I have been in college for nearly three years. Now, with just a single semester left to complete, I’ve been thinking about what I would have liked to have known years ago.
If you’re a high school junior or senior, you will hear piece after piece of advice in the coming months. Everyone will have some tidbit to chip in—don’t procrastinate, get plenty of sleep, and so on—and those are valuable and important to remember.
However, the reason everyone gives certain advice is because most people have done whatever it is that they are recommending you avoid doing: we all put off an assignment at some point and from time to time we all fall into bed hours after we intended to.
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Next time you visit your future school, ask a student what they would have done differently their freshman year. You’ll get advice that’s specific to your college from someone whose experience is still recent.
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You will likely find that there are many organizations and activities that you’re excited to join, and even if not, someone will likely recommend that you join x number of clubs. Basing your involvement around an arbitrary number isn’t a great strategy, though—at least not in the long run.
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During your first year, go to plenty of meetings for plenty of different organizations and narrow down the ones you’re interested in. Later on, find which one or two you’re passionate about and be involved in them to the max.
You can still be a part of other organizations, but your college experience will be that much more rewarding if you’re truly participating in even one extracurricular group.
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My last and probably most controversial and unpopular piece of advice is this: don’t join a fraternity or sorority. At the very least, wait until your sophomore year before rushing.
The financial commitment alone—we’re talking thousands of dollars over the course of your college career in pledge and initiation fees, chapter dues and extras like apparel and gifts for potential "bigs" and "littles" — is not something you want to be saddled with right off the bat.
Take some time and consider whether you actually need Greek life to be content and successful in college, or if you’re just fine the way you are. Find out who you are before marrying yourself to an organization. And if you decide to skip the rush and remain independent, rest assured knowing that you’re not missing out on anything.
At some point during your college career, and likely more than once, you will wonder if you made a mistake in choosing the school/major/organization that you did. That’s okay.
You know what’s also okay? Transferring, changing your major and dropping out of a club.
The great thing about college is that it is one of the few life experiences that you can essentially personalize as much as you want. And even if you’re worried about spending more time in school than you wanted to, you’re in good company: only 19% of students get their degree in four years!
When you’re in college, you’ll learn how to think critically and with an open mind—use those skills to think about your own college experiences as well. Don’t be afraid to take the road less traveled, or even to forge your own road.
For those of you who are seasoned college veterans, what do you wish you had known as a freshman? And incoming freshmen, what questions are on your mind?