After 3.5 years as an undergrad, two years in grad school and five years as a college professor (including one semester at the dear old Fort), here is what I have to offer. Some are my regrets.
If you’re going to do something stupid, leave your ID at home.
When you see your professor out and about in town, it’s probably going to be weird. Don’t make it weirder.
The thing you think you’re going to do when you start college isn’t the thing you’ll necessarily still be enamored with by the end.
Learning skills that transfer from one major to another are pretty important to get good at. Things like writing, critical thinking and public speaking are skills important to any major and any job.
Even if you’re sure you’ll continue to love all the things you loved in high school for the rest of your life, try something completely and totally new.
Don’t take the 8 a.m. course. Quite frankly, it’s never a good idea.
Meeting people different than you, with their crazy, wacky ideas, might be the most important thing you do in college.
If you can graduate in 3.5 years, don’t. What’s the hurry? Adulthood will come soon enough, and there’s no putting the toothpaste back in the tube.
Don’t throw anything out of your dorm window. Not even in the name of science.
Without being a total pain for the sake of it, question your professors on things that don’t make sense to you. This includes test questions, course policies and grading protocol. The good ones will appreciate it.
It’s OK to do something out of character every once in a while.
Do the reading. Or at least think through reading.
Challenge the school administration on everything. Some of them see you as an ID number and – gasp – a way to justify their sprawling administrative budgets.
Don’t be passive about anything, not in college, not in life.
Make sure your professors know who you are, whether it’s a survey class with 100 people, or an honors class with 12. The more of a connection you make with them, the more they see you invested in their course … Well, it can only help you.
Every once in a while, put your phone away as you walk about campus. Being engaged in the outside world, you’ll see things you never saw, hear things you never heard and maybe meet your future life partner because they also put their phone away walking to class that day.
Get outside your comfort zone whenever possible.
When that one professor tells you you don’t have talent or promise or the right skills for whatever, tell them that that’s more of a reflection of their failure as a human and educator and walk out. Accidentally knock something over in their office, too, if the situation seems right.
Eat as much soft serve ice cream from the dining hall as possible.
Every once in a while realize that, by and large, you’re lucky to be here and millions of people would love to be in the very chair you’re sitting in right now. Sometimes, it’s not about having to go to college but getting to go to college.
Cereal for dinner is OK, and really a lifelong habit that should start sooner than later.
High school is over. Don’t be one of those people who peaked at 18.
At least once a semester, blow off every single one of your classes and do something fun. But make it count.
Understand that, like diamonds, the internet is forever.
Go to class, be engaged when you’re there and do the work, following the instructions of the assignment as closely as possible. Master these skills and you will succeed at virtually any job for the rest of your life. Get the basics out of the way and you can achieve amazing autonomy.