Sunday, June 8, 2014

Dear College-bound Nieces: 10 Pieces of Unsolicited Advice

There are plenty of things I'm not an expert on. College is not one of those things. As my cute nieces are jumping into their last summers at home, I've been going over the things I learned from my nearly-a-decade at school, and here I offer some of those things, unsolicited:

1. Find a tribe. It may be a club, it may be your freshman roommates, it may be an on campus job, hopefully some combo of all of these things, but having friendly faces and a place on campus where you feel comfortable will mean the difference between disoriented lonesome wandering and starting to feel at home. This can also mean going out of your way to meet people. Be nice, be outgoing, even if you don't feel like it.
2. Get an on campus job. It may be that you don't need to work to support yourself. It may be that you're taking 21 credit hours (this is a bad idea), it doesn't matter: get a job, on campus. It may be somewhere random like the lost and found or somewhere that really applies to your field, like a TA. Both have benefits, both are a good idea. It doesn't have to get in the way of school (don't let it) or in the way of your social life (if done right, it will help more than hurt). You have the time. Some benefits:
  • A) a tribe, one that you're forced into proximity with, for good or bad, where you can learn more about yourself and others.
  • B) a home away from your apartment. Apartments are great places, don't get me wrong, but it's nice to have a place to go to where you don't have to worry about chore charts or that third roommate you're not so sure about.
  • C) a letter. One day you're going to apply for grad school or a job and someone's going to ask for a letter of recommendation. You will certainly have professors who you've grown close to, but if you can find a job as a TA or RA, you'll have someone who really knows you and your work and who can really open doors for you.
  • D) A line on your resume. Show grad schools or your employer that you can take care of business.
  • E) Spending money. Jobs on campus don't pay nothing, but you're not going to get rich. It's nice, though, to have a little extra cash on hand for marginally responsible road trips or hair dye.
  • F) Something to worry about that isn't school. It's hard to write papers, it's hard to TA a class, but they're different kinds of hard so are good breaks from each other.
3. Travel! Study abroad, go on marginally responsible road trips, save up for a trip to Italy. You can make the time and you'll never have as much freedom again.
4. Don't take 8:00 classes. You think you can handle it (early morning seminary!), but two months into the semester you will hate yourself. I promise.
5. Don't skip class, much. So I'll be honest. I had a Health/PE class I stopped going to after the second test. I had great physiology in high school, attendance wasn't mandatory, and I pulled a B+. Not my best grade, but I'm not losing sleep. On the other hand, I had students that just stopped coming class midsemester. Or didn't come on the day a paper was due, or didn't turn in a paper before they left for Christmas break. These students got worse grades than I did and also were dumb. The point: there will be times when skipping class is totally worth it, but don't get carried away!
6. Take a fun class (or two). Russian Literature! The History of Jazz! Every once in a while take something you're not required to take--it's fun and good for your brain. It also makes you look like an interesting person to grad schools. (I did take a lot longer than I needed to to get through my undergrad, but I know plenty of people who graduated in 4 years who also wandered a little.)
7.  Take honors classes. They're easier (less busy work), they're smaller, they're usually geared to align with the professor's interests, all winners.
8. Don't be afraid to shop around for classes. You can add/drop classes for the first two weeks of the semester. I didn't get to be a real pro at this until maybe my junior year, but: if a class/professor seems boring or uninspired, find a new one! If you didn't get into a class you really wanted, email the professor beforehand and then show up. You won't always get in, but you often will. A professor will really make or break the subject matter so particularly for classes that matter, find someone you love!
9. Study groups! They're fun, they're (generally) waay better than they were in high school and you get to hang out with people you like outside of class. And you can bring cookies. Don't be afraid to initiate 'em.
10. Take classes one Spring/Summer semester. This is mostly for Provo kids: it's magical.
11. Get off of campus once in a while. The college town you live in expands beyond the bounds of campus, and so should you. Wander off a little to find the great pupusas, the quirky thrift stores, the adorable neighborhoods and great hiking trails that college kids don't always get to appreciate.

Have fun! Be nice! Draw closer to Heavenly Father!
The End.