My first bit of advice is that the student should have a general idea of why they’re going to college. It can be for specific training. It can be with an idea of what’s necessary for a particular job. It can be because of an interest in a particular subject. It CAN be because they have no idea what they want to do with their life and college seems like the “IT” thing to do in that situation. There are dozens of other reasons to go to college, but what’s important is that the student knows which is their reason.
The main purpose for knowing why you’re going to college is so that you pick the type of college that best fits your needs and budget. If you’re going for specific training, you definitely want to go to the school that is the best for this. There’s no reason to spend a lot of money on a pretentious private university when you only need to learn [insert your course(s) here].
Always address your budget. If you’re not sure where you’ll end up job-wise, you don’t want to end up with a lot of unnecessary debt. Some debt is fine, though, so don’t be terrified of it! Due to my parent’s economic situation, my student loan debt was capped at just under $20,000 for 4 years ($5000 a year; $2500/semester) for my top pick university, which I think is just about ideal given that I was attending the University of Virginia with no idea what I was going to do with my degree.
Yes, I attended the pretentious (public) university where it’s perfectly acceptable for me to announce that I graduated from “The College at The University”. Should you feel small because you attended the local community college for 2 years? HELL NO! (If I could make that a bigger font, I would!) What matters is that your college matches YOUR needs.
Guess what? Knowing yourself is the first step to becoming a responsible adult. You should practice this by choosing the right college for yourself instead of blindly taking the advice of the people around you who think that bigger and more expensive is somehow better. It’s not!
It would have been nice if I’d gone to college knowing that I had no clue why I was going and being comfortable with that thought. Instead, I kept that thought buried in the back of my mind while my outside alternated between faking “I’ve got this” and completely freaking out (seriously, I cried the whole drive to move-in that first day and was miserable for about a week). I regret a lot of missed opportunities because I wasn’t comfortable being directionless.
Okay, so now that you’ve chosen your school, now what do you do? Typically, you’re going to hear a lot of “have fun, but not too much fun!” and “learn something so you can get that fabulous job!” Yeah…that advice SUCKS!
So, here’s some practical advice: join a club. Or 10. Seriously, if you want to love your job, do something your passionate about. So, in college, where you have hundreds of clubs, causes, research opportunities, etc available to you, explore your interests. Even if you are in college for a definite “end goal”, JOIN A CLUB. Because you know what? Life is actually a pretty long time and stuff happens. What you love now can burn you out later. And that’s fine! When you’re middle aged and tired of doing the same old thing, you can look back at college and say “hey, I really enjoyed the time I spent ballroom dancing (or whatever your club was) and would like to do that again”. Do not spend all your time in your room or the library with your nose stuck in books. Get out. Meet people. Protest something. Get interested in something. Find yourself in something bigger than yourself. You know, all the crap like that!
My next bit of advice: Say yes. Unless any part of your gut says “DANGER”, say yes. Go hiking at midnight. Join a club by accident because a friend wants you to know something about his club so that you can help him out a bit. Go on a date that you don’t realize was a date until 3 years later. Go to Indian Culture night and eat food that’s way too spicy. Go watch a meteor shower at 2am in November on top of a mountain with no cell signal (because of a radio tower) with a girl you met 3 months before and her 3 male classmates even though you don’t have to do the assignment because you’re not in the class. Regret that you said no to the epic party because you had a final the next day (the party where your friend ended up in the closet wearing the Sorting Hat while singing…I still can’t get a straight story about what happened that night as they drank all the alcohol so they wouldn’t have to carry it home).
Don’t be afraid to be sober. I don’t like the taste of alcohol and have no desire to fight through the taste in order to get drunk. I’ve been willing to taste various drinks in hopes of finding something that actually tastes good, but so far, YUCK. My friends have always been cool with this and would hand me various drinks to taste (their drink, so I know it wasn’t spiked, not that anyone in our small group would do that–we never went out to proper clubs, bars, etc). Friends do NOT pressure you to drink. Period. End of Discussion. Friends don’t pressure you to do anything. They accept you for who you are and that’s that. If anyone starts to pressure you, leave.
Say yes, but do not feel pressured. There is a difference and you’ll know it. If you are not comfortable with any situation, leave. Do not worry about offending anybody. Like Dr. Seuss said: Those who matter won’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.
My last bit of advice is that you should take as wide a variety of classes as you can for your major. I’d pick classes based on their name alone. That’s how I ended up learning about the religions of the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans instead of a class on Scientology, etc. I’d read “New World Religions” as “New AGE Religions”, haha. It took me a few weeks to figure out my error. I never dropped a course because even if I had no clue about the content, I figured I was learning something anyway. For instance: the history of philosophy course was not very much history, but a lot of philosophy that went over my head (I will never be much of a philosopher). And I can’t memorize from books. There was one class I nearly failed (besides statistics) and it was one that was recommended to me: Marine Biology (or something like that). It turned out to be a class about memorizing the Latin names and characteristics of specific marine organisms. Sorry, but unless I’m knee deep in sea grasses, I will never be able to identify one over it’s neighbor by it’s Latin name. EVER. In the field, sure (when I volunteered at the zoo I could rattle off all kinds of specifics about the animals), but out of a book? Hell no.