A few days before I started my first year at Wellesley College, I went out for coffee with my dad.
“You can’t even imagine who you’ll be when you graduate,” he said. “You’re going to change and grow so much.”
Yeah, right, I thought. I truly expected that I would always be the way I was then: wide-eyed and anxious, eager to please other people, and equally hopeful for and terrified by the future. But my dad was right. Four (and a half) years later, I’ve changed so much. I’ve grown more than I ever thought possible, and experienced both the deepest lows and the highest highs of my life. And I’ve learned so much, both academically and in terms of life lessons.
There are a few life lessons that I know on this side of college that I wish I’d known sooner. These would have saved me hours of work and a lot of tears. But you can’t change the past, so rather than crying over spilled milk, I’m sharing these lessons with you. Maybe they’ll help you avoid some of my mistakes, or stumble upon happiness in college sooner than I did!
You don’t need to fulfill anyone else’s dreams
When I came to college, I so badly wanted to please other people. My roommates, my professors, the college chaplain — these were people I liked and who I wanted to like me. So I worked so hard on being the kind of person I thought they wanted me to be. It took me two years to realize that I had been trying to fulfill not their dream, not my own dream, but the dream that I imagined they had for me, which didn’t even really exist. I had to find the path that I wanted to follow, because ultimately, I am the one who has to live with my own choices.
Plan well from the start
When I came to college, I saw the class catalogue as a sort of grab bag of possibilities. I wanted to try everything! But poor planning meant that I was still filling distribution requirements in my senior year (hello, Geoscience). I wish, in hindsight, that I’d planned better from the start, and would have filled by distributions right in the beginning.
People and plans change. The person you were before you started college will be different from the person who receives a diploma with your name on it, so be prepared to be flexible. I was sometimes rigid in who I thought I should be while I was in school; I felt that I needed to be a certain kind of student, a certain kind of RA, and a certain kind of person. But the best growth that I experienced in college, happened when I least expected it; when I stepped outside of my comfort zone and let myself be flexible with my expectations. Speaking of…
Step outside of your comfort zone every day
I wish I had stepped outside of my comfort zone more often. When I came to college, I knew that I would spend Orientation trying hard to meet new people and try new things. But after a few months had passed, I no longer felt the need to try; I had friends and a good routine, so there was no need for me to try singing lessons or go to the hypnotist’s show across campus. But some of my best memories from college are from those weird, once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I said yes to on a whim (scuba diving with Santa, anyone?). It took me a while to see the trend, and now I wish I’d known it earlier: stepping outside of your comfort zone, especially when you’re comfortable in your routine, is where great things happen.
The friends will come (and they’ll change your life forever)
In my first few months of college, I was so nervous about when I would meet those “in your life forever” friends. You know: the maid of honor at your wedding, the godmother of your first child, the vodka aunt who encourages you to go bungee jumping on your 50th birthday. It took me a while to find them, and in that time I was so anxious about whether or not they would ever arrive. But they did — and now I have some of the best, most supportive and incredible college friends I could ever have asked for. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t been so anxious, and had just let the friendships come when they came.
This absolutely isn’t everything I learned in my college years. But knowing these things before I started would have saved me a lot of time and frustration. I hope they’ll do that for you. Enjoy your college experience and be sure to take pictures — these years are truly worth remembering.
What’s one thing you wish you knew before you started college?