When I was in high school, I truly thought I had my entire life planned out. I was going to a college in Philadelphia to major in biochemistry, commit myself to do undergraduate research, graduate in 4 years with excellent grades, go onto a Master’s and/or Ph.D. program, and eventually become a top scientist in my field (which was not decided at the time). Looking back, I am proud of myself for being so ambitious, but this was just too ambitious for me and was borderline unrealistic. As my first semester in college was not going as well as I had planned, I began to beat myself up a lot for being a “failure.” This post is going to be full of advice that I truly wish I knew before going to college, and, spoiler alert – it’s not going to be the same stuff you hear all the time.
1. You Are Allowed to Change Your Mind at Any Time
Nobody is going to hold you down and make you stick to something you don’t want to do in college. This could be anything from your major, to your classes, to the clubs you join, or to attending your specific college in the first place. Just because you agreed to commit to something does not mean you have to stick with it. If you’re trying to impress the people back home by going to a “good” college in a “good” major – but you yourself are truly not passionate about it – it’s going to be a recipe for disaster.
I originally chose biochemistry as my first major, because I wanted to impress everyone in my life by becoming a world-renowned scientist. I knew from the start that I was not exactly cut out for this field, but I did not listen to my intuition or the people telling me it’s a difficult field to get into. I nearly failed biology my freshman year of high school but did super well in chemistry my sophomore year. I already set myself up for being miserable because I didn’t even enjoy one-half of my major. I let other people’s opinions get to my head, and I regret that to this day.
2. No Major is a Bad Major
To elaborate more on my sentiment about wanting to be in a “good” major, there’s a large stigma attached to certain majors- that they’re seen as a “waste of time” or that you won’t get a “good” job with that major. As cheesy as this may sound, if you are doing what you love, you will find a way to make the money work. Antagonizing certain majors is only a product of capitalism, and you are allowed to not believe in those negative opinions about certain majors. If you love painting or drawing, go get a degree in the arts. If you love the idea of being your own boss, go get a degree from a business school. Any major that you think you could market yourself with yourself is worth it.
With my major in Media and Culture at West Chester, I have quickly found that I can market myself better than I ever could as a biochemistry major. Why? I am doing something that I love and could talk about all day. You don’t have to know that as a high school student or incoming freshman, by the way, but I do need you to know that college is a time of significant growth. You will learn more about yourself through college than you ever have at any other point in your life.
3. Not Getting an “A” is Not the End of the World
It’s true: getting straight As in college does not equal happiness. You are going to struggle with at least one of your classes each semester, and you are going to have one that just clicks so perfectly in your brain that you will easily pass it with flying colors. The expectation that the latter will be all of your classes is unrealistic and, frankly, a byproduct of our own skyrocketing standards that we have set for ourselves. Barely passing that one class you struggled with is not the end of the world. In fact, you should be proud of yourself regardless of the grade because you tried your best and found out that it didn’t work out. And! That’s! Fine!
Spring 2022 was my last semester at my local community college, and let me just say as a bonus piece of knowledge, senioritis comes back in college, too. I received my first and only “C” during my time there in my communication theory class, and I was devastated for a bit, especially since this was one of my major courses. Did that “C” devastate me in the end? Nope, because I still went on to make Dean’s List that semester AND graduate with Honors. No one is going to know through all of my achievements at my community college that I struggled with a theory class and received a “bad” grade for it. Trust me.
4. Advocate for Yourself – All the Time
Think about the times when you wanted something but didn’t know how to get it. What decisions did you make? What questions did you ask yourself? Who did you talk to? Were there any slip-ups along the way? If you can instantly recall something, you know how to advocate for yourself. It’s just more difficult now because no one is holding your hand through the process, which can be scary. If you know you would benefit from being in a certain class, email the professor and explain why you feel this way. The worst that can happen is that they say no, and this is something that I still struggle with to this day, so I can tell you firsthand that this is not easy. However, it feels amazing when you do it and it works out in your favor.
5. Do What You Love, Regardless of What Other People Say
Did you know that you don’t have to listen to other people’s advice about what YOU want to do in life? As long as you are realistic and honest with yourself (unlike how I was), you can do anything you set your mind to. I mean that. I know you’ve probably heard this a million times, as have I, but it actually is true.
If I had a dollar for every time someone told me I wouldn’t make money in the creative industries, I could pay for a year-long subscription to Adobe Software with it. Digital content creation is on the rise, as technology advances itself further and further every day. I would rather have a degree that I love that earns me half of what I could make with a degree that I hate. If you love what you are doing, you will find a way to make it work financially, especially if you are able to freelance your work.
6. If You’re Not Happy, Then Transfer
I cannot stress this one enough. I would not be where I am today if I did not transfer. I would not know everything I now know about myself today if I did not transfer. I would not have grown as much as I have in the past three years if I did not transfer. Seriously, if you take away absolutely anything from this post, it should be this point in particular.
I tell people all the time that transferring from a large university in Philadelphia to my local suburban community college was one of the best, if not the best, decisions I have ever made. I felt more cared about and supported by the faculty at my community college than I did at the large university. I felt like a person with actual feelings and goals and not just a number or statistic. I felt like I had people I was not afraid to go to for any questions or concerns that I had. I was the loneliest I had ever been at the large university, which is ironic for the fact that I was surrounded by way more people. Do not completely write off community college because it’s “not the same” as attending a four-year university.
7. You Do Not Have to Graduate in Four Years
When I initially got to the large university that I attended, I found out off the bat that I was graduating in five years because I was behind on math. The major started out with Calculus I and went up to Calculus III, and I started out in Intermediate Algebra. That meant that I had to take not one, not two, but six semesters of math in order to graduate in my major. How this did not send me running instantly is beyond me. I had so many panic attacks about graduating a year after most of my high school peers. I thought about the money, the loans, being seen as less than, failing, etc., and it all drove me up a wall. You cannot sit there and beat yourself up over something that is out of your control like that. It is not your fault that you would be set to graduate in more than four years. It will not be the end of the world.
8. Find Your People… Specifically by Joining a Club
When people tell you that the best way to make friends is by joining a club, they’re right. Being surrounded by people who are all just as, if not more, passionate about something that you are also passionate about is an amazing feeling that’s difficult to describe. This is what I mean by “finding your people,” that there are like-minded people out there who love the same things that you do. The sense of belonging and community that comes with being involved with a club or two at your college is amazing.
I met the majority of my friends at the large university I attended through College Democrats and/or Students for Bernie. I’m not going to make any statements about my political beliefs here because this is not the right time or place. What I will say is that I found some of the most genuine, caring, and compassionate people through these two clubs. I am still friends with these people to this day, and it was one of the big reasons why I wanted to transfer back to this university after I completed my associate’s degree.
9. Be Spontaneous, Take Risks, and Say Yes
Going back to the previous point, Students for Bernie went on a trip to the Carolinas to canvas on behalf of Sanders’ campaign for Super Tuesday during our spring break. All 20 of us rode a raggedy old school bus for 13 hours down to the Myrtle Beach and Wilmington areas to get out the vote. I made life-long friends on that trip. I did things I never thought that I would do. I said yes to something that I didn’t even know where I was going to be sleeping each night or getting my food from. I can say with confidence that I will never forget this trip for as long as I live, and that’s because I was spontaneous, took a risk, and said yes.
10. Your Sleep is Precious – Cherish It
My AP Psychology teacher in high school told us about how during one particular finals week in college, he did not sleep for an entire week. Once he got home for Christmas break, he slept for three days straight. He also added that he did “okay” on his finals. The moral of the story? Pulling an all-nighter is not worth it.
This is the one piece of advice I cannot connect back to my own personal experience because I have never pulled an all-nighter. However, I can say that there was a period of time when I was losing sleep every night during spring 2020 for personal reasons out of my control. My grades began to slip through my hands so fast that I couldn’t keep up, and I ended up never being able to bring back my grades when we eventually went home because of the pandemic. I found myself taking the rest of the semester to catch up on the sleep that I missed during the period of time in the dorms when I was losing so much of it. Please, if you take anything from this post, do not pull an all-nighter.
Summary & Conclusion
I could honestly write an entire novel about my college experience thus far, but I will save you from having to read it all right here. The overall theme of all of my points combined is that self-care is extremely important as well as not catastrophizing everything as I did. I sincerely hope you have a wonderful time in college and that my bits and pieces of wisdom from over the years can be applied to your own life. Come back to this post as many times as you need to, or even re-read it prior to the beginning of every school year and/or semester.