4 Things I Wish I Knew Before College

I’m personally nervous about giving advice.

Even if we’re out to dinner at my favorite restaurant, I will hesitate to recommend anything from the menu. It’s hard to bear the burden of negative consequences and I’d rather just not play a role in the potential unhappiness that could come from you hating my favorite entree. But not all decisions are that silly. Throughout the beginning of my professional career, I’ve often gotten this question:

“What advice do you have for college students?”

Yikes. It’s an understandable curiosity (albeit tough to think that someone like me, who barely knows how to use a kitchen oven, is in any shape to give life advice.) I wrote this last year after graduation (originally published with Student Voice) and upon re-reading it, I definitely think a lot of the lessons have helped me tremendously after a year at IBM. Without further ado, here are some of takeaways from my time at the University of Maryland:

Identify Your Own Vehicles For Success — What does success mean to you? For the longest time, I thought it meant getting a good job and making money. Standard. Through college however, I’ve gone on to expand my perspective of success and now I feel that my definition revolves around empowering and inspiring people. Your definition of success will change, as will your habits. It’s not bad to take advice and learn some new useful habits, but don’t force something upon yourself that will not fulfill you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been recommended books or business insider articles about “What The Top Ten Most Successful People Do Daily.” If you strive to emulate your life around others, you’ll lose track of what works for you. If you write your best papers the night before they are due, don’t let people tell you that you “should be more organized” or that you “should plan better.” If you’re nocturnal and do your best work at night, embrace it. Different things work for different people. Personally, I worked best under pressure, procrastinated a lot, and was fine. Find out what you want, find out what works best for you and don’t succumb to what societal pressure tells you is “the best way”. The best way is different for everyone.

People Are Your Greatest Resources — There’s a big myth that the most you learn in college will be from classes or textbooks. The best resources for education are in fact, your classmates and other students. Reach out and learn about what interests, hobbies, and passions others have. Think back to your own life. There have probably been one or two things you’ve been really passionate about that have come as a result of a conversation or a conceptual introduction by individuals. Cherish the differences between you and your peers. Always ask yourself “What can I learn from this person?” when you meet someone new. Maybe you’ll learn something about a new country, a new background, a new food, or maybe even a new form of dance. The possibilities are endless! Not everyone may interest you and not everyone may be your best friend; there is a strong chance, however, that you will find something unique in every individual that you have never seen before. If you find yourself isolated in your room, go down the hall and ask someone about his or her future aspirations. It’s way easier than it sounds!

Your Primary Barrier Will Be Yourself — I can’t apply to that internship because my GPA isn’t high enough. I’m not fast enough for intramural soccer. I’m too busy to rush a fraternity or join a club this semester. I’m not smart enough. I’m not qualified enough. So many students wake up and tell themselves they are incapable or unable to pursue something. I was a victim of this when I was an underclassman as well. I felt as a freshman that I was not old enough or capable enough to apply to certain programs and try new things. Tell yourself this: It’s way better to live life with “oh wells” than “what ifs”. You apply to the internship and don’t get it. Oh well. You’re nervous to participate in a business case competition, sign up, learn a lot, but don’t place in the competition. Oh well. You won’t be plagued by thoughts of what would’ve happened if you hadn’t done the competition or neglected to apply to the internship. All of our life experiences, even our failures, can lead us closer to new opportunities. Don’t deny yourself an opportunity. Take a risk. The worst thing that can happen is you saying, “Oh well, this wasn’t for me. Time to move on”.

Embrace Uncertainty — Approximately 70% of college students will change their major atleast once. If you feel uncertain about life, academics, and your career, don’t let it get you down! There is no greater graduation cliché than “follow your dream”; a lot of people will ask you your major and what you want to be when you grow up. Keep into consideration that whatever your dream is right now, it might change. It might change in a year. It might change in a week. Allow it to. You don’t have to know what you want to do and there are just as many people who embrace many different careers, passions and purposes. The hardest part about switching majors is to take a step back and admit to ourselves that what we have been doing will not contribute to our happiness. We are scared to remove ourselves from our dreams because we don’t want to admit we were wrong. Keeping our goals open to change and expansion isn’t a bad thing. Learn some cutting-edge technology. Write a blog. Pick up the game of Tennis or the art of Yoga. Embrace the possibility of change and take it year by year. One of my favorite quotes is “Not all those who wander are lost”. For someone who has changed their major close to nine times in college, this quote has resonated so much with me. As long as you are enjoying the journey, everything will work itself out in the end.

The biggest takeaway from college is that the real experience starts at the end of your comfort zone. Whether it’s meeting others, taking a class outside of your line of study, going to a Hackathon, or joining a club, make sure that you are able to grow within the four years you have. With the rise of tuition rates, there is even more pressure for you to get the most out of your college experience; make the return worth it for yourself.

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