Aw college, the hallowed halls of higher education, crafting and molding the great minds of our next generation….or at least that is what our parents were thinking when they dropped us off at our freshman dorms with tear- studded eyes and overflowing egos, eager to see how college would transform their precious offspring into future leaders and politicians and digital nomads.
All the while most freshman are thinking about parties and exotic new sex terms they have never heard of before and whether they really will be able to manage an 8am class.
I think it is safe to say that college has evolved and transformed over the last few centuries, from esteemed halls of prodigy, to a holding zone for young adults between the ages of 18-22, who aren’t quite ready to become responsible adults yet, but have also outgrown living at home and curfews.
And while education is an undoubtedly necessary and significant rite of passage that all young people should have the opportunity to pursue if they choose, the truth is that the university system as we know it has become more of a social and cultural coming of age period for young people. Regardless of your talents or brains or financial status there is a college that will take just about anyone. The result is a lot of people who are just there to have fun and make a fat paycheck when they graduate. The focus has shifted from being a space for the most brilliant minds to congregate and build careers and more to that of a four year long social gathering focused on fun, personal exploration and social programming.
That in mind, I loved college! It was so great that I decided to get a Master’s right after my undergrad because I just wasn’t ready to leave school! But as we know, college is certainly not all about education and learning, today’s college experience is now embedded with social traditions, cultural norms, and hegemony surrounding the types of experiences you shouldbe having. The college experience has absorbed lots of ideas about dating, sex, lifestyle and relationships, some of which are helpful, but are not always the right choice for everyone. The truth is that the college experience is going to be different for everyone and what might be really fulfilling for one person might not be for someone else. There really is no universal way to enjoy and get the most out of college.
That said there are definitely rules of thumb that can help you get the most out of college, whatever that might look like for you. Here are a few things I wish I had known and can now look back in retrospect with a new appreciation and understanding of:
- Most college guys, no matter how awesome, will probably not make good boyfriends
College is generally a time for irresponsibility and selfishness, which for the most part is good. In terms of school and grades and career, college is a pretty opportune time to get selfish with your goals and to just focus on yourself. However this means most guys( and people in general) are not ready to be good boyfriends. Lots of guys who will someday make amazing husbands and fathers are acting like douchy fuckbois during college, and even though there is potential with lots of these guys, most should simply be left alone. Obviously there are some diamonds in the rough out there, but in general most college guys are in party/hookup/selfish mode which is mutually exclusive to boyfriend/commitment mode. Girls like projects and fixer uppers, but the truth is that most guys needs to make all the mistakes, and have all the hookups, and be the fratstars that we hate in order to figure themselves out (and figure out what we girls probably already know). Which is that that is not sustainable nor is it fulfilling for very long. The moral of the story is that for the most part college guys need to be taken with a grain of salt, and don’t be surprised when that cute guy you’ve been seeing every weekend for three months “doesn’t want anything serious.”
- Be okay being alone/ single
If most college guys are simply not commitment material that means that girls need to be okay with being alone/single for parts of college. This is not to say that you won’t meet the love of your life in a frat basement or in Mon/Wed/Fri Chem, only that considering the odds of guys ready to commit in college, don’t be shocked when most campus romances fizzle out or are short-lived. That said, girls need to learn the fine art of being single. And an art it really is, especially when the culture is constantly telling us that we need a relationships status to define us. Ladies, learn to be comfortable being on your own and being your own identity independent of another person.
College is a wonderful time to develop strong friendships and focus on yourself, and instead avoid the messy dating culture, or lack there of, that permeates most college campuses. Don’t waste your precious college years crying over loser boys that are not adding anything to your life and for the love of God don’t waste valuable study time wondering if some horny dickhead from a party likes you. Likewise, lots of girls agree that college is a time to experiment or to not be held back by a relationship and so they turn to hookup culture to meet their physical needs while also maintaining independence. While hookup culture satisfies this need for some girls, it also can be a huge downfall for others. When I say be okay being alone/single I don’t just mean not having a boyfriend or a fling, I also mean be okay with not having a fuck buddy or a routine hookup. Lots of girls look to hookups to keep things casual and no-strings-attached, but often times they create more drama because girls make the mistake of not being honest with themselves about what they want from it, or simply from ignoring their own biology that often bonds women to their partners. Sorry it is just how it works! Even if it is just physical, it is still looking to someone else to satisfy or fulfill a need. Likewise things often have a tendency to get messy and leave you in the same crying-over-dickhead scenario as described above.
I am not saying to never date or never hookup, only that I think college is an important time to be independent and find fulfillment apart from another person. College is a special time to create an amazing life for yourself, one that shouldn’t be held back by immature boys who probably aren’t worth your time. So while dating and relationships are often a part of the college culture, it is for the most part a very selfish, self centered time in which most young people aren’t ready to be in mature, selfless, healthy relationships, whether that be exclusive dating or friends with benefits.
- Hookup culture is not for everyone and that is okay
Hookup culture is a vast and ingrained part of the college experience, in which most college freshman step onto campus thinking they are going to get laid every night of the week and wind up in bed with new hotties every weekend. The media in particular has promoted such an idea in TV and movies and even magazines that break down how to have a great hookup. Basically, college students are left with the impression that not only is hookup culture a significant part of university, but that it is necessary to a fun, fulfilling collegiate experience. While yes, lots of college students are going to have sex and lots are going to have casual sex with friends, acquaintances, and strangers it is A. Not necessary to your college experience and B. No, you wont’t be the only one that feels that way. Essentially hooking up is NOT for everyone, even if the kids in the caf, and the media, and people who sit next to you in calc might make you feel like you are the ONLY one not partaking. In fact most students will actually not be partaking, or at least not partaking to the extent you think they are partaking. Sex is a very personal choice, and one that should not be molded based on the peer pressures around you or the social stigmas attached to what collegeshouldlook like. I feel like many students partake because they feel like it is what they oughtto be doing or that by not they are missing out on some existential sexual revolution. Visions of casual/wild/ meaningless sex might not always be the answer to whatever fun, fulfilling experience you are looking to find in college. Sex should never just be the means to filling an empty void in your life.
- Wild partying and abundant drinking is not an indicator of how fun and fulfilling your college experience is
As with sex, the college experience is convoluted with images and connotations about what sorts of debauchery you ought to be partaking in in order to be living your best collegiate life. The truth is that while college will certainly be filled with fun and late nights and wild adventures don’t believe the lie that alcohol must be the catalyst for all your best college stories or that alcohol and drugs and partying is a necessary gateway to a fun college experience that you will otherwise “regret.” Some of your best college memories will be cooking dinner with your roommates or having a sleepover with your best friends every night or going for a long heartfelt walk on campus with you bff , or a spring break road trip, or renting kayaks at the local lake or hiking with your dorm floor. College doesn’t’ have to be hedonistic to be fun or satisfying.
- If you can afford to without going into debt ALWAYS do study abroad
I know everyone says this, but study abroad truly will change your life. It did mine! The only exception I will make to this is that you should never go into debt to do, if you have to work a few extra shifts or pick up a summer job to afford it, please do, but if you have to go into debt say no for now and look for travel opportunities post grad. Study abroad is a magical experience that everyone vows to do on the first day of freshman year and yet when the time comes life often gets in the way and excuses are made such as worrying about graduating on time or having to do a long distance relationship. The truth is that study abroad is sort of a once in a lifetime chance to travel and learn without other pressing life matters getting in the way. After graduation you might have a full-time job and later down the road you will marry and have kids, but while you are in college is still a wide open expanse of opportunity. Take the leap and go! No one ever regrets study abroad!
- Get involved in activities and find a tribe
Again, this is pretty cliche advice, but the college experience is fueled by activities and finding groups of like minded people with similar interests. Whether it be clubs, sports, teams, the arts or student government find something you enjoy doing and a group of people you enjoy doing it with. This is a great way to make lifelong friends as well as pursue passions and interests in a particular niche, something that becomes harder to do after college when life gets in the way.
- Know the different between when you are better off going to sleep and when to stay up
I feel like puling all-nighters and wild nights spent staying up into the wee hours are staples of college, but I am here to tear that myth apart. Sleep is important. Sleep is the difference between successful people and all the hot mess people that memes are about. There will be some nights where staying up is important, like having an important conversation with a friend or a fun night out that you know will make a really special memory. However there will be nights where rest is important and you are better off going to sleep knowing that FOMO is just that, fear.
- Don’t take everything you lean in class as the gospel truth, always be a discerning consumer of information
Yes, for the most part your professors are intelligent, worldly, experienced individuals who are probably smarter that you, but the difference between the mass hordes of students who get pushed through the college system and truly wise students, are those who ask questions, analyze what they are told and are discerning consumers of information. Anyone can sit in a class and take notes like a robot, but the best and brightest will question what they are told and seek out alternative answers and verification. Remember most universities have an agenda in regards to what they want their students to walk away with after four year and what they want them to think and feel, and it is your job to figure out what that is and then dissect that mission to see how well it correlates with your beliefs, values and judgements about the world.
- If you are studying humanities your major doesn’t really matter so pick something you enjoy
The humanities get a bad rap in the university system these days. Most people are quick to judge a liberal arts degree on its lack of job prospects or its limited salary opportunities, but the truth is that the humanities make the world go round and most of why the humanities are important, or where scholarship is being formed, is not inside a classroom, unlike the sciences or technology. Rather the humanities are most vibrant outside of college campuses in theaters and bookstores and living rooms gathering round the TV. Therefore if you are choosing to study something in the humanities, or social sciences even, don’t worry so much about the specific degree or the major, just choose something that you enjoy. A person with a world languages degree can still become a college president, a person with a communications degree can still become a CEO, a person with a dance degree can still become a lawyer. The degree itself should be more focused on what brings you joy and passion as opposed to job prospects or salary, not because those things don’t matter but because after graduation your major become less relevant to your career. To be honest most jobs in the humanities are looking for a college degree, not what your major was.
- Community college is a great choice- not a cop out or inferior to a university
As someone who works in the community college system I am a huge proponent of its academic and financial opportunities. People will be quick to point out that it is not as fun or fulfilling as a 4 year college, but I feel like people are so quick to judge community college as inferior both socially and academically. However, community college is a great for people who are unsure what they want to study or want to get their grades up or want to/need to save money on tuition. it is so important to validate the choice to go to community college as a wise and responsible choice. Most community colleges allow for more one on one teaching and stronger relationships between students and professors. There are also tons of community colleges with great student programs and dorms!
- Going to college is not necessarily a sign of intelligence or superiority
That said, and in light of the college admissions scandal, please note that going to a four year university does not mean you are better or smarter than anyone else. Not everyone deserves their spot in a 4 year university. It is also not the straight and narrow to success. lots of high schools will pressure students to go to 4 year schools to make them look good, while neglecting the fact that all students are different and everyone is on a different path in which a 4 year degree is not necessarily the best path for every student. Likewise, your college experience is what you make of it. Whether you are at Harvard of a poorly ranked state school, your college experience has the potential you allow it to have.
- Use all that free time wisely!
Never again will you have as much free time as you do in college. Class from 11am until 2pm! Then afternoons and weekend free! Oh you don’t have Friday classes? What a paradise of irresponsibility! Partying every night! Sleeping until 2! But not so fast! All this free time is a precious gift not to be squandered on drunken bacchanals and sleeping until 2! After college it is 40 hour work weeks and days where you wished you just had 2 extra hours in the day to do something other than work, exercise, laundry and sleep. While you’re in college use all that time to pursue passion projects, start a business, get a side job and start saving money, join a inter-mural league, pick up a new hobby, learn a new language, exercise, the list goes on and on. Trust me on this one, you will miss those college days when you have to transition to the adult work week with no school holidays or summer vacations. You will miss all those carefree afternoons and endless playtime. Make sure you make it worth it! Never again will you have that kind of free time to pursue your dreams and goals.
College is a tricky time full of expectations and hazy glimpses of an unclear future, and there are loads of things I wish I had known, or can see clearer, now that I have left the dorms and dirty frat alleys behind. College is a time to explore and experiment and pursue, and yet life is too short to make all the mistakes yourself, sometimes you just have to learn from other people’s mistakes.