What We Wish We’d Known When We Were in College

If you can escape college without a War and Peace-length list of regrets, you’re luckier than most. Everybody makes mistakes in college, but you can avoid some of those errors in judgment if you take advice from people who remember their own university experiences. Here are some things we’re passing on as a result of our own — ahem — “missteps” while at university.

Not Knowing Isn’t a Bad Thing . . . But Only If You Seize the Opportunity to Learn Something

When your roommate casually mentions a term you don’t recognize or your professor makes a confusing point during a lecture, don’t just nod and smile as though you understand. Instead, ask questions or hit up a dictionary or reference website and capitalize on some new knowledge. It’s kind of why you’re in college.

Go. To. Class.

It’s really tempting to look at a syllabus, see that the professor allows three absences, and to take that as a go-ahead to miss three classes. Don’t do it just because you can. Skipping class not only means that you miss the lesson (and no, getting the notes from a friend isn’t the same as being there), it also creates and reinforces bad habits. It’s a slippery slope and pretty soon you’re missing more classes and finding yourself in danger of failing at midterm as a result of absences or being lost in the material for which you were not present.

Your Professors are More Than Just Talking Heads

A professor does more than educate and grade you in the classroom. He or she can recommend you for an internship, help you get into grad school or find a job, introduce you to influential people, and generally steer and support you. Introduce yourself to your teachers at the start of each term. Participate in discussions and visit professors when you need guidance (profs have office hours for a reason). These relationships can be the stuff of professional development and lifelong mentorships down the line.

Use Student Loans as a Last Resort

It takes time and effort to apply for scholarships, grants, and other forms of financial aid. However, that work pays off when you graduate without a tremendous debt hanging over your head. Many college students need student loans to pay for school but they seek other financial help first. Even if you only cut your debt by a few thousand dollars, you’ll find your first few years in the working world are easier to manage when you aren’t paying off all of that interest.

Grades Matter, So Does the Larger Experience

Looking back with as few regrets as possible is all about balance and avoiding extremes. In college, of course grades matter, but so do friendships and life skills and experiences. You’ll want to devote plenty of time and energy to your studies, but don’t miss out on things like dating, day trips to a nearby city, joining an intramural team, and exploring beyond campus. On the flip side, don’t get so into these other experiences that you neglect your studies. Find your balance and you’ll hit your sweet spot for college and looking back.

Finally, although you’ll enjoy college more if you keep the above truths in mind, you’ll still make mistakes. Embrace them, learn from them, and devote yourself to enjoying the college experience. That way, you’ll look back on your college years as both informative and gratifying.


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