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1. Prepare to be hit by the lonely train.
Ahh man, you’re going to miss your family, especially at first. This is your first time being “alone” in your life thus far! I know that sounds scary, because it is! You’re going to feel unbelievably alone a lot of the time. Some of this you won’t really mind. You’ll watch a lot of Breaking Bad and eat Pocky out of the laundry room vending machine. But some of it will be incredibly hard and isolated, so just be ready.
2. Please don't do your homework the night before (especially papers)!
For the love of god, don’t think you can complete that 2,000 word research paper starting at 9 PM the night before it’s due. Learn from those around you with better study habits than you and complete papers and projects in chunks starting from THE DAY THEY ARE ASSIGNED. You might miss out on things, sure, but you’ll save yourself SO MUCH stress, physical, mental, and emotional pain & suffering in the end.
3. Talk to your professors more.
Say hi to your professors during their office hours. You might think this is weird or kissy ass-y, but really tons of people do it and it can be hugely informational! Come with some topics in mind if you don’t know the professor very well personally — and ask them to share their thoughts. Or you could always just discuss the homework with them if you need help, or if you’re just interested in what other insights they might have. There’s some brilliant minds on campus with you, take advantage of that and just have some convos with them and hear them talk about things that interest them. Hearing new ideas, different from the ones you hear in class, will expand your mind and your world!
4. Go to your RA's events!
Contrary to popular belief, usually RA's are NOT trying to pump you full of RA propaganda or make sure you’re following the building rules. Generally, they just want to share some Safeway pumpkin pie and apple cider with you and help you get to know your hall mates better. You’ll realize this once you become an RA and desperately try to get people to come to your events. So support them while you can, and meet some people you might not normally talk to!
5. Take naps while you can!
Soon you’ll understand the sweet, sweet bliss of midday naps that you never could appreciate before as a child or adolescent. And enjoy it while you can because once you enter the post-college working world, the opportunity for naps goes straight out the window again! And I know you need the extra sleep, because of course you stayed up until two last night and woke up for a 8 AM class, so take your nap!
6. Do the reading for classes that actually interest you!
If there’s a class that’s really interesting to you — do the reading! I know, whaaaaat? Why would I do that? Because too many times I was given reading in really interesting classes but put it off until the hour before class because I was so swamped with other mind-numbing readings, only to realize that it was an absolutely fascinating read 30 minutes before class started, thereby never finishing it and quickly losing it under the pile of old readings in my desk drawer. Don’t let this happen! Write down the name at least of any interesting authors you read or topics that you find interesting! Those notes might very well help you figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life in a career.
7. Start thinking about your career & take steps towards building it.
I know, I know “But how?! I already have SOOOO much work. I can barely keep up with my workload as is. I don’t want to spend my precious free time filling out job applications and writing internship essays! Every other aspect of my life is boring enough as is!” I know…..I know, trust me. Even now, looking back I completely understand why I didn’t put more effort into shaping my post-college career while I was still in school. But hear me now, college is just a moment, your career is forever. Yes you want to make sure your grades are good enough to graduate, but you also need to prioritize this. I know it’s hard.
Just start brainstorming on a white board (and take a picture of it!) or in your journal about things that interest you, ranging from mildly to intensely. Write lists of these things, no matter how silly (ex: hot springs, puppies, writing, travel, stand-up comedy, chocolate, tea). Just write it down and then notice where the themes lie. There will most likely be multiple themes and that’s fine! But take note of those overarching themes and then Google careers with those elements to them (ex: careers in the outdoors, how to know if you want to be a lawyer, careers that don’t require being at a desk, etc.) You will thank yourself for at least doing this part of the work later on. If you feel up to it — apply to a few things, test the waters. Because soon you’re going to be thrown overboard into the ocean sans life vest. NO PRESSURE!
Thanks for reading! I might do a part two of this series because I feel like there’s so many more things I would tell my 18-year-old self to prepare myself for college if I could. I hope you liked it! And I hope some 18-year-olds out there find it useful and everyone else finds it entertaining.