10 Things You Should Know Before Going off to College
By Alicia Harris
This article originally appeared on ESSENCE.com for a back-to-college content partnership with TLC.
So you’ve walked across the stage, thrown your cap in the air, and said goodbye to your closest friends. You’ve found your perfect college and move-in day is right around the corner! Although you’re excited for a fresh start, you’re also feeling nervous and anxious all wrapped up into one. Luckily, I know the feeling all too well. Here are 10 things that you should know before diving into this new chapter of your life!
1. You Are Enough
Let’s face it, you’re about to walk into a new environment, be forced to make new friends, and somehow come up with a clever answer to “So, what do you want to do with the rest of your life?” College can seem daunting at times. You don’t want to make the wrong decisions, but at the same time you’re faced head to head with problems and situations that you never knew existed. You may be questioning if you’re actually capable of venturing into the unknown and landing on your feet at the end of all of this. News flash, you are! You are more than capable of being independent and happy at the same time. You must remember that all of the lectures that you received from your parents, and the experiences that you have had thus far have prepared you for this very moment!
2. You Can Still Be You
Everyone will tell you that college is all about reinvention. Not only is everything changing around us, but now we are supposed to change ourselves! Sometimes we need to slow down and block out the noise. It’s important to be open to change and explore different sides of yourself throughout life, but don’t feel the pressure to transform into a person that you don’t want to be. There will be a lot of changes, and opinions thrown on you during this time of your life, however, you must remember your core values. Change the things that you don’t like, and keep the things that you do!
3. Disney Channel Lied
I’m sorry to break it to you, but most of the picture-perfect college scenes that you have watched at the movies and on your TV screen are made-up fantasies. Your first day won’t be full of flash mobs in the hallways, or cute boys that leave notes on your desk during every class period. You will probably get lost, lose your schedule, or spend all day trying to find the bookstore. But guess what? It’s okay! Your college experience will be full of highs and lows. Some days you will feel like a genius, and others will make you question your own sanity. But that’s the beauty of it all. The determination, excellence and curiosity for learning that you claimed in your application essays will be put to the test. But through it all, you must remember that you are more than capable of each and every goal that you set out to accomplish.
4. Nobody Cares Unless You Do
In high school most of us are lucky to have teachers who remind us about the homework that was due a week ago, and parents who willingly sacrifice their time to make sure that we not only get the homework done, but also make it to practice on time, and pack a lunch that will keep us satisfied throughout the day. College is an extreme wakeup call from this. Whether or not you pass or fail a class, eat lunch or even wash your clothes is dependent solely on you. This is the pivotal time in life where your destiny is truly in your hands. Although the independence is fascinating at times, it can also be stressful. Luckily, colleges and universities are staffed with hundreds of people who will willingly dedicate their time to make sure that you are successful. The important thing to remember is that in order for them to help you, you have to be willing to help yourself.
5. Alone Doesn’t Mean Lonely
Not all of your friends will have the same schedule as you. You may be a morning person who prefers to get all of your classes done before noon, whereas your friends are night owls and would rather sleep in than take an 8am class. Therefore, you may find yourself spending a lot of time alone during the weekdays. Ease your mind by knowing that no one cares if you eat lunch alone in the cafeteria or that you didn’t bring a friend with you to the interest meeting. Being alone doesn’t mean that you’re lonely and friendless. You will have way more free time in college than you did in high school. Take full advantage of this and find the things that interest you. Maybe it’s a yoga class at the gym, or sitting down with a good book on the quad. College is a unique time in life when you can figure out who you are and who you want to be. Take the time to develop your passions and find the things that excite you!
6. Your Friends Will Make Or Break You
I know that you have heard this line a thousand times throughout high school, but it is critical to understand before starting this new chapter of your life. Within my three years at college, I have watched countless students get caught up in everything but school and ruin their entire careers. It is easy to get caught up in the “hype” during your first year at college. There is basically a party for every holiday of the year, and most classes don’t take attendance. It can be enticing to stay out late on the weekdays, and dance the night away with your new “besties.” However, you must remember that this whole college thing isn’t free. Whether your parents are helping you out or it’s coming out of your own pockets, someone is putting thousands of dollars on the line for your success and it’s most likely not that cute boy you just met down the hall. It’s okay to go out and have a good time, but it’s more fun when you can go out knowing that all of your work is done for the day. Remember, college won’t last forever but your degree will.
7. Stress Won’t Make It Happen
College is full of surprises. Sometimes it’s a pop quiz that you are completely unprepared for or a vicious cold that hits you right before finals. During these harsh times, it’s easy to throw in the towel and hibernate under your covers while binge-watching Netflix. But Netflix won’t push back that chemistry deadline or deliver you a bottle of NyQuil. It’s easy to fall prey to stress and complain about everything that is wrong with the world. However, you have to remember that you are in control. Make it a habit to invest all of your time in finding a cure or a solution to a problem before you complain about it. Remember that there are hundreds of resources that you will have access to. Whether it’s a tutor, student clinic or counselor, there is a solution to every problem—you just have to find it!
8. Professors Are Cooler Than You Think
Office hours exist for a reason. Professors and staff are getting paid to spend time with you so take full advantage of this. Some of the most valuable relationships that I have gained throughout my college experience are with my professors. For most teachers, the best part of their job isn’t teaching a two-hour lecture, it’s the time they get to spend learning about their students. During my sophomore year, I took the time to get to know my professors and it was the best decision that I could have made. Not only do I have strong and thoughtful letters of recommendations, I have also gained a team of professionals who have been my biggest cheerleaders and advocates for the past two years. When it comes to internships and job offers, you will often look to your professors to stand as references. Make sure that they will be able to speak strongly of your character and avoid the generic recommendations that students typically get!
9. The Intern Grind Starts Now
The summer after my sophomore year, I moved to New York City to start my first internship. Throughout those three months, I met multiple college freshmen who had been on the intern grind since high school. Yes, high school. I was blown away by how much they already had on their resumes and the amount of experience that seemed normal to them. Before I left for the Big Apple, I believed that obtaining an internship after my sophomore year was considered “early” but that mindset quickly changed. During our freshmen year of college, we are constantly told that we have time to figure everything out. This cripples our mindset and allows us to believe that an internship at this stage of the game isn’t crucial. However, this is the biggest lie. In some areas of the country, interning as a freshman is still considered late. It’s okay to not know exactly the route that you want to take within your career during your first year, however, it is not okay to sit down and wait for the revelation to come to you! Whether it’s an internship, externship, or a shadowing experience, find ways to get your hands dirty and immersed into industries that interest you.
10. It Won’t Be Easy, But It Will Be Worth It
As I am entering into my senior year this upcoming semester, I am more confident than ever in my ability to achieve my dreams. Although college wasn’t the picture perfect fairytale that I envisioned, it was everything that I needed. I have studied abroad in China, worked for two of the largest advertising agencies in the world, and have made lifelong friends. My biggest piece of advice is to enjoy the ride. If you do it right, there will be sleepless nights, hours of studying, failures and times when you want to give up. But at the end of it all, there is light. College allows you to discover your strengths, claim your independence and pave the way for a future that is everything that you’ve dreamed of. It is one the most unique and exhilarating times of your life! Graduation will come faster than you think so you must decide early on that you will relish in every single page of this chapter.