Don’t Just Do What You’re Good At (Because You Might Surprise Yourself)
By the time I graduated from high school, I had a rigid idea of what I could and could not do. I could do history, English, and drama. I could not do math and science. These ideas, of what I was and was not capable of, guided my initial college course selection. My first semester of school, I took courses I thought I would do well in. Introduction to Drama, Introduction to English Literature, Introduction to Education, and other courses. I not only decided to take courses I thought I would do well in with the minimum of effort, but I also chose a major and a minor based on my limited knowledge of the world and what I thought I could do as an adult. As it turns out, there are more career options for kids who are good at school than simply becoming teachers. Unfortunately, it took me my entire college career to figure that out. And those rigid ideas of what I thought I could and couldn’t do? I got a B+ in my Intro to English Lit course, and an A+ in the Biology course I took my junior year. Go figure.
In some ways, being uptight brought me good grades in college. However, there was a heavy price. I struggled to get along with my roommates in our small shared space (of which there were seven total over the course of 4 years), and I avoided a lot of social activities in favor of getting discussion questions written or a book chapter finished. Sure, college is a time for studying and buckling down, and young adulthood in general is a time to start becoming responsible. Forming social bonds are equally important, however, and loosening up is a good way to make friends.
My favorite part of college happened outside the classroom, through my involvement with different clubs. In high school, I had joined a lot of clubs and done a lot of extracurriculars as a way to pad my college application. The importance of having a strong resume only increases with age, and so being involved in your campus community is as important in college as it was in high school. Find clubs that fit your interest. If you’re considering a career in journalism, join the campus newspaper. If you’re interested in activism, find your campus’s LGBTQ group. The great thing about colleges is that they offer a wealth of offerings to satisfy the most diverse tastes. Even if there isn’t anything that immediately grabs your interest, step outside your comfort zone and try something new. You might surprise yourself.
Get Out of the Country
Almost all colleges and universities offer considerable opportunities to study abroad, and my study abroad experience was the absolute highlight of my four years. Studying abroad gives you a great opportunity to experience a different culture in a non-tourist capacity that is truly unique. Not only did my study abroad experience help me find my current thesis research topic, but it also introduced me to some of my best friends.
Say “Yes” More Than You Say “No”
While this applies to some of my earlier categories, I think this is important to reiterate. I said “no” a lot in college, and there are certainly situations where that’s appropriate. “No, I won’t be a passenger in your car because I don’t feel comfortable riding with a drunk driver.” “No, I won’t let you copy my math homework.” “No, I can’t go to the dance tonight because I have a paper due at midnight.” However, there are lots of experiences that you may be tempted to pass up because you feel too busy or just not motivated enough. The more experiences you can amass, the more satisfying your college experience will be. So when your friend asks you to help decorate the student center for an African drum concert, spare a few hours of your time and do it. If you get an invitation to sit on a hiring committee, give up a few lunches to listen to the talks and give your feedback. Go above and beyond the bare minimum required to gain your diploma.
What advice would you like to have received on your high school graduation?