For those of you who have been following along for some time, you probably know my college story. However, I wanted to recap it for those of you who are new to this little corner of the internet. I knew from a very early age that I wanted to attend college. Though college was emphasized in my life, it was not necessarily the norm. I am the youngest of fifteen grandchildren on both sides of my family. I’m the fifth to attend a four-year university and the first to finish my degree in four years. Some family members took five to six years, some took nine. So, again, while college wasn’t a totally foreign subject, I was by no means born into a family in which college was the expectation. However, I always loved school. I loved learning, had a slightly ridiculous obsession with school supplies, and thrived in the classroom.
Originally, I had dreams of attending an Ivy League college in New England and spent my high school career working to achieve that goal. I applied early and had my heart very broken in December of my senior year. I was devastated. I was convinced that nothing would work out well because I didn’t get the thing I wanted most. Then, the next morning, I received an acceptance package from Saint Mary’s College of California. This was one of the last schools I applied to, and truth be told, I only applied because they waived my application fee. I had toured another university that has a similar campus and student body and wasn’t a fan, so was hesitant to look into Saint Mary’s. However, I finally went and looked at Saint Mary’s in early February (I think…), and within fifteen minutes of walking around campus knew I had found my future home. Everyone was friendly, it was obvious it was a very community-based place, and I just had this feeling like I was exactly where I need to be at that point in my life. So, I enrolled.
My first year at Saint Mary’s was amazing. I fell absolutely in love with the school, grew incredibly as a person, and felt happier than I’d ever felt before. And then guess what happened? Each year got better, culminating in a remarkable senior year with lifelong friends who I love deeply. If you were to ask me the most important moment in my life thus far, I would immediately answer it was the day I decided to attend Saint Mary’s. While I did have unhappy moments and some personal troubles while in school, I cherish my four years on the campus in the Moraga hills and would not trade them for anything.
So, without further ado, here is a letter I wrote to my college self –
You are in the most important and fun years of your life and it is your duty to live it as fully as possible. I am writing to you as a much more confident, funnier, and mature version of yourself, so take my advice seriously. I want to share some of the wisdom that I learned in college. This letter will contain only the advice that I wish I knew at the time. You will love college, but I want to share with you the things that would have made it even better as I reflect on college with the nostalgia only an alumna can know.
First, you need to remember to live in the moment. I understand you are a planner and insistent on having a five-year plan at all times, but you really do need to slow down, unplug, and just enjoy being in college. While it may feel like you’re too busy, know that it’ll only get busier and now is the time to soak up all the college memories and be present in them.
Second, you should know that plans change and adaptability is an incredibly valuable trait. So, become comfortable with the unknown. You enter college with an idea of where your life is heading, but sometimes you go completely off course and end up at a far superior destination. While it’s completely acceptable to plan, know the plans you make are not written in stone. Your life is not the 10 commandments and is malleable.
Third, the most important question to ask yourself when things are hard is “will this matter in five years?” To 98% of the problems you face, the answer will be no. You may be tempted to say “yes, of course,” but just know the actual answer is no. Most of the things that happen in college that feel horrible and make us feel like we’ll never be the same do change us but it’s almost always for the better. We become stronger, better versions of ourselves. So, when you have what feels like a life-altering falling out with a friend your sophomore year, know that things will be okay and by senior year all will be right in the world. And a year after graduation? It’s a good story to tell.
Four, figure out financials early. College is expensive. This is not a secret. It is important to figure out how you’re going to pay for college. Apply for scholarships and financial aid, look into whether taking out a loan is the best decision for you and find resources that help make loans as painless as possible. San Francisco based company, Earnest is a low-interest lending company that offers custom repayment plans that fit student’s needs, which is huge!
Look into your options, and find lenders who want to give you the resources to reach your goals. Also, work on saving up money! While that new top is probably really cute, the money may be better used by saving it rather than spending it!
Five, say yes more. This tidbit of advice ties into my first piece of advice, but I want to stress the importance of making college live up to its fullest potential. When you think you should stay in instead of getting coffee with a friend or when you think you won’t have fun at karaoke, just say yes and see what happens. You will undoubtedly surprise yourself! Say yes now because in a few years, yes may no longer be an option. You only have a limited number of adventure filled outings with your friends, blasting the year’s top hit and laughing until your eyes water. Use them wisely.
Six, embrace the conversations you get to have with people. Professors will take an interest and invest in you, be sure to take advantage and ask them the hard questions about your career choices, publishing papers you wrote for class, and just getting to know professionals in your field. You will meet your forever friends and build friendships stronger than anything you’ve known. Enjoy the late-night conversations, discuss your fears with them, and relish the moments they offer advice.
Seven, involvement is the key to living a great college experience. Some people go through college never “formally” involved in clubs or organizations and have a great college experience. However, they’re likely heavily involved in a group of friends. They are not sitting at home (and I mean their home, not their apartment or college dorm), hanging with the family just as they did in high school. My best friend went home almost every weekend of our first year of college, and for the next three years, she said she regretted that and cautioned incoming students against making the same decision she did. Whether you join clubs, become a student leader (shout out to my future RAs), or just get really dedicated to the people you meet (movie nights on Friday, bar trips on Saturday, study sessions Sunday), you need to be involved. Feeling like you have a place in your college community is key to leaving college feeling incredible.
College flies, and I do mean flies, by. You probably feel like four years cannot possibly go quickly, but let me just tell you it does and the first year after graduation is rough because college is such a unique portion of life. College is a vibrant, loud, exciting time. Take it in, allow it to impact you, and revel in the unique community to which you belong.