College is a time to work hard, learn new things and have some fun. If you’re about to start college or even just have a couple of years of college left, now that I’ve graduated, I have loads of advice to share with you. After having 10 roommates, 40+ courses, hundreds of papers, too many late nights and lots of memories, here are the five pieces of advice I wish I knew before going to college.
1. Scrap the “best four years of your life” idea
I remember when I was first applying to schools and would go to these college presentations, they kept saying the same line over and over again: “these are going to be the best four years of your life.” Now while I see where they are coming from, this is way too much pressure to put on your college experience. In my four years of school, I often found that as an introvert, if I wanted to stay home and play video games instead of going to a party on a Saturday night, I would start feeling down because maybe I wasn’t living up to “the ultimate college experience” maybe in the way that I should have been.
Now that’s not to say you can’t have a good time in college. It’s more just about getting rid of those super high expectations that these have to be the best years of your life. You have so much of your life ahead of you, so don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself. If you want to stay home instead of going out, it doesn’t mean you are “wasting” your best years away. It just means you’re listening to what you need and that’s ultimately more important.
2. College loneliness is a real thing
Being lonely in college is actually pretty common. One survey found that of almost 48,000 college students, 67% of women had felt “very lonely” in the past year. I definitely don’t think social media helps with this. When we scroll on Instagram, we see all these posts from people having good times with their friends and can’t help but compare. Looking back, there were definitely times when I felt lonely in college.
Even though introverts do like their alone time to recharge, it doesn’t mean that you can’t experience loneliness if you’re an introvert. It’s just that your loneliness might look a little different. While an extrovert’s loneliness can be fixed by meeting new people at a loud party, an introvert’s loneliness is more about wanting that deep connection with a person who just “gets” us, a connection that often takes a lot of time and work to build.
So if you’re feeling lonely, the first thing is just acknowledging those feelings and realizing that they are completely normal. From there, it’s about taking little steps to feel less lonely.
Even though it can be really scary for us introverts, trying to introduce yourself to that person on your floor or that person sitting next to you in class is a great way to start. I met one of my closest friends in the world (another fellow introvert) in an intro women studies class where I just sat in the seat next to him, introduced myself and while it was a bit awkward at first, we ended up hitting it off. Also, in my experience, joining a club or signing up for a sports team is a great way to meet other people who like the same things as you.
3. There are lots of paths to success
This is a pretty common thing many college students go through – you end up pursuing certain things because you think it’s what you’re supposed to do or it’s what your parents and peers think you should try. This can be anything from what you should study to what extracurricular activities you should do. Even though it might feel like the right thing to do, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the thing that’s going to make you happy.
When I first went to college, I thought I was going to go one route and get a business degree. Once I got to school though, I realized that I actually disliked all my business courses (bleh like accounting) but absolutely loved the media and communications elective I was taking. So even though it was scary and my family didn’t love the idea at first, I decided to go down the arts route instead and get a major in media communications and creative writing. Now I’m working at my dream job in advertising.
Sometimes I find high school pushes this idea that in order to be successful, you can only pursue certain degrees like business, medicine or engineering. If you’re studying one of those and you’re happy, then I’m happy for you! But if you’re in college and there’s another program along the way that you enjoy even more, then I urge you to go in that direction instead, or at the very least, get a double major or a minor in it. At the end of the day, your happiness means so much more than anything else, and there is more than one path to success.
4. It’s okay to ask for help
Before starting college, I remember feeling like asking for help was a sign of weakness or something I should be ashamed of or embarrassed by. That I had to solve every problem on my own, even if it felt like I couldn’t handle it. Messed up thinking, I know I know.
It wasn’t until I got to college and was overwhelmed with the stress of school and living away from home for the first time that I reached out for help. College can be really stressful with exams, papers, assignments, homesickness, relationships, money and everything else, so there is no shame in asking for help. This help can come from anywhere – go to counselling, join a support group or reach out to a friend or family member.
5. Studying is important but so is fun
Okay, let me start off by saying that yes, first and foremost, college is all about getting educated. Having said that though, it’s good to find that balance between school and fun. In my first year of college, I spent every night studying at the library or in a dorm study room, including weekends. While there’s nothing wrong with this and I definitely worked on finding a balance more in later years, looking back, I wish I had gotten more involved in clubs and tried to get out more.
So if you find you’re studying at the library every night, find ways to add some fun to your college experience. Join a club, go to campus events, hang out in your dorm common area and get to know your floormates better. If you would rather stay in study mode though, find ways to make it more fun like study groups and study breaks.
At the end of the day, these are just my experiences and chances are, your experiences will be different. With these five things that I wish I knew before college, you will hopefully be more prepared as you start this exciting new chapter.