I’ve been out of school and in the “real world” for almost ten years now (which makes me feel incredibly old). While I try not to dwell on the past too much, because that makes me depressed, when I do look back, instead of reflecting on the glory days (whatever that means), I always focus on the things that I wish I had done. The things that I wish someone had told me to do and pay attention to, because this was the time to do them.
The regrets, if you will. Which include:
1. Not joining a club. Or several clubs. And actively participating. College is probably the last time that you’re able to easily try out different activities, get involved in something that might be interesting to you, and find a group of likeminded people. It’s also probably the first time that you’ve had the freedom that comes with being an adult and making decisions on how to spend your free time solely on your own. So use it. Even if you join a group and decide it’s not for you, at least you can then cross that off the list of things that might potentially be interesting.
2. Not playing on a sports team. Similarly, college is a time for pursuing activities that you loved as a youth. I loved sports, and I wish I had played intramural soccer. I went to a meeting for the team, but then decided that it was just too much of a pain to work into my schedule. Whatever it is — sports, writing, music, art, knitting — if you’re still interested in it, by all means, don’t give it up just because you didn’t get a scholarship to do it, or think that you don’t have time, or are just plain old lazy.
3. Not making more friends. I am not good at making friends. I’m shy and introverted by nature. Which generally doesn’t work in a college setting. But honestly, there are so many opportunities to make friends of all shapes and sizes in college (see #1&2 above). Even if you just put yourself out there the tiniest bit, you’ll run smack dab into about a bazillion people that share your interests, quirks, and eating/drinking habits. So be open, even if it’s incredibly uncomfortable for you at first. It will make your time in college that much more fun and memorable.
4. Not going on Spring Break. I never went on a proper Spring Break. I either went home for the week, or went to visit my boyfriend at college in Florida. Now, I’m not really the partying type, but I would have liked to have experienced a proper Spring Break at least once. It’s a right of passage.
5. Not going out more often. Again, I’m not a huge partier. But that doesn’t mean that I needed to stay in every night. There are plenty of things to do on a college campus at night that don’t involve drinking questionable substances in a dingy frat house basement. Figure out what it is that you want to do and then go do it (and if it’s drinking questionable substances in a dingy frat house basement, then more power to you).
6. Not having school spirit. My school wasn’t exactly a powerhouse in the sports arena, but we were in the Big East (emphasis on were), and we had a pretty large student fan base at football and basketball games. I think I went to maybe two games my whole time there. I just couldn’t be bothered. And didn’t have friends that were into it and would go with me. And, in the case of football, I often wasn’t on campus on the weekends. But when I watch clips of games now, and see how much fun the students are having, I get a little pang of jealousy that I never experienced that. So go. Pull a Rory Gilmore and bring a book if you have to. But at least you can say that you were there, and hey, there’s always the chance that you’ll get swept up in the fun of it and actually enjoy yourself.
7. Not taking more classes just for the hell of it. College is a time to experiment (in many different ways). You have the option to learn so many different things — things that you might not even realize you’re interested in. Plus, you have a certain number of credits that you need to get to and electives that you need to take. So, why not take that class on ancient Greek pottery, or that one on calligraphy. Or whatever it is that catches your eye, even if it has nothing to do with your major or what you think you want to do in life. Sure, it might not be useful in the real world, or you might end up really hating it, but you might also learn something or discover a new passion. At worst, you spend a few hours a week sitting through a boring class — it’s not like you’ve never done that before.
8. Not waiting to declare a major. How many 18-year olds do you know that can tell you exactly what they’re going to be doing 10, 20, 50 years from now? That’s essentially what colleges want you to do when they ask you to declare a major. I went with the most universally applicable one that I could think of – communications. With a minor in sociology. It’s pretty much a total BS degree. But I didn’t know any better. I knew that I hated economics (which is funny, because now I deal with financial statements on a regular basis…). I hadn’t really taken many classes outside of the realm of communications (see above), and felt pressure to declare. So I just went with what I was closest to completing. I suppose I could have switched majors, but that’s a whole different pain. So take as long as you can to declare your major, if you’re unsure. Take classes in different areas to try and figure out what floats your boat (see #7). If you’re really worried, double major (or major/minor) in something more practical to go along with your degree in interpretive dance theory.
9. Not waiting to graduate. I finished college in three years (which made it even more important to declare a major quickly and harder to switch). It made total sense to me at the time — if I didn’t spend another year in school, I didn’t spend another however many thousands of dollars paying for school, and instead I spent that year getting paid. It still makes sense from a purely economical and rational standpoint, but let’s face it — economics and rationality are boring. I missed out on graduating with my friends. On living in an apartment and being “adults.” On doing all the things that seniors in college do. Instead, I got deadlines and rent payments and a blackberry to constantly be in touch with the office. Don’t be me if you have the time and finances to stick it out another year.
10. Not doing a semester or summer abroad. I had a boyfriend that went to school a three-hour plane ride away, summer classes to take to graduate in three years, and internships to do. So a semester or summer abroad just didn’t seem feasible. I would now kill to be able to just pack it up and move to Italy or Spain for three months. Studying abroad is one of those things that sounds really cliché and you think all of the people that do it are really annoying because that’s all they talk about, but it’s something that you’ll only really get to experience in college. If you like traveling, or think that you might like traveling, go abroad. Even if you get to vacation in a foreign country every year once you graduate, I’m convinced it’s not even close to being the same. I wish I could have been one of those annoying people talking about the semester that they did in Italy ad nauseam.
So, kids, I hope that you can learn something from me. If I had to sum it up into one piece of advice it would be: You can’t go back, so make the most of it the first time around. And if you do miss out, just make up stories based on what you see on Facebook. Nobody but you will know the difference.