Today is the the first Monday where I'm not preparing for a week full of classes. Despite all the calls and text messages coming from my family and friends, I don't feel that sense of pride most people get from graduating. On paper, I accomplished something but I don't feel like a college degree has made me any better of a person. Sure, I've had experiences over the past four years that brought me closer to knowing who I am but none of those are dependent on the courses I paid for. In reality, I dug myself into student loan debt because college was what seemed like my only option at 18 years old. I hadn't yet found a field I was passionate about so it made sense to invest in education. It was what my parents wanted and with my lack of work experience, going to school sounded like a way to find a field I could fall in love with. Fast forward four years later, I still don't know what that passion is so I'm dabbling in a little bit of everything until something clicks.
Nonetheless, the four year college experience is one that brings you to step outside of your comfort zone and a time where you make life-long friendships. Even if you leave not really knowing what you learned in class, there are life lessons that will stick with you forever. Looking back, there are things I would do differently, academically. As far as everything else, I'd happily do it all over again.
If I could give any advice to anyone who's in the position I was in 4 years ago here's what I would say:
It's okay to not know what you want.
I hated that feeling of uncertainty going into college and pressure from my parents didn't make it easier. My father kept reiterating the fact that I needed a plan and how I had to go in knowing what I want so I could finish in 4 years (also b.s but more on that next). Not knowing what I wanted forced me into settling with a career path that sounded good when others asked what I was going to school for. I hurried into taking courses for the program without truly acknowledging what I wanted to do. This led to a series of major changes and feeling like crap for not being sure like everyone else appeared to be. Right now, I know I don't know what I want so I'm doing what I should have done four years ago and dabbling in things one at a time until something feels right.
You don't have to finish in 4 years.
When you take into consideration just how ridiculously expensive college is, the notion that you need to be done in 4 years is really just a way to lure you into student loans. I say, DON'T DO IT. Honestly, I hate to say it but I came into college way too spoiled. I wish my parents would have told me to get a damn job instead of cosigning my loans. I'm grateful I had their support both emotionally and financially because I know that's something not everyone is guaranteed. I appreciate those who are on the slow and steady path and paying their way through school. I think going that route shows you the true value of what you're paying for and gives you that push to make sure you're studying something you truly care about.
Spend time exploring new interests.
Buy the ticket! Take the year off! Study abroad! Just do it and don't look back. Again, being so caught up in this 'finish in four years" I was so deterred from taking a semester abroad because I didn't want to push back fulfilling my requirements. As someone whose family instilled the idea of travel since I was young, I know studying abroad would have been such an experience for me. But instead of looking back on what could have been, I'm looking to incorporate travel into my life more post-grad.
Explore classes that interest you even if they don't seem to fit your plan. I wish I took another class on financial management. I wasn't introduced to the bulk of the material until my last semester and even if the numbers didn't always come easy to me, I loved the challenge and would have loved to spend more time on the subject. If you have an interest in dinosaurs, find a class and just enroll in it. You're already spending so much time and money in this place, might as well leave with a passion.
Spend your summers interning.
I can't even remember what I did the summer after my freshman year and that's a problem. This is the time to spend honing in on your interests. Start the search early and even if what sounds like the perfect internship doesn't match what you've wanted to be your set career plan, apply anyway! Finding paid internships might be hard but that doesn't mean you should give up altogether. Find a part time job and learn how to balance both. After four years and four internships, you should be a lot closer to finding something you love and you'll have a great lineup on your resume to show for it.
What's one thing you wish you knew before college or early on? Leave a note for us in the comments below.