College symbolizes many things to the doe-eyed high school senior: freedom, new friends, new experiences, and challenges. Being the older of two children, I jumped headlong into the college experience without a lot of prior knowledge. Luckily, I received valuable advice throughout the way—from friends, professors, my parents, and Google—that helped me graduate college with a sense of accomplishment and no regrets. I hope those on the cusp of graduating high school can also benefit from the five most valuable pieces of advice I received in college.
Your GPA does not define your college experience. That is not to say that your grades aren’t important; they are vital to post-grad job opportunities and should be a large part of your focus while in school. However, understand that college is not just about what you learn in lectures or textbooks. For many adults, college was a life-changing experience that introduced them to new interests, passions, and experiences—and these are not always acquired in the classroom.
The beauty of college is in learning more about yourself. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone to build new relationships and try new things. For some, this materializes into rushing a sorority or leading a student organization. Whatever strikes you, set time aside for joining organizations, volunteering, or pursuing hobbies. Make it a priority to challenge yourself beyond term papers and exams.
2. It’s okay to change majors
You’ve likely already heard this advice, but it can be difficult to accept that your major isn’t for you. The average student changes his or her major up to three times. While you shouldn’t necessarily aim to match that statistic, it’s okay to have a sophomore-year revelation that accounting, or nursing, or biology, isn’t what you want to do with your life.
This can be tough to accept, because for many students what they study becomes part of their identity. Don’t ignore gut feelings. If you have doubts, now is the time for change.
3. Don’t pursue a major solely because of money
One of the greatest misconceptions about college is that you have to have your life figured out by 18. You may not know what you want to pursue yet (see above), but that is preferable to selecting a well-paying major that you have no interest in.
As someone very familiar with the 9-to-5, take it from me: you have to love what you do. Once you graduate, you will spend more time working than doing anything else in your life. But work won’t feel like work if it is something you love. Large sums of money can’t always make up for eight-hour workdays in a field you find too difficult—or worse, too boring.
On the flip side of self-exploration and new experiences, it is important to remain realistic—about everything. Your major, your schedule, your time—when considering these elements, you’ll want to remain grounded. Greek mythology might be your true passion, but what are you looking to do with a Classics degree? Be realistic about your future in your prospective major. For degrees with more limited career options, you may want to look for other degrees that pair well, like education, literature, or creative writing.
A lot of things fall under the umbrella of “being realistic.” You may choose to opt for an in-state school due to finances or drop your “just because” minor when your schedule becomes overwhelming. These are obstacles you face that help you better prioritize your goals and life.
Approach them without rose-colored glasses, and you’re more likely to make the best decision for you.
5. Be proactive when searching for opportunities
College is the time to become a more proactive person, and this can apply to all aspects of life. Besides learning more about yourself, the end goal of earning a degree is to give you a competitive edge in the workforce. Actively seek out resume-building opportunities and internships throughout your tenure in college. More than your GPA, potential employers want to see that you have some real-world experience in the industry.
Most universities have a career center or other office that provides information on upcoming job fairs, on-campus interviews, and available internships. Pay attention to these and apply, apply, apply! Also be sure to attend networking events and to build relationships with your professors. These could lead to valuable contacts once you enter the real world, which, trust me, can mean the difference between a job offer and a kind rejection.
I hope you view this college advice as a way to improve your overall experience. Most students “go away” to college only once, so make your years in college count by exploring new interests, majors, and opportunities. Make it your goal to never wonder, “What would be different if I had done X?”
Sydney Miller is an Online Marketing Coordinator for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement