A high school senior recently asked me for some advice on his college decision. I gave him some answers about professors and classes and the local attractions, as one does, but started thinking - what did I learn in college that no one really told me before I walked into my first class? Here's what I wish I had known when I started college:
1. You will learn about your degree in class. You have the potential to learn about yourself every single moment. Pay attention to the activities you choose, the friends you make, and the adventures you have. Everything is an opportunity to learn who you are, what excites you, what angers you, what satisfies you, what challenges you. Your time outside of class is at least as important as your time in class, for it is in living your life that you discover who you are and how you are wired. Learn from your play, learn from your rest, and learn from your part-time jobs as much as you can!
2. Once you get comfortable and safe, it's time to shake everything up. At some point, you'll probably find a rhythm. You'll make some good friends and establish a routine that will get dangerously close to stagnation. This happened to me around the end of my sophomore year. I didn't plan it this way, but my semester overseas the following fall was a huge gift to me in that it entirely disrupted my routine and put me in situations where I was uncomfortable - forcing me to grow. Do not stagnate. When it gets easy, find a new challenge. (But do not dump those friends!)
3. Freshman year is after you graduate. College is a new environment, but it's still school, arranged (most likely) in semesters, with homework and final exams. You've practiced for it for over a decade. The true freshman year comes when you have that degree and you're thrust out into a brand new world of working and supporting yourself and figuring things out on your own, with no standard culturally accepted academic framework to prop you up. Learn all you can from internships, co-ops, and those who are several years down the road already - a crazy new adventure awaits, with brand new difficulties and brand new joys.