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Things I Wish I Knew Before College

I still cannot believe that I’m a senior in college.  It seems like just yesterday that I applied to my dream school!  When I look back on the past four years, however, I see just how much I’ve learned and grown and I realise, “Huh, maybe it was that long ago….”  Who knows where I’d be now if I’d learned these things earlier?  That being said, I’m sharing the seven things I wish I knew before college with you here today.

There’s a difference between peaking and succeeding.

When I graduated high school, I had a deeply rooted fear:  what if I’d peaked in high school?  I was never crazy popular, not valedictorian, not prom queen.  But I was the president of too many clubs, and an officer for those I wasn’t.  I starred in drama club productions and had a tendency toward being the teacher’s pet.  Come graduation, I was given honours and awards and thought “what if this is my high point?”

I worried for nothing.  Sure, I was successful in high school, but it paved the way for success going forward, not a downward spiral of searching for my “glory days.”  Honestly?  I hated 99.9% of high school.  I’m not ecstatic at college, either.  I dream of the future, where I can have a full-time job and a dog and an apartment with too many bookshelves.

Yet, I’ve been successful.  I met the Eisenhower family within weeks of getting to college.  I’ve made Dean’s List and joined honours societies and got an amazing internship that turned into a job I honestly love.

So I didn’t peak in high school.  I haven’t peaked in college, either.  I’ve been successful, and foresee the same levels of success moving forward.

Learn to hack the dining hall.

Fun fact:  the food at my college was a significant factor in my falling in love with the school.  Bonus:  members of the dining hall staff are some of my favourite people on campus.  They’re surprisingly inclusive (a must for me, being vegan and having to cut back on gluten), and I’m incredibly aware of how lucky I am to have them.

That being said, sometimes you just need something different.  Learning a few basic hacks will save you from eating cereal for dinner (simply because you don’t want any of the normal options, not because you want cereal.  If you want cereal, eat your cereal!).  Learn how to steam some salad bar veggies in the microwave.  Add some cheese from the deli section to your plain rice or pasta.  Get creative!  Stuck?  Check out Pinterest for some ideas (and follow us while you’re there!)

If you have kitchen access, consider cutting back your meal plan, too.  My school requires a meal plan for most students, but I have the lowest possible option—that way, I can cook when I want to, or stop by the dining hall for special events, my favourite meal, or a quick stop when I’m stuck on campus.

Cooking for yourself?  Check out our recipes for some inspiration!

GenEds are both amazing and terrible.

Confession:  some of my lowest grades have come from courses in my majors.  Sometimes I’ve been out of my focus topics, sometimes I’ve just had not-great professors.

Some other grades that I haven’t been thrilled with have been from my non-major courses.  These have been the classes that I have to take to graduate but dreaded from the moment I enrolled.  Astrophysics.  Art History.  I’m a writer, how am I supposed to handle these?

I got through them, slowly but surely.  I struggled and no, I wasn’t always happy with my grades.  Yet, these were some of the most interesting courses I’ve taken.  Can I tell you the complex equations of the stars?  No, but I love looking at them more than ever.  Can I identify a piece of art with its date, era, artist, and fun facts?  No, but I can go to a museum and appreciate the pieces.

GenEds have frustrated me to the point of tears, yet they’ve also given me experiences I’d never experience in courses solely within my majors.

Your roommate situation isn’t the end-all, be-all.

I’ve had my share of roommates since coming to college.  Some were great!  Others, not so much.

In my experience, I’ve actually had the best experience with those I hadn’t known before!  Fellow college students, what’s your take?

However, even with my worst roommates, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Maybe you’re just entering college, with dreams of you and your roomie being BFFs, or maybe you’re dreading living with another human being.

Either way?  You’ll be fine, I promise!  You can make friends outside of the room.  There are other places to hang out.  You can manage to coexist semi-comfortably in most situations.

That being said, there are some situations where you shouldn’t put yourself through it.  If you or someone else is in danger, get out.  Stay with a friend, contact your housing department, etc..  Keep yourself safe.

Make friends.

Make friends who aren’t friends with one another.  Let them be in different years and from different places and with different majors.

I made a friend my first day at college and we remained best friends through our first two and a half years.  Then, we had a fight.

I realised that I’d spent the two and a half years I’d been at school hanging out with a bunch of people I hardly liked, much less wanted to be friends with, solely because they were also friends with this friend.  I’d let other friendships fall aside.  I found myself without close friends and unsure of how to make new ones.

I used the rest of the semester to rekindle old friendships.  Some of these accepted me with open arms, and I’m eternally grateful for them.  I went abroad and made new friends—some certainly haven’t lasted, even from the few weeks I’ve been Stateside, yet others are already stronger than those I’d had those first few years at college.

The point here is this:  you can make friends when you really want to.  You can make new friends if old friendships fall through.  Those that are really worth it will make the process easy.

Mentors are far from overrated.

I’ve been super lucky on this front:  I’ve got a mentor and a self-appointed “life coach,” both of which I actually met before moving to campus, not to mention the many people who’ve helped me along the way.

The point is, find someone who’s been where you are.  Find a person who knows what they’re doing and can advise you on the same.  Someone who’ll answer your frantic email when you think you might want to change your major.  The person whose office you can head to when you’ve had a rough day.  Find the one who’ll write you a recommendation letter when you suddenly decide to apply for a study abroad programme.

Find your person.

Your plan may change.

I came to school with a distinct plan of what I wanted to do in school and where I wanted to be after.  I was terrified when every orientation lecture stressed, “You don’t need to know what you want to major in!”  From the start, I knew, and I was prepared.  My first-year advisor stared at me:  “That’s ambitious.”

And to a point, I stuck to my plan.  Hell, I added to it.  I’ve had jobs and internships and too many extracurriculars on top of multiple majors and minors.

Nevertheless, I’ve got a totally different plan for post-grad.  Honestly, I don’t have the details ironed out (I even wrote an article about it over on Her Campus!).  But I’m confident that I’ll be happy with the outcome anyway.

In a way, I’m a completely different person than when I first went off to school.  Yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What do you wish you knew before you went to college?  What do you think you’ll learn along the way?

Things I Wish I Knew Before College


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