Dear College Me,
I am writing to you from the brand new 2017 to tell you that you survived! Take a moment to smile and relish in that knowledge. Now, I hope you are sitting down because, right now, you are still in college. Did your heart just skip a beat? I bet it did! Don’t worry. It’s not a bad thing. It just goes to show you, things don’t always turn out as planned and that’s ok, better even. You are about to finish your Ph.D.! Yes, this is really you. I am certain.
I wont spoil the story on how you get here because I think you need to experience it in order to appreciate it. What I will tell you is that college is a unique experience that you should take seriously, but also enjoy. Here are a few things that may help you do both.
Frosh Week friends are just that. Don’t feel bad if you don’t hang on to the people you meet during that first week full of parties and orientation That’s all they need to be. Think about it, do you even have anything in common? It’s everyone’s first week in a new place and they are all alone. Everyone, including you, is desperate for friends. Once you get into classes and join various societies and clubs, you meet people that you have things in common with. These people are the ones that you’ll be telling stories about until you’ll wrinkled and grey.
Coffee is like oxygen. Ok, well maybe that is a bit extreme. Between two and four cups a day can improve heart health, longevity and memory. Exams, hint hint! Coffee will help you stay awake in that physics lecture with the monotone professor. Hot chocolate has too much sugar to drink that often and trust me, physics is not one you want to nod off in. You should invest in a good thermos and either volunteer in a lab or make friends in grad school. Labs and grad students usually have a pot of coffee constantly on the go. You can join their coffee club and contribute $0.25 to the pot versus over $2.00 for every cup at the café. This will save you so much, you have no idea.
No one cares about your minor. Stop stressing about fulfilling all the requirements for your major and for a minor. Not once since you graduated has anyone ever cared, let alone asked about your minor in biotechnology. You were thinking a minor in biotechnology sounded impressive right? It’s not even printed on your diploma. Take classes that interest you. Learn what interests you. Don’t worry about sounding impressive on paper.
Take the fluff classes. Fluff classes are basically easy As. Take them. Having a minor and those impressive classes may not matter, but your GPA does if you want to go to grad school. Even employers care when you have very little work experience right out of college. Future employers and grad school supervisors wont blink if you have an A in “Basket Weaving” on your transcript, but a C in “Artificial Cellular Technology” might hurt you.
Standardized tests are not so scary. There are tons of books and websites about how to study for these tests. Don’t let it intimidate you. There is nothing on those tests you haven’t already learned. You should definitely prepare for them, but don’t stress. You spent the entire summer before senior year studying and stressing about writing the OAT and you walked out of the exam laughing. It’s not worth it.
Summer school is for the smart ones. To graduate in four years, you need 5 classes per semester. Being in sciences, you will likely have theory exams as well as lab exams. That could mean up to 10 exams at the end of the semester! Take summer classes so you can lighten the load during the year. Summer classes tend to be easier to digest too; daily classes and only one subject to focus on. Take that “Linear Algebra” everyone is saying is tough. You’ll ace it. Just don’t take English. Reading all those mandatory novels and deciphering poetry in the condensed amount of time…not so smart.
Get to know your professors. At a large school like yours, this is difficult, so volunteer in their labs or be a teaching assistant for the courses you like. The experience is always good, but once you graduate, you’ll need reference letters. You’re more likely to get good ones if the prof can remember you.
Class is not always essential. Go to all your classes when they start. This will allow you to get to know the professor and their teaching style. Some professors are great teachers but some are there for the research and only teach because they have to. If they basically recite the textbook, don’t bother. You can read from the textbook on your own schedule.
Take your own notes. Take them in lectures and make your own notes from the textbook. The act of taking notes helps you learn faster. You are hearing the information, seeing the information and actively writing it. These are three different methods of absorbing it, plus, you have something to study later. If you are good at it, you can even sell your notes as a guide to students who take the course after you.
Join Facebook. Stop being a stick in the mud and just do it. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. How is that for a reversal of a cliché? Facebook will let you stay in touch with so many more people than the old fashioned phone will. Having a network will come in handy when you start looking for jobs. Besides, Facebook is fun and brainless. Trust me, you’ll appreciate having something to do that doesn’t require your brain sometimes.
Apply. Apply. Apply. In terms of scholarships, apply for anything you qualify for. You will get rejected more often than you get something, but don’t get discouraged. If you don’t apply, you definitely wont get anything. Aim for scholarship competitions that have a restricted applicant pool. You are more likely to get something if you are competing against students in your region or with your major than versus the whole country.
Loan refinancing. Repaying loans isn’t always as straightforward as it seems. You’ll want to set up a payment plan that avoids interest as much as possible. Paying lump sums when you have the extra cash or paying the loan off early can have penalties. Your taxes will also be involved. You’ll want some advice on this in order to save as much as possible.
You will fail. I’m not trying to scare you or be overly negative. I’m not only referring to classes either. You have always gotten good grades, you’ve gotten awards and you got into all the schools you wanted. You’ve always sort of been the big fish in the small pond. You’ve never failed, not really. Now, you’re at college with all the big fish. You’re not going to be the best at everything anymore. You may fail classes, you will get your heart broken, you wont get that scholarship or loan you applied for, you may not get into grad school or you wont get call-backs for jobs and people will be mean to you. It will hurt, some of it may be devastating, but you will survive. You will learn that it is ok to fail. You will take what you learned from that failure and take the next step in life smarter than you were before.
Now, knowing what I was only privy to in hindsight, start college, be a sponge, learn all you can, but have some fun too. Most of all don’t be afraid to fall flat on your face because you will, and you’ll be just fine.