Dear Nicole of 2014,
Stay strong through these last few weeks of high school. You are going to have to work very hard in the next few years, but college is going to be everything you hoped it would be and more. There will be adventures, triumphs, and learning experiences galore. Of course, there will also be times of stress – they just make the fun times even better and the victories sweeter.
You are going to look back on your college experience one day not too far from graduation and discover that you are satisfied with what you have accomplished. This doesn’t mean, of course, that there aren’t a few things you might change if you had the chance. I thought I would let you in on a secret I’ve learned now, so you can make the most of your college experience.
Are you ready? Here’s what I want you to remember: College is a balancing act. Sure, you are there to learn lots of useful information and skills for the “real” world, but there is more to college than bookwork. In addition to practicing great study strategies, you should take in as many chances to develop relationships with people as you can.
Be the first to say hello to the people you meet on the way to class. Even a small smile can make someone’s day when they are running about their stressful college business. You are privileged to attend a university full of friendly people who will draw you out of your shy side; you can repay the people who have been kind to you by initiating a moment of kindness with someone.
Speaking of that shy side – I totally understand that you are too introverted to want to be around people all the time, but I don’t want you to hibernate in your dorm room, either. Although sitting next to fellow students you don’t know very well in the dining commons is awkward, you will almost always feel more confident about your socializing skills after you find a friendly-looking person in the crowd and ask to sit with them.
In college, you will discover more about yourself than you ever knew before because you will have experiences you have never had before. Your best experiences will come from interacting with students, professors, and, eventually, coworkers. Go to those on-campus activities you see all those flyers for but talk yourself out of going to at the last minute. Go to that lecture in the science hall that sounds intriguing even if none of your friends are going to be there. Use those quiet moments in your room to recharge, then get back out there and experience life on campus.
I also want you to remember that you don’t have to say yes to everything. Some amazing opportunities are going to come your way that you never expected – academic conventions that will take you across the country, a part in a Christmas play, and an on-campus job, to name a few. Just because an opportunity is amazing, however, doesn’t mean you have to take it. Be choosy about what you do. You are in college first and foremost to get that degree, and putting out good work is harder when you have a commitment for every hour of the day…and then have to do homework on top of that. (Trust me, that all-nighter you’re going to pull sophomore year trying to get three term projects done is not going to be easy.)
The bottom line, Nicole, is that with some hard work, you are going to be just fine in the end. College graduation will come even faster than high school graduation seemed to come. Find a nice balance between schoolwork, social time, and new opportunities you find along the way, and you will have the best college experience you could ever dream of having.