off and don’t be scared!
For some of you this might be the first time you leave your small hometown and suddenly you’re on a campus of 30,000+ people. For others, you’re moving cross country on an adventure you’ve been waiting for your whole life.
You’ll meet people along the way who will recruit you into clubs, frats and sororities, or tell you none of it matter because your first year is the easiest year and a chance to do nothing at all. While it’s true that your first year is often a time of exploration, it’s important to also view this year as the foundation to your career, graduation path, and many new lifelong experiences and friends.
My biggest and most important advice when moving in and settling down is to go out and step out of your comfort zone. Sure, you came in pre-med but make the effort to take a diversity of classes, like taking a history or political science class, and you might find yourself wanting to declare a new poli-sci minor. Join clubs and find that social circle of like minded people. Say yes to new member meetings and yes to receiving help whether it’s finding a classroom or trying that new dish in the dining hall. Your life is in the biggest transitional time of your life and there’s no better moment to rebrand and rediscover old interests, or find new ones.
Don’t feel pressured to compete.
One of the most difficult thing many students deal with once they get into college is actually staying there. It’s an unspoken taboo in the American college experience and frankly, a common one that should be discussed when talking about transitions, mental health, and entering your 20s.
Sometimes you’ll sit in class wondering how the person next to you got into your school. Sometimes you’ll see a person who just got an internship at Google and wonder how you’ll ever reach that level of success. You’ll see a huge gap and wonder where you fall in the masses of people. But the truth of the matter is: it doesn’t matter.
You are your own person, and nobody else’s. Your decisions and choices are your own, so whether you think you need to be a doctor because your parents told you too, or if you’re worried your passion for art will bring you nowhere, don’t be discouraged to let that out to a friend, professor, or so many other resources because that feeling of wanting to fit in with the expectation of success but feeling under-qualified is not uncommon.
That mental block is never-ending and something people face no matter their age, success, or where they are in life. But that isn’t to say you’ll never feel contempt, rather, goes to show that true happiness and achievement comes from when you realize that doing what YOU deem as the goal you want for yourself is enough, and you don’t have to prove anything to anybody.
Take a mental break from time to time. Find a hobby. Maintain those relationships with people who will often be there even past graduation. There is no timeline to becoming the person you want to be, so don’t feel pressured to accomplish something before you even know what it is you really want.
Success isn’t measured by accomplishments, but by growth and your ability to move forward no matter what you’re doing and where you are.
In all, the journey from this point on is something you can’t predict and often times, can’t control. And it’s true, it can be scary and overwhelming, but the one thing you can control is how you react and choose to stand back up.
You’ve already gotten into a university, and that feat alone is something to be celebrated. Don’t cave into peer pressure and don’t fall for all the hype. Listen to your professors and go to office hours. Join a club and listen in to a meeting; leave if it’s not your place and just keep looking. Introduce yourself to the stranger next to you in class and definitely get their phone number to make it easier for both of you in the future as the semester starts.
Above all, as you go in for orientation or pick your roommates – learn to communicate and ask for help. Help with your homework, help on LinkedIn for internship recommendations, help when you’re feeling down and unmotivated, and offer help in return.
Don’t worry too much and enjoy yourself. Trust me, it’ll pass by faster than you’re ready for.