This weekend I’m going back to my alma mater for my sister-in-law’s graduation. Caps and gowns, tears and hugs goodbye, a flurry of packing up your dorm: that was me two years ago. In those past two years I’ve thought about my college experience a lot and have come up with two lists – one of the things I’m glad I did in college and one of the things I wish I had done. I believe in ending on the positive note, so I’ll start with the regrets and then later this week will talk about the things I’m really glad I did.
1. Balanced grades and extracurricular activities more productively
Counterintuitive? Maybe. It depends on the person. I’ve always been very academically-focused, so worrying about grades came naturally to me. I devoted a lot of my time to editing my papers, going through long reading assignments, and studying for tests and quizzes. I limited my commitments in extracurricular activities to make sure my academic work didn’t suffer. Among my peers who were employed right out of college, however, the majority of them had been involved in leadership roles in campus organizations and had experience and examples of relevant work from these involvements. While I think a commitment to academics is important, and it can be particularly important for students with scholarships, having the best grades and not a lot of experience isn’t the best position to be in. A successful balance of the two, however, could open a lot of doors.
2. Had more adventures
I will freely admit that I’m a boring person. I like to do all my work before my leisure activities, I try to make the most practical decisions, and I tend to avoid doing things that seem unnecessary or expensive. These are good adult skills to have but may leave you with less exciting memories than your peers. Maybe you should go to that conference with one of your favorite professors. Maybe that road trip with your friends will be your favorite memory of your time together. Maybe studying abroad will be your best chance to explore Europe before you have limited PTO and feel obligated to use that money in the bank for retirement or wedding planning. It doesn’t seem like a lot of college students need to be advised to do something crazy, but if you’re the cautious type, take a couple opportunities to be a little impractical and have great experiences.
3. Worked part time during the semester
This one also ties in with my desire to focus on academics. I wanted to make sure I did well in my classes, so I was wary of committing to a job. My senior year, however, I worked two jobs. In the fall, I washed dishes for the Saturday morning breakfast crowd and in the spring I worked in the financial aid office. Neither of these took up a lot of time, but they gave me a little bit of spending money to have fun with my friends and the financial aid work helped me get my first temp position after graduation. For 4-5 hours a week over 4 years, I think the money and experience I could have gotten would have been worth more than the time I was ostensibly studying.
4. Graduated with a broader skill range
Maybe this one is my fault for graduating with a degree in English and Communications. But if you’re not the type-A careerist or don’t have a clear vision of precisely what you want to do for work, it can be easy to not worry about finding work until it’s too late to adjust course with your classes. If you have some basic ideas of what you’d like to do, I recommend reading job listings throughout all four years to see what kind of skills you will need to have. It’s comforting to think that your department requirements and your professors will give you everything you need to get a job post-graduation, but that’s not always a realistic expectation. The job market changes over time, so expecting professional academics to know all the latest skills or be able to make quick changes to their curriculum accordingly isn’t always feasible. If I had been more proactive about reading descriptions for jobs in my field, I would have taken more electives outside my majors. Employers today want employees with a broad skill set, so even if it’s not in your department’s requirements, taking basic programming, web design, or business classes could help you stand out from your peers.
5. Spoken up about housing situations that weren’t good for me
Roommate horror stories are pretty common. Whether it’s a roommate who leaves trash and dirty dishes everywhere, have guests spending the night all the time, are breaking campus rules or are generally making you comfortable, there are lots of ways that your housing situation can go poorly. I was lucky to have really great roommates overall, but I did have issues my sophomore and senior years. In both cases, I wish I had spoken up, however, because being badmouthed for not meeting unreasonable demands or dealing with a piles of trash and someone who slept all day had negative effects my grades and well-being. No one has a right to treat you disrespectfully and while flexibility and empathy are important skills to learn, living with someone who expects you to make all the compromises isn’t going to make your time in school easier.
6. Taken more advantage of campus resources
Every freshman at my school had to take a fitness classes for the first two semesters where they learned about health and did several activity labs. My favorite lab was the mechanized weights one, because our campus had a great assortment of machines to strengthen different muscles and printed directions on how to use them. I enjoyed learning the different methods and feeling myself get stronger but didn’t use it outside of my fitness labs. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the value of that kind of setup. Now as an adult without an expensive gym membership, I wish I had taken more advantage of it at the time. This advice can really go for any resource that your school provides for free that may be expensive or difficult to enjoy post-graduation – counseling services, entertainment events like theater or music, or other free or low-cost classes available to students.
Later this week I’ll have a post for you about the 7 Things I’m Glad I did in College, just so you know I’m not wracked with guilt or misery over these ones!