I attended my first college class of spring semester 2017 today. I’m a senior, hopefully graduating with a four-year degree in May. Since I’m almost done, I thought I’d do a post on my college experiences.
Not including the year I took off for health reasons, this is my fifth year of college. I started out thinking I was going to get a degree in the social sciences. I tried psychology, then cultural anthropology. I found out I didn’t really want to do either of them, so I switched to something I’ve always really loved. English with a Creative Writing emphasis. I knew I needed to do something with that – I couldn’t just get a high paying job with a simple English degree – so I took out a second area of study: Marketing. Marketing has a lot to do with both psychology and creativity, so I knew it would be perfect for me.
There, I found my true calling. My undergraduate degree will be in Creative Writing and Marketing. I love both subjects – English is all about reading and critical thinking, Creative Writing has been brutal but inspiring and helpful toward my writing skills, and Marketing involves lots of yucky technical terminology but also a great deal of psychology and creativity – plenty of room to maneuver. It’s also not terribly mathematical, which is nice because math is my one bad subject. (An eight year old could probably do math better than me, and I’m only sort of kidding.)
From there, I hope to go into advertising, promotion, social media, and business writing. My internship was a business writing job for an environmental organization. I also hope to professionally publish my own original short stories and poems – the stuff I’ve never posted online – starting in magazines and periodicals, and since I’m taking music classes, I also hope to eventually go with my guitar to some open mic nights in a big city and see where that leads me.
So I have lots of different plans. I’m going to try staying with my family, who do live near a big city, mostly for health related reasons. (I need to have someone on hand in case I have a health emergency, and I also need someone around as an emotional support system.)
I did not get into the college I originally planned on, and guess what? I survived. I ended up going to a different college, then switching from there to yet another college. I actually think the diversity and failure helped me become a more well rounded person. I also got my first really bad mark in college, and I survived that. College taught me how to fail – reminded me that a single failure is not the end of the world, and there can be benefits to going down an unexpected path.
My first official school interview was for college, and my first official job interview was during college. (I did have a job in high school, but it was a volunteer job and they hired me based on my ability and willingness to do the work involved – there was no formal interview.) The job interview was for my internship. Looking for and being interviewed for a job – or even applying for a college – for the first time is extraordinarily nerve wracking, and the waiting period is hell, but it was a good learning experience. I’m not as terrified of finding a job after college as I used to be, and switching schools was less terrifying than asking to first be admitted to one. I’m also more confident in my ability to talk to a boss and fellow employees, and to master the details of a new assignment, class, or job. Even if I end up getting a lower level job or having to go back to school, I know that somehow, I’ll manage. I’m more secure in myself than I used to be.
College taught me a great deal of independence. I first went to school out of state, and then switched to a whole different state. I lived in the dorms with a roommate, then in an apartment with a roommate. College was when I began dating. College was when I first experienced a major health emergency. College was when I had my first drink, my first kiss, my first breakup – my first a lot of things. It’s when I first drank coffee, first became interested in politics and the news. I learned how to maneuver a town or city on my own in college, how to independently take a transit system, and how to shop for and purchase stuff on my own. I learned more about what I wanted and didn’t want in life. I became better at standing up for and believing in myself. I had lots of bumps and bruises, twists and turns along the way. But I came out on the other end happier and stronger for it.
In fact, I would recommend something totally unpopular. Go to college really far away from home. Don’t live with a significant other. Don’t even have a significant other. For at least a few months. Because you have to know. You have to know that you can survive alone, or else you’ll spend the rest of your life being absolutely terrified of being alone.
I think college taught me a lot in the classroom, too. Among the life and job skills I learned: preparing adequately for an assignment on a deadline, putting together and giving a presentation, coming up with a project idea, reading a book quickly by skimming over words, writing coherently, speaking in public or at a meeting, working with groups, mastering a new subject or skill quickly, and critically examining the words, work, or expectations of someone else in order to better assist them. I think a lot of the skills I learned would be useful even in a lower level job.
Also I learned how to bullshit people into thinking you know what you’re doing. Like it or not, that’s another important life skill.
So if you’re thinking about going to college, but aren’t sure if you should – or if you want to go to college, but the idea terrifies you – just know it’s not as bad as you think. You’ll learn a lot, and despite the difficulties, I highly recommend it as an experience.
A few tips:
- Attend class. Always.
- Raise your hand to participate as often as possible.
- Don’t try to do all the reading right before the test.
- If you try to absorb every single word and detail of an assigned reading, you won’t survive upper division courses. Learn to skim.
- Plan out an essay before you start writing it.
- Sleep, food, and doctor’s visits are important. College will become meaningless if you keel over and die halfway through it.
- Failure is healthy and important. You have to learn how to deal with failure before going out into the working world as an adult.
- One class, assignment, or grade is not the end of the world. Don’t get into the habit of thinking that it is.
- You’re usually better prepared than you think you are.
- Most college professors are not as terrifying as you might expect.
- If you think a professor is acting inappropriately, contact the Dean of Students. I did once. You can ask to remain completely anonymous.
- Roommate situations can suck. Not every roommate is going to end up your undying best friend. However – this coming from someone who was emotionally abused by a couple of her dormitory roommates – if you think a situation is unhealthy for you, get out of it. Immediately. Don’t let anyone talk you out of leaving.
- Sometimes roommates take the emotional baggage from a previous bad roommate experience into their next room. Don’t be that person, but look out for that person.
- Try to be easygoing with your fellow roommates. Don’t hate on them too much, but genuinely listen to someone if they have a problem. Most college roommates don’t have much experience sharing a space with someone their age, so be respectful of that. Don’t walk around naked, keep relatively clean, and don’t touch their stuff without asking. Three easy rules, right there. Be especially respectful in someone else’s room.
- Don’t judge your roommate’s lifestyle choices. Unless they’re interfering with your lifestyle – and I can’t emphasize this enough – it’s none of your goddamn business. There’s a difference between being vocal if you have a problem, and being rude or judgmental. An important difference.
- On that note, sometimes they’re going to be in the room at the same time as you or stay up later than you. Maybe most of the time, in some cases. As long as they’re quiet when you’re studying, they keep to their space, and they agree to the lights being off when you go to bed, you don’t really have any room to complain. That’s what sharing a room can be like.
- Despite all mythology, taking a year off from school does not mean you’ll never go back to school. I took a year off, and look at me. After this semester, I’ll be finished with all my undergraduate coursework.
That’s all the thoughts I can think of related to college. I’ll be glad if this helped someone in any way. I think college is an incredibly difficult but worthwhile experience. It can really help you get to know yourself.