Advice for incoming college students: ignore most advice

Written on February 23rd, 2016

As my freshman year comes to a close at an alarmingly quick pace, I’ve realized that a lot of the advice I heard before I set foot on campus never actually turned out to be very helpful.

Sure, all of those listicles are great for getting you excited about the years ahead, but there were some things they missed that I really wish someone would have told me. Now that I’ve been a part of “the real world” for almost a year, I think I’m qualified to make two primary insights that will hopefully help out the classes who are about to start their collegiate adventure.

First, ignore most of the advice you hear.

This might seem counterintuitive to put as the initial point in an article that’s literally dedicated to advice, but it’s important.

Not everyone experiences college the same way, and while you can definitely learn from the lives of others, you can’t expect that to be an entirely sound guide.

I was so excited and nervous for college that I practically scoured the internet for any advice to incoming students. While this wasn’t inherently bad, it did have one pretty detrimental effect: it made me think that I was supposed to feel, act, and experience these years of my life in a certain way.

I’m here to tell you that that’s simply not true.

What works for one person might not work for another. The reality of adjusting to the college life is different for everyone.

Some people will experience a bit of a culture shock, while others will feel comfortable right from the start. Some people will have no problem meeting friends and constantly being surrounded by peers in the social setting of a dorm, while others will long endlessly for some quiet time. Some people will struggle with their first exams or assignments, while others will seamlessly flow from high school work to college work without a second thought.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this. Most importantly, there’s nothing wrong with you.

Just because you see something in a listicle about not signing up for morning classes doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it if you’re a morning person, or if you’re feeling particularly motivated.

Just because an upperclassmen tells you not to wear your lanyard around your neck doesn’t mean you shouldn’t if it’s convenient.

College is about finding and creating yourself, and you can’t allow the advice of a million other people to get in the way of your personal development. At the end of the day you should do what feels right for you as an individual.

Now, that’s not to say you shouldn’t listen to those with more experience than you – chances are they do have some worthwhile insights. But it’s important that you take all of the advice you get with a grain of salt.

Don’t let the experiences of others get into your head and develop into a picture-perfect idea of the “dream” college life… because there’s no such thing. If you’re acting in a certain way simply because you feel that you’re supposed to, and it’s not making you happy, it’s okay to stop.

You don’t have to be anyone but you. The world feels so much bigger in college than it ever did in high school, and the beauty of this is that there are countless other people out there who will truly appreciate you and your interests with no strings attached.

Find these people, seek out these settings, and don’t let anyone taint your perception of what genuinely brings you joy.

At the end of the day, your college experience is just that – yours. Don’t let it be fueled by advice from someone else’s.

Second, never stop trying to learn. College is probably not going to be the easiest thing you ever do (and if it is, you’re definitely not challenging yourself enough).

The important thing is that out of rigor comes growth. Difficult courses inspire a strong work ethic. Involvement in student organizations encourages time management. Embracing the bond of school spirit reminds you that there’s a way to make anything fun.

It’s easy for life to begin to feel mundane as you fall into a seasoned routine, even in a setting as exciting as college. Some weeks seem to meld into one another as you go from class to studying to work to exercise to exams to class and back again.

I’ve learned that the most important thing you can do is actively seek out new information and insights every single day – and not just in the lecture hall. Don’t merely sit back and be a participant in your college experience; instead, be the instigator.

Be the catalyst for your own development.

In college you’re going to learn much more than simply the intricacies of your major. You’re going to be exposed to general education requirements that could very well stretch the limits of your ability to be open-minded.

You’re going to meet people who challenge you in a myriad of ways – both in the classroom and outside of it. You’re going to discover things about yourself that you love, and things that you hate. You are going to grow, evolve, and transform in these four years of your life – and that’s a wonderful thing. But if you limit your efforts to succeeding in the classroom, you’re going to miss out on a lot of potential development.

Don’t just try while you’re in class, or studying for an exam. Don’t leave your lecture hall and immediately let your mind go blank. Instead, seek out new ways to learn everywhere you go. Identify things that interest you, even if they seem completely irrelevant to your major.

Embrace the fact that your classmates have just as much to teach you as your professors. Don’t discount the knowledge of your custodial workers, the insights that come from sitting in nature, the importance of opening yourself up to experiences of all shapes and sizes. Never stop trying to learn. Never stop taking the initiative to better yourself.

You will be taught a lot in college; there’s no doubt that your university staff has an abundance of knowledge to give. But some of the most important things you’ll learn are the ones you teach yourself when you stay open, engaged, and curious.

The absolute worst thing you could do is grow complacent about the depth of your education; you’ll get out of college what you’re willing to put in. And I suggest you give it everything.

This is experience is yours in every single way. Never lose sight of that from the moment you gingerly set foot on campus for the first time to the years you spend leaving footprints all over.

There is no right or wrong way to do this adventure – what matters is that you get something out of it when it’s done.