What I Wish I’d Known Four Years Ago

I’ve reached that depressing, tragic moment at which my college experience is nearing an end. No sarcasm – it really is tragic. Sometimes I think the best way to cope is to think of all the silly mistakes I’ve made and how far I’ve come since I was that magical thing called a freshman. Maybe some of you #blessed freshmen or soon-to-be freshmen can also take something away from this.

1. Freshman year is different. Everything is new and exciting your first year in college. You make a new friend about every other day and, conveniently, you don’t have the toughest class schedule so you actually have time to hang out with those friends. The next few years will not be like that and I had no idea how easy and carefree it was until it was over. 

I specifically remember going home for Christmas break freshman year and realizing just how much I LOVED college and Fayetteville and could not wait to go back. Although I always loved college, I never really got that feeling again when I went back home for breaks – instead, I was relieved to have a break from the stress, homework and teachers. With that being said, I wish I’d kept in mind that…

2. Freshman year does end. It will seem like it is never going to end but it will, and faster than you’re prepared for it to. I know it’s kind of an obvious tip but: Take in everything and try to really make the most of it. It is the only time you will be brand new on campus and everyone will be obsessed with 1) meeting new people, 2) turning those people into best friends and 3) trying new things every week. So don’t fall for that feeling that it won’t end.

Also, about those friends you make: You may not realize it when these relationships are just beginning but some of the people you meet in college are likely going to be friends you have the rest of your life. It might be corny but it is also true…they are likely going to be in your wedding party. Or at least will be attending your wedding. Or celebrating your first child with you. Or living in a house or apartment with you. Don’t let those friendships slip away.

3. Spoiler alert: this will not be a fun one. Thinking about your major and long-term goals early on is really important. A lot of people say you have no reason to worry too much about what major to choose or what your career goals are when you’re only a freshman. But if you don’t worry at least a little bit about what you want to do, you could end up wasting time (and money) on classes that won’t help you with your future. Put thought into your major freshman year and avoid worrying about it later.

4. Studying abroad is probably not something you’ll think about immediately, but anyone that can do it SHOULD do it. I never thought I would study abroad and it ended up being one of the best decisions of my years in college. Do it as soon as you can. You’ll never have another time in your life when you can get a scholarship or financial aid to TRAVEL and see the world. It is intimidating but it is more than worth it.

5. Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is a great way to find out what you’re capable of doing. This will mean something different for everyone. Whatever that might mean for you, do it. Join a sorority/fraternity. Most of my greatest memories in college are with people I met in Kappa Delta. Become president of a club even if you’ve never done anything like it. Try something new. Get plugged into a local church or bible study, go to a yoga class, join an intramural sports team. Be willing to meet new people and be open to strengthening those relationships. I wish I’d learned this lesson a lot earlier.

With that being said, don’t let any one thing define you. No matter what you are involved in, it is important to remember life is bigger than all of it. Don’t underestimate or limit yourself.

6. Get over your FOMO. Although going out is something you shouldn’t miss, staying in can make for the best nights. We all experience FOMO (fear of missing out) at some point during college and for some people it is every weekend. But trust me, your closest moments with your new or old friends will come on those nights you decide to stay in and watch a movie or play a game or just sit around and challenge each other at Quizup. Don’t be afraid to miss out every once in a while.

7. Care about your grades. It’ll make life easier later on if you take advantage of your easiest classes and don’t let your GPA slip your first year. Plus, if you seriously try to ace the tests the whole semester, you won’t be scrambling at the end of the semester to figure out what you have to make on the final for an A in the class.

Tip: Learn how to prioritize your interests. Budget your time and learn how to keep your grades up and not let your social life suffer. You will not look back and remember the nights you stayed in and studied when you could have been hanging out with everyone. But you (and your GPA) will regret it if you go out every night and never do your homework. Find a balance.

8. Don’t take things too seriously. Learn to laugh at yourself. Laugh about the bad decisions, laugh about the good times. Just laugh and try not to let the small things ruin the best time of your life.

Another tip: If there is EVER a Harry Potter-themed trivia night...GO.
Another tip: If there is EVER a Harry Potter-themed trivia night…GO.

9. Learn how to budget your $$$$ and not blow it all in a semester on Chick-fil-A or other real food that you’ll miss when you eat at the dining halls.

Tip: Find student discounts. THERE ARE TONS. Businesses love college students because you bring in business by traveling in packs of 15-20 constantly. Take advantage of it.

10. Buy rain boots and a rain jacket. You will have class even if it is raining. And it sucks to be that person in flip-flops who falls or just looks like a mess.

Take a rain jacket or you’ll have to leave bars in a plastic bag

11.  Know your living situation early on. Don’t put this off too long or you’ll be stressed and (possibly) stranded.

12. Get to know your teachers. When you need a thesis advisor or a letter of recommendation from someone, you will need connections with your teachers. And some of them are actually pretty cool. Plus, a teacher that knows you is much more likely to help you out when your grades are struggling.

13. Don’t get a job freshman year, if you can avoid it. You will have the most free time in college your first year. Use that time for friends, class and other things that will go away.

14. Take a trip with your friends. Whether it is spring break or a ski trip or going to NOLA when your team makes it to the Sugar Bowl, taking a trip will create more unforgettable memories and friendships. Don’t just talk about it. Make it happen.

15. Be a good roommate. Make ground rules. Don’t be inconsiderate. If there are irreconcilable differences, you can technically get a roommate divorce and move on. But sometimes all you need to do is talk and things can easily be fixed.

16. Don’t be afraid to branch out from high school friends. Make new friends while you keep up with the old ones. Some high school friends you’ll just naturally grow apart from. But if you stay home every night to Skype them or your parents, you’ll be missing out on the new friends and experiences you can have.

17. Live around a lot of people as long as you can. I lived in my sorority house one year and I realized later I should have stayed there as long as I could. I was too excited about getting a real place. Of course, living in a house has its perks too and I loved it. But there is nothing quite like living in a place where you can just walk down the hall to a room full of friends and go do something fun. Or just go downstairs and watch TV. So whether it is a sorority house or a dorm or an apartment, live there as long as you can.

Inspired by Miley Cyrus. This is our house. These are our friends.
Inspired by Miley Cyrus. This is our house. These are our friends.

18. Take random classes you’ll never need but you find interesting. Some of the most interesting classes I’ve ever taken had nothing to do with what I actually needed to learn. And trust me, there are so many options. Examples: I didn’t take it, but the U of A offers a course all about Harry Potter. And I know for a fact a college in the U.S. is starting a class about Beyoncé. What more do I need to say?

19. It will be the best four-year minute ever. Sure, it’s not all Beyoncé and butterflies. It can be tough sometimes. But trust me, when you look back on the past few years and then look ahead to what’s in store (getting a job, paying taxes, whatever), you’ll see just how good you really have it.

College is basically an extension of your pre-adulthood period. So you’re bound to miss it. And don’t act like a real adult until you actually have to.

But…

20. Don’t be afraid of getting older. If you constantly look backward wishing you could turn back time, you won’t enjoy what you’re being blessed with this very moment. This is something I still need to tell myself every day. Sometimes all you need is to embrace the maturity and the different kinds of fun and excitement that come with “growing up”. Do what you want. Don’t force anything. Stay in and watch Gossip Girl on Netflix with your roommates. Take a spontaneous road trip. Figure out what you want to do with your life. Travel Europe. Whatever it is, just don’t think twice before you jump in and give it your all.

As I’ve gotten older and tried new things, I’ve come to believe that you really can do anything you want if you are willing to try hard enough and if you are able to let go of your fears. So don’t limit yourself by thinking otherwise. New can be exciting. After your freshman year has passed, don’t be sad you aren’t a freshman anymore or that you’re about to graduate.Be excited for what is next! Maybe it won’t be more exciting. Maybe you won’t make as many friends. Maybe you won’t eat awful dining hall food or share a dorm bathroom with a ton of people. But you never know…it could be even better.
So don’t be afraid of college ending. There is more out there. But don’t let these four short years get away from you without some great memories.

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Goals: Bring it on 2014!

The first semester of my senior year has flown by, with each month seeming to get shorter and shorter. As 2014 gets closer, I have been thinking about resolutions for next year. I normally don’t even make New Year resolutions because I think they are just destined for disappointment, especially with everyone pessimistically tweeting about how they stopped working out or stopped eating healthy by January 3rd. But this year is different. I’ve realized the true importance of goals and plan on coming up with several realistic goals for the new year that will, hopefully, stick around for much longer than a year.

Setting goals helps you stay organized and focus on things you want to accomplish. I have not always been the most organized person – just ask any of my friends and they’ll jump at the chance to vouch for this – but this year I have really started to work on and improve my organization skills: I started to keep a weekly planner with assignments, meetings and other appointments, started to organize papers and assignments from school more efficiently and began organizing files on my computer. I’ve started to keep my room cleaner and even started finding fun ways to decorate it. It may not have always come naturally to me, but now you can be assured I’ll never return to my old ways.

Decorated my room with Christmas lights
Decorated my room with Christmas lights!

Room pic 2Even more important than a planner full of to-do’s are my goals. This year, I set goals for organizing my social media (especially my Linkedin), making more connections, getting more involved on campus and beginning to apply for jobs. These goals made all the difference in my year and made me feel like I wasn’t wasting my time or skills any longer.

Which brings me to the reason I’m even discussing goals at all right now: because they make all the difference.

Next year’s goals:

1) Figure out what to do with the rest of my life (aka – Find a job). This is kind of a given, I guess. I’m one of those college seniors who hasn’t found exactly what I’m supposed to be doing career-wise. But this only gives me more opportunities to figure out what it is – what exactly I will do that will interest me and help me grow. I cannot wait to figure out what it is! Sometimes, the process of finding out what you are passionate about can be the most fun part.

2) Grow. I want to grow in my relationship with God, my relationship with others and in my relationship with myself. This could mean finding new hobbies, delving more deeply into interests I already have and reading the Bible more, learning how to take what I learn and really apply it to my everyday life. We are meant to grow.

3) Give. Whether it is giving to a church, to a friend, to a family member or to a complete stranger, I have been given so much and the least I can do is find ways to give to others.

4) Stop drinking sodas. It sounds ridiculous but this bad habit will probably be the hardest to change.

5) Cross something off my bucket list. I’ve realized this is the age where you have to start thinking about jobs and growing up…but that does not mean you have to forget about the fun stuff. I am 21 and about to graduate college and this is actually the perfect age to do whatever I want – before I have a family or a long-term job that ties me down in one area. I’m determined to do something (hopefully travel-related) I’ve always wanted to do.

Tip: Find a friend that has the same feeling and cross something off the list together – it’s something you’ll always remember.

snow pic 2

6) Show love and gratefulness to those I love more often. Recent events in my community have reminded me how quickly people can be taken away, before you have a final chance to show them or tell them how much they mean to you. My goal: to not have hard feelings or unspoken apologies. Show those around you how much you love them as often as you can.

roomie pic

Hopefully, I can keep these six goals on my mind and in my heart and can take actions next year to stick by them, not letting them fade away after January. I’m not expecting some revolutionary change or “new year, new me” type of thing. I’m also sure I will come up with more. In the mean time, these will just help keep me on track, not lose sight of what’s important, and continue to grow each day. Bring it on 2014!

Long Live College: How Growing Up Gets (Somewhat) Easier

One thing I’ve learned the past three years in college is that it gets easier each year to leave.

The past few days, as summer began for the University of Arkansas (sorry to those of you still taking finals), I’ve seen an endless number of Facebook statuses and tweets about how depressed people are to be done with their current year in college. How sad they are to move on. “Where did this year/this semester/college go?” seems to be a common thought.

That’s because Fayetteville is a town that draws you in. The University of Arkansas campus makes you feel at home, safe, secure, and happy. You have all your friends, clubs, sororities, parties, teachers you love, volunteer opportunities, dining halls piled high with cookies…all right there within reach. I’m sure this is true about most college campuses and college towns. But Fayetteville has a charm unlike any other.

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Freshman year, leaving is like prying you away from something you’ve glued yourself to. At least at the end of the year. When the homesickness has faded and all that is left is a deep love for your freshman year. You find yourself in May all of the sudden, realizing after your finals, your freshman year of college (by far the best year) has come to an end. And you refuse to believe it. You deny it, telling yourself you’re just going home for summer for a couple months, so things will be exactly the same when you return in the fall and there is nothing to worry about. It’s okay to admit it because I guarantee we all told ourselves that at some point.
Then you go home and all the sudden you’re back on campus as a sophomore. This is one of the hardest changes to deal with. You are still young enough to see all the new freshmen coming on board and living it up just like you had a few freaking months ago, but you’re not one of them. You’re older. And even though you’re actually only a few months older, you feel ancient. You almost resent the people younger than you for having what you want…freshman year all over again. And you also try to relive freshman year. This is by far the biggest mistake.
My advice is to just accept the fact that each year in college absolutely flies by. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be college. It would high school, or middle school – it would not be the amazing, best years of your life that we call college. Accept that you’re not a freshman anymore, and stop trying to relive it, before you miss out on everything about being a sophomore or junior. Each year has something special about it (especially junior year, when you and your friends turn 21) so find that special something and embrace it.

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Once sophomore year ends, it’s a little bit easier for you to pack up and head home or to an internship you scored for the summer, with one last, sad look back at the campus you love.
Junior year is similar, just feeling further away from younger people and living further away from campus. Not having a dining hall to make you food and cookies everyday is quite an awakening. You learn to actually buy your own groceries, find a way to get your own lawn mowed, and fix problems around your own house. Little by little, you grow in your independence and in your self image.

See, that’s the bittersweet beauty of how college works (and I guess life in general). It seems so harsh and just plain mean that we are put into this perfect little world that is campus and Fayetteville, and we get so comfortable and happy and then are forced to move on. But if we weren’t forced to take these little steps to move on and grow up each year, we would never be ready for life on our own.We would always expect a washer and dryer provided. We would never learn how to cook and clean and iron clothes and make our own doctors appointments and live by ourselves, without someone in the twin bed next to you. It is scary and frustrating but also invigorating and exciting to see the world laid out before you, just requiring you to find the independence and discipline needed to take advantage of it.

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Next fall, I am going to be returning as a senior. This concept is so strange to me. I would always look up to the seniors in my sorority freshman year and felt like they were so old. I do not feel like I am that old, I just can’t wrap my mind around it. And definitely can’t wrap my mind around the fact that freshmen will see me like that next year. I will come back and be in harder classes, will be working on my honors thesis I have to defend next spring before graduation. My biggest problem will change from buying outfits for pep rallies and functions to working on my resume and finding a real-world job. And I’m sure before I know it, graduation will be here and I’ll be tossing my hat up in the air with thousands of others wondering how they got there and where exactly college went.
But I know that it will be easier than ever to look at Old Main and Mullins and the Union and the Kappa Delta house with love and vow to never forget my memories here…but then to turn around, hop in my car and move on, to the next part of my life. Without even looking back. Because that is what leaving and moving on so many times has prepared me for. Not that it will not make me sad, because it will. Not that it will be a total breeze, because it will have its difficulties. But at least when that day comes, I won’t be in denial anymore about growing up.

Until that day, long live dining halls, long live carnivals at the Union, long live Razorback games in the student section, long live Fayettechill, hammocking at the Greek Theater, pulling all-nighters in the library, crazy Moses, Jimmy Johns til 3 a.m., Row Week…long live college.