According to my Facebook newsfeed, Morgan is all packed up and ready to head back to school. He’s studying nursing. Bobby—according to Instagram–returned to campus early. He’s apparently enjoyed a few cold adult beverages already. Twitter tells me that Tom is changing his major. Again. But this one, he says, is his true passion.
Here I am in the corner of a coffee shop, reminiscing over the past four years. I would’ve been making those same posts this time last year. Helping freshmen move in, gearing up for fraternity recruitment, meetings with advisors and administration. There was always something for me to do, and I enjoyed doing whatever it was I had to do.
As a recent graduate, this is the first time I’ve acknowledged the weirdness of finishing school.
People will tell you heart-warming things when you graduate. Your friends will say things like, “It seriously won’t be the same without you.” Your best friends will say, “Who else will I cook breakfast with at 2 in the morning?” They don’t mean to make it hurt, but there’s a dull ache under every cap and gown.
But we’ve all experienced the truth: College goes on without us. The classes don’t stop, the fraternity doesn’t crumble away, and the cafeteria keeps pumping out whatever it is they pump out.
And this is a good thing. Think of how things would be if colleges quit without us? Mine could barely survive with me, and it’s probably thriving without me.
I have the benefit of hindsight to help me give advice. If you’re getting ready to jump back into the college grind, here are some things to remember.
1. It’s OK to NOT know. There’s plenty of pressure for you to “decide what you want to do.” Your major doesn’t dictate your future. We don’t live in a single-track world like generations did before us. Chances are good that you’ll wind up finding joy in something “outside your field” regardless of what’s on your diploma. Relax, explore, and only worry about your NEXT move.
2. It’s OK for your dream to change. Have you wanted to be a doctor your entire life? Cool! Do you suck at O Chem? It may be time to reconsider. Hey, it’s ok. This goes for any dream you’ve got. I wanted to be a General Manager for a baseball team when I first got to college. Once I dug in and gained experience in the business side of baseball, I decided it wasn’t for me. Here’s what to do if you find yourself in a similar situation. Figure out why you wanted the original dream. Was it because your parents wanted to you be a doctor? Or was it because you’re fascinated with why old people smell the way they do? Find that underlying theme, and then find a way to apply it to another course.
3. It’s OK be yourself. There’s an innate and biological need to fit in, hipsters included. But here’s the funny thing. You’ll attract a following when you’re authentic. Don’t use college “to find yourself.” Instead, take every minute of every day to discover who you are, then use college to build yourself. I’ve seen people do crazy stuff just to fit in. Perhaps that’s part of maturing, but I believe we have a certain degree of control over who we are and who we become.
4. It’s OK to challenge the system. No matter what type of info it is, simply taking it without critically thinking about it is unhealthy. Don’t accept things at face value. A high school buddy and I reconnected over a couple drinks last week. We both went to liberal arts universities, so we chatted about how those systems influenced us. We came to an agreement. Our schools taught us to have the conviction that we could be proven wrong at any time. Be open to other perspectives, and be sure to have a perspective of your own.
5. It’s OK to fail. A failure doesn’t make you a failure. With that said, don’t fail because of a lack of effort. Fearing failure will always lead to failure. I understand the intense pressure you might have on you to perform. You might think you have a lot on the line. Maybe you do. With that said, games can be lost with the best hand and won with the worst. Do your best to do the most with the hand you’re dealt.
6. It’s OK to over-achieve. I’ve never felt thankful when anyone exclaimed, “Well, aren’t you an over-achiever?!” It was usually followed by a light punch on the arm or a pinch on the cheek. Get off me! I’ve seen people strive to achieve less because of their desire to fit in. Personally, I never felt as if I over-achieved. I’ve always believed that I realized my potential. Work hard to fulfill your potential and forget others who strive to make others mediocre.
7. It’s OK to be a bad student. Academic success doesn’t always reflect your future success. At the same time, put effort into being a solid student. Use your studies as an opportunity to learn how to manage your weaknesses. That’s a crucial skill to master. If you’re horrible at standardized tests but could sell a penny for a dollar, and then sharpen your sales skills. Note, I’m not saying it’s ok to be a lazy student. What I encourage you to do is bank on your strengths.
8. It’s OK to dedicate yourself to academics. Don’t shy away from being a bookworm, lab rat, or computer nerd. Own it. Don’t deny your love for research, philosophy, or robotics. Own it. The world needs people like you just like it needs people to like me who can sell what you create and discover! Don’t forget to make friends with people like me. We need each other.
Some love college like I did at first. Others tire of it like I did towards the end. Make the most of your time on campus. It can be easy to get caught up in the hoopla of “the value of college” these days. Feel free to participate in the discussion, but it’s a waste of time to get caught up in the rhetoric. At the end of the day, the value of anything is what you make it.
Photo: Flickr/ Bekah