Important advice is usually given at commencement. Live your dreams, be brave, take chances – you’ve likely heard all of this before, even if you are just starting out your freshman year this September. It’s nothing new, but it is very true, and poignant, and there will be many times in your life when you need to hear those sorts of things. But the type of advice I want to give you, little chickadees, is about what to do with the next four years, while you are still in college.
People my age and older always lament that we wish we could do it again. From the parties, to the academia, the meal ticket, and the sex – if only we had another go at it we’d do it better, work harder, learn more, and yes – take more chances. College is the one time in your life where, for many of you (not all, but many), your freedom from responsibility will be at it’s greatest peak, and you deserve to enjoy it, which is why I am going to tell you some things you must do.
Join That Group You Were Afraid/Not Talented Enough/Too Busy To Join In High School.
Whether this is the art club, the tennis team, the LGBTQ organization, or even something less organized but just as cool, now is your chance to become that person you’ve wanted to be for so long. Try musical theater. Take some non-competitive dance classes. Learn about science. Kids in college are much more social than kids in high school, and they will be open to teaching you what they already know. Your professors will be great, but your peers will be the people you learn the most from; I can almost guarantee that.
Grow In Every Direction, Especially Horizontally.
Gain the freshman 15. Gain it while you’re up late studying. Gain it when you order pizza with your roommates. Gain it when you try beer for the first time. Gain it going on dates, eating food in a new city, or bucking vegetarianism. Allow yourself to enjoy food as a social event, or a bonding experience. Don’t be afraid of it. You have the rest of your twenties to feel guilty about that bag of Cheetos. Eat everything now.
Experience All Types.
This is a way harsh thing for me to say, but if you are dating someone from high school and planning on staying together through college, reconsider. Some people aren’t about just hooking up, and you might be one of those people. But even still, by staying with someone who you only see a few times a year, you are limiting yourself from a wide array of other types of people. The jock-type who never noticed you in algebra class now lives on your floor and says hi to you ever morning. Does it mean anything? Allow yourself to flirt and smile and daydream about other people. Get kissed and kiss others. Play spin-the-bottle if you have to. Learn what type of romance you want to get and give, and use that to gauge the type of relationships you want to have as an adult. Don’t limit yourself. Lovers are like majors, you can switch a couple times in college before it becomes an issue.
One of the best parts about being in college is not having to deal with your parents every day. There, I said it. But you know what? Chances are, if you are going to college more than 20 miles away, you are going to miss the crap out of them. You are going to miss the meals they cooked for you, the laundry they washed and folded, the way they told you to “sleep tight” every night. The hardest part is, after college, after you’ve experienced that bittersweet taste of freedom, nothing is ever the same. You can always go home, but it will be different. So call them a few times a week. Tell them you miss them, ask about the dog, and plan your trip home for the holidays. They’re so proud of you – give them more things to brag about.
Start Making Plans, But Make Very Few Promises.
Don’t do pre-law if you know in your heart you want to be a writer, or a teacher, or a veterinarian. Search yourself long and hard and take some liberal arts classes to find out what truly interests you. College is meant for exploration, and now – with the job market the way it is – you might as well take advantage of that. The chances of you coming out of college with a job in the field you majored in are very slim, so study lots of different fields. Write the best damn papers you can write, don’t sleep through class, and read all the books you’re assigned. Don’t bother with Cliff’s Notes – no one ever said Cliff’s Notes changed their life. Read the classics. Read new stuff. Ask for recommendations from friends. Don’t become something or someone you don’t want to be because someone pressures you to. Again, you will do enough of that in your twenties.
This is what college is about. From Wesleyan to Hofstra, UMass to Berkeley – students all across the United States will agree that the best times they had in college were also the weirdest. There will be things like nudist marching bands. Dorm parties with disco themes. Gay pride parades with more leather and latex than you ever thought possible. You will meet polyamorous folks, people who don’t believe in buying new stuff, alcoholics, Magic The Gathering obsessives, and guys who are really into feet. All of these people are worth meeting and knowing, at least for the next 4 years or so. Find what is weird about yourself (improv groups are a good place to start), and embrace it. Your secret is safe with the other 20,000 kids on campus.