Real College Grads Dish on What They Wish They Knew Before Starting College

Real College Grads Dish on What They Wish They Knew Before Starting College

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college advice

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Since I graduated from college in 2013, I've often found myself thinking, "Well, that would've been nice to know in college." As much as I wish I could time travel back to the summer after high school graduation and give my younger self some college advice, it's not possible. So, what's the next best thing? Passing it on to you!

I asked 35 recent college grads to give me the one piece of college advice they wish they had known when they were starting college. Today, I'm sharing their wisdom.

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"Go sit next to a stranger in the dining hall. I remember right before starting my first semester at Vanderbilt, my dad kept giving me one piece of college advice. 'Go sit next to stranger in the dining hall.' He was very adamant that this was VERY important to make friends. 'Introduce yourself.' Okay, yeah sure Dad. I do not know about you, but the dining hall scares me half to death. Who wants to drop their tray and have everyone laugh at you? Maybe this is only in the movies, but this was/is a real life fear of mine to this day. Yet, every time I called home I got the question, 'Did you sit next to someone and introduce yourself at lunch? Dinner?' No. I knew he was not going to let it up either. I decided to do it my way. On the second week of Chemistry class, I sat next to this adorable blond girl. I saw her around the freshman campus so I was positive she was my year. I introduced myself and asked if we could sit next to each other since we were both freshmen. Luckily, she accepted. We have been the best of friends ever since. We graduated together, moved to a new city together, been through breakups and relationships and I was even in her wedding last year! So my college advice, as silly as it might seem, go sit next to a stranger in the dining hall, or chemistry class, or whatever that spot is to you. You just might meet one of your favorite people."  -Allison

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"Make memories. College is the last leg of your academic life before the world of work takes over. Prioritize what's important, but leave time to do the things you want, see the things you want, and go where you want to go." -Blake

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“College goes by incredibly fast. My advice is to get involved with organizations and activities that you are truly interested in, not just for the resume." -Abby

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"You can follow all the steps meticulously and then have things fall apart, or go a way you never planned, and that can feel really scary because it’s unfamiliar, but you can just as easily make a million mistakes and be surprised at how happy you are to have ended up where you have. Stay curious and open minded, and enjoy your college years to learn as much about as many things as you can, and have a broad range of experiences, because there’s so much out there we never imagine, and you never know who or what will lead you to your passion." -Rachel

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"1) take the summer or winter intercession courses if you can. Taking a 4 week easy online course in the summer or over winter break gives you a buffer in the actual semester. You can afford to take less credits during the actual school year (super helpful if you have to work while being a student) or have some leeway if god forbid you fail a class.

2) Make friends in your major. As you go on, your classes will get smaller and smaller so make friends early!  Schedule your classes with them to hold each other accountable for attendance and have study buddies who are studying the same material as you." -Kim

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"Apply, apply, apply. The only way to make sure you never get an acceptance into a certain school, job, etc. is by not putting yourself in the running in the first place. Also, social networks are important. No matter how busy life gets, try not to neglect those who care about you." -Jeremy

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"Looking back on when I went to college, I wish I knew about the rule of 5. When something happens that you think is the end of the world (a break-up, a failed test, etc) think- will this matter in 5 days? 5 months? 5 years? It really helps put things in perspective. Work hard while you’re there but have fun and don’t sweat the small stuff." -Kathryn

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"Really, really, really try not to go into college with a relationship. I thought I was IN LOVE and refused to break up and it just really took away from my first year so much. If it’s meant to be it will be but try to immerse yourself in school first. Also... WAKE UP AND GO TO CLASS. Honestly, waking up and going to class is 90% of the battle to good grades." -Alysia

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"Going to school in a different part of the nation is severely undervalued and under-discussed. Leaving your comfort zone and not attending a local university with many of your high school friends is initially difficult, but you will gain a different perspective on society than previously experienced as well as strengthen your ability to adapt and thrive in a new setting.

Job prep: The only person who looks out for you 100% of the time is yourself. You will receive guidance along your journey to adulthood, but in the end, you are the only person who will push yourself to ultimately reach success." -Alex

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It's okay to take time away from school if you need it. We go into college thinking we have it all planned out, that we can get it all done in four years and that everything will stay on track. But life happens – you go through so much during college and whether you change your major three times, need to save up more money before continuing, fail a few classes or you need a mental health break – it's perfectly acceptable to take some time off. Maybe that means no summer classes, a spring break spent at home with family, or a semester or two away from school. Everyone's college experience is different and we all don't have to accomplish our degrees in the same time frame. Our mental, physical, and financial health is more important than following the four year time frame that is often set out for us. –Shelby

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"There’s so many things but I would definitely wish I had more guidance with finding things. I feel like orientation is so rushed and not really specific. It wasn’t until last year that I found out about health care through school and meeting with your advisor as soon as you start the program would be something I wish I did. Not only do you create a bond with them but they help you out with everything. As far as social life I think just trying new things and going to events is fun and would encourage it!" -Maria

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"I wish I had gone into college with less of a plan and more of a willingness to say 'yes.' While I knew about a lot of opportunities, there were definitely more that I didn’t know about. Since I had an idea of what I wanted my college experience to be, I feel like I might have missed out on some of those experiences (friendships, internships, classes, minors, clubs, charity events, etc.) simply because I wasn’t looking for them. College is such a unique time in your life when you can try all of these new things on for size and it’s a shame that I didn’t know to take more of an advantage of that.

Also, I wish I had worn better makeup on my first day of college because I literally met my husband and I'm pretty sure I didn't believe in foundation back then." -Madison

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"I wish I had realized how special it is to live within walking distance of your closest friends, and that the morning-after recap bull session with the guys is maybe more important than the night itself." -David

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“You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anything else. Find a good rhythm between studying, exercising, eating right and partying hard. That rager at Kappa Sig will still be raging after you put in one more hour of work, and that Munchie Mart pizza will still taste phenomenal (read: only halfway decent) after rec bootcamp. Balance is your best friend. Also... the people you choose to surround yourself with will define your next four years, and if you’re lucky, another forty after that. Choose well.” -Megan

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"Your major doesn't dictate your life. Also, internships matter." -Graham

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“Be yourself!! Especially during your first year of college, you might feel pressure to act a certain way, dress a certain way, or hang with a certain crowd. College can be emotionally and socially overwhelming, and you may feel an immense pressure to conform in order to fit in, but don’t lose sight of who you are or be afraid to let your unique self shine. The more authentically unique you are, the more genuine, true friends you’ll attract. Once I stopped giving a [beep] about how people perceived me, I met some of my dearest friends and made the best memories of my life.” -Anna

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"I think the one thing I would do differently about college would be to get more involved. I tried Greek life my freshman year, but dropped it my second semester. I wish that I had tried other clubs, intramural teams, societies, or even just the mixers/social events for my majors. I know I missed out on a lot of connections that way, whether it be for a roommate, help on assignments in a class, or career opportunities post graduation." -Kelly

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"Value your relationships and connections, and follow up on all opportunities no matter how insignificant they may seem at the time!" -Olivia

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"I wish someone would’ve told me not going to college was ok. There’s a giant stigma place on going to college right after you graduate high school and I’m not a fan. At 18 years old I had no clue what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I’m 33 now and my goals have changed after gaining life experience. It was an expensive lesson to learn especially since I walked away without a degree. There’s plenty of time to go back and get a degree once you figure out what your passion is." -Shawn

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"Show up! Professors notice, and are much more lenient if an emergency occurs! Also, you’re going to feel like you’re drowning sometimes and failing and like you’re the only one! You’re not!" -Michelle

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“TRY NEW THINGS! Invest your time, your heart, and your resources into exploring what you truly enjoy, not what you think will gain others’ admiration. Spoiler: nobody gives a damn. Sign up for classes and learn unique skills. Do things that make you uncomfortable. Meet people that don’t look like you. Spend money on experiences, not things- and for heaven’s sake, NOT clothes (seriously, nothing in your current closet is from college). Your path will not be a straight line and there is zero shame in course-correcting. Your life will be infinitely better because you ran through every open door and discovered what was - and, more importantly, what wasn’t - for you.” -Brit

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"You're allowed to NOT go to college right away! I think I could have benefitted a lot from a 'gap year' but instead I sort of bounced around from major to major wasting time (and money) because I didn't know yet what I wanted to study." -Louisa

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"Get involved with SOMETHING on campus. Greek life, student council, union board, student newspaper, work in a lab, whatever! It will make you feel more connected to campus, give you an opportunity to make friends, and you'll have a new experience (and probably skills) to add to your resume." -Ali

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"Don’t be afraid get out of the bubble of your campus and your comfort zone - explore your college town or city while you’re there, especially if you’re far from home." -Matty

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"1) The job prep starts the moment you step on campus. Don’t worry about being a freshman or thinking you are starting too early. Get involved early and often so you have a solid resume by the time you are ready for an internship.  2) Find ways to feel connected on campus. I joined a sorority early and it was an awesome way to meet people my ago who were all going through the same experience as me at the same moment. It gave me an instant group of peers I could relate to, connect with, and lean on. 3) Not knowing what you want to do or changing your mind is okay! Don’t feel like you have to have the answer to 'what do you want to be when you grow up' all figured out but listen to your gut to find it. I stayed in a major longer than I should have when my gut was telling me this doesn’t feel right. Trust yourself! 4) Stay true to your North Star. College immerses you in such an amazing environment—new friends, new place, freedom, etc —and it all comes at once. It can be a lot to take in and process which can be very disorienting. Reflect often on if you are staying true to you and who you are—otherwise it’s easy to lose yourself. 5) think about having to tell that to your future husband or child the stories you may think are worth 'bragging rights' someday—there are things I did or ways I behaved and carried myself that in the moment seemed fine and harmless or even funny. When I reflect back and think about it, I am mortified. Mainly because when I tell my husband those stories now at 27–they aren’t much to be proud of. 6) Keep exercising—your body will thank you. When I got to college this was the first thing I let slip and it took me years to recover. Find ways to stay active but boy stay active! 7) quality friends will matter more than quantity. In college I had so many friends and really I thought that it what it was about—Making as many new friends as possible. When I look back now, having lots of friends was great but really the three to four close ones that I still keep in touch with today—those are the ones that matter. Find them, and hold on to them, because they are more rare and precious than you realize and many of the ones you thought were your friends at school will quickly fade away when you graduate." -Jillian

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"You'll never have a meal plan again so take advantage of it. Don't spend money on meals you'll dread spending money on post grad!" -Rachel

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" Your friends are your new family but don’t forget to still love on your actual family. Also: look both ways before crossing the street, don’t fold to peer pressure, drugs are whack, don’t flunk out, have fun but be safe. One bad decision can follow you for he rest of your life. Lastly, spandex all spandex." -Lysandra

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"Live your best life. Be open to and embrace new ideas, beliefs, situations and  activities. Don’t make excuses for yourself. Don’t miss class cause showing up is half the battle. Never be afraid to introduce yourself to new people and foster new friendships. Study abroad or travel as much as you possibly can." -Kyle

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"1) Go to class. Invest in your education and self. 2)  Immerse yourself with every campus opportunity that ignited some sort of passion and take networking seriously. That professor or the girl in that one class could be a good job connection one day. 3) You’re never too young to get serious about your career. Start now. 4) Take care of yourself and well-being. If it means missing out on the pregame to run, do it. 5) Don’t date in college. Forget the boy. Be a gentleman and don’t lead the girl on. You’re going to regret the moments you could’ve spent with your friends because you were distracting yourself with someone that wasn’t going to matter in a few years. 6) This is the time to work on finding your authentic self and your forever friends. Find the career and the bridesmaids/groomsmen. Find the ones that are going to be with you on the phone when your world comes crashing down in your 20s because it will, but if you do college right, the years and hard moments after it will transform into something beautiful." -Katie

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"Go to class! It sounds easy enough, but people like to say that attendance doesn't count and professors won't notice if you're there or not. They know and they care!" -Caroline

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"High school does a painfully mediocre job preparing you academically, socially and financially for the next major chapter in your life. No matter how prepared you think you are, the first month of college will take that preparation and slap you in the face with it. You are taught fruitless things like how to set a derivative of a parabola equal to slope of its tangent (because that applies to everyday life?!) yet the post secondary institution provides you with minimal resources to teach how to balance a budget and financially plan to ensure you maximize your college experience. Take it upon yourself and/or rely on your family to acquire that knowledge prior to enrolling. Learn from your college mistakes so they don’t repeat themselves when it really matters, but also don’t be afraid to make those mistakes. Sometimes the best memories you have are the ones you can’t remember. Moderation is a virtue. Learn it." -Derek

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"Nothing has to make or break you. It takes time to find your people sometimes, no class is going to be the end of your life as you know it, and in the end it will all come together. We've all been there and things will work out, just maybe sometimes it takes longer for you than it does for others and that's okay. You never get so little responsibility again so just enjoy it for the rollercoaster ride that it is." -Alyssa

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"I wish I knew that changing my major four times still didn't magically reveal what I wanted to do for the rest of my life... and that's okay!" -Sophie

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"1) Don't buy trendy clothes. Borrow them from your friends whenever possible because it will save you money, you won't have a closet full of regret immediately after graduating, and it's the only time in your life when you will have all those options right down the hall! 2) Raise your hand in class. Not only are you paying to, you know, learn this is the BEST time in your life to expand your horizons and challenge what you thought before, but also to ask questions about the things you don't quite get. 3) Make your own opportunities. I loved my school but it didn't give me the leg up I needed in my chosen career field, so I pursued as many internships and career experiences I could find. I even figured out a way to take time off school but still get my scholarship – and I used that money to move to D.C. and work at a national news network. 4) Your major is what you make of it. If you want to be a business major to make all the monies, great. But know that it's less about what you study and more about what you do with it. There are plenty of opportunities out there for people with less "clearly lucrative" career choices, but know that you might have to work harder to create your own opportunities and stand out. 5) There's a difference between opening yourself up to new experiences and compromising your integrity. Doing things you don't feel comfortable with, hanging around people who make you question yourself, or abandoning traits you've always admired about yourself are NOT part of the college experience. You don't have to  try it once just because a movie told you to." -Abby

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"Work on becoming the best version of yourself before worrying about impressing anyone else." -Halee

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