We all know what time of year it is: the season for graduations. I wanted to write tonight addressing new high school grads bound for the next big step as a senior who’s now had enough time to gather up little bits here and there of advice on how to navigate this whole thing called college.
Think of this as simply my words of wisdom to a younger me, and take them for what you will and even call it cliche. I am not at all trying to convince you that I have everything figured out, because that is far from the truth. I do believe that I am a credible source of how to at least succeed academically, and hopefully along the way you’ll also thrive socially, emotionally, spiritually, and physically in these glorious four years of your life. The real world will be here far sooner than you would like, I can promise you that.
1. Don’t stress if you don’t know what you want to major in. Ideally you can at least narrow it to a broad department such as humanities, science, business, etc., but even if you aren’t at that point, don’t fret. Yes, freshman class scheduling can be easier and more beneficial to you in the long run if you do have a general idea, but whatever you do, don’t hesitate to switch departments the second you feel that it’s not right for you. If you don’t enjoy studying for your freshman biology class, you probably shouldn’t stay bio/pre-med (like the 70% of the incoming freshman class at Baylor, for example). You’re looking at at least twelve more years of that, so if you don’t love it now (when it’s beyond easier than anything in your future education), you never will. I don’t know exact statistics, but I’d say most students end up changing their major/career path at least two or three times before coming to a decision. For me, in high school I considered biomedical engineering. I entered college thinking I wanted to major in biochemistry, minor in nutrition, and was still back and forth between pre-med (surgery) and pre-dent (orthodontics). Well now I’m a biology major minoring in business and religion applying to dental school strongly considering oral and maxillofacial surgery. Life changes. Experiences affect you. God leads you down different paths. You change. It’s all OK and so worth it in the long run. So be flexible, moldable, and willing to give up what you think are your dreams so God can give even bigger and better ones for you.
2. Be yourself. College is awesome for endless reasons, but one of the ones I loved the most is that literally know one cares who or how you were in high school and back home. No one cares what you made on your ACT, what varsity teams you were on, or if you always (or never) had a boyfriend/girlfriend. For me, I had always thought my pre-college identity was tied up a lot in academics, sports, band, and just about every extracurricular activity there was. It was so refreshing to come to college and nobody had to know what all I did in high school, and they wanted to get to know me for ME, not what I do. The thousands of people you will be surrounded by are all on a new, crisp, unwritten page of their lives just like you. Want to join the crew team but have zero experience? Go for it. Inspired to step out on a limb, leave behind your introverted ways, and try out the salsa dancing club? There’s no better time. Adopt a completely different style of the way you dress just because you feel like it? Why not? While judgment by others is unfortunately inevitable in every stage of life, I feel like college is far less so than shallow small town high school where everyone knows everything from the last eighteen years about everyone. People are drawn to confident, unique, multifaceted, and fun people. So make a new name for yourself, be quirky, and not cookie-cutter.
3. Figure out how to study, and figure it out fast. Sorry, whatever you did in high school is so far from this new way of living that I speak of. Experiment with lots of methods to find what works for you – type notes on your computer, record lectures, handwrite notes with room for drawing and categorizing, make flashcards, etc. Are you a better solo studier or do you benefit from a group setting? Whatever you do, please please please don’t start the never-ending snowball effect of procrastination. Would you rather have 4 weeks of hell during the semester come exam times, or just some slight discipline every week to keep life manageable? Look over your notes daily, rewrite them if needed, find online resources like quizzes and videos, find accountable and focused people to study with (some to challenge you and others that you can help explain material to), and my next point:
4. GO SEE YOUR PROFESSORS. Seriously I can’t stress this enough. They get paid to teach you, so if you’re not getting it in class, go to their office hours for one-on-one extra help as soon as you feel lost or behind. Not only that, but if you end up pursuing professional or grad school, you will need several letters of recommendation from professors that actually know you on a much higher level than just where you sit in their class. More than anything, a large portion of them can be extremely relatable, encouraging, and genuinely interested in your life and ambitions. They were once college students too! I’ve been so blessed at Baylor to be surrounded with sincere and caring professors and mentors, overwhelmed by how incredible they’ve made my undergraduate experience. I’ve been over to one of my professor’s house for dinner with classmates, exchanged personal blogs with another, had several long life chats leaving refreshed and uplifted, and even hope to workout sometimes with one of them next year. Don’t graduate college wishing you would’ve made a better effort.
5. Get plugged into a spiritual community that fits for you wherever you might be in your faith journey. Finding a new church can be a really overwhelming thing to think about right now. You’ve probably grown up in the same church for most of your life and you’ve reached a level of comfortable and predictable that you are just fine with. Well, college is a time to figure out your own individuals beliefs, personal preferences for corporate worship and small groups, and discover where God would have you in this season to really stretch you and to thrive in your relationship with him and with those around you. Just because you went to a Baptist or Methodist church with your parents your whole life, does not at all mean that that’s where you’re expected to end up in your new home. I’m not saying it would be a bad thing, it just doesn’t have to be the only option. As someone who spent the majority of their life in a very conservative Southern Baptist church and is now attending a non-denomenational, mission-minded, and so-called “charismatic” community church, I can confidently say that I adore my church and church family, and I know that I’m where God knew I needed to be. Spend some time “church-hopping,” and if you really want to make the best choice for your faith, don’t only go where your new-found friends are visiting. Find your new home, and don’t wait too long to wish you would’ve sooner.
I probably will end up having a sequel to this post, just because I’m so passionate about telling younger people the truth about this thrilling, nerve-racking, harder than anything you’ve ever done but also so much better time of your life just around the corner. But it’s midnight, and because college is so notoriously sleep-depriving, I’m tired.