Oh my god it’s May. I’ve graduated college and it’s May and we’re approaching the halfway point of 2018. When did this happen?? April was such a blur with finals, moving out, and graduation preparations that I feel like this month is the first time I’ve had a moment to sit back, breathe and just take it all in.
The more I think back on college the more I realize how much I’ve changed and how much I’ve learned since I first step foot on campus. Even though every mistake was an opportunity for growth, there’s still plenty of things I wish I could go back and tell myself to save myself the stress and occasional (maybe not always so occasional) tears. So in honor of being in the graduating class of 2018, here’s 18 things I’d tell my college freshman self:
1. Worry less about what others are doing
When you first arrive on campus it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and like you have no idea what you’re doing. Between everyone asking what your major is and what classes you signed up for, it’s impossible to not compare yourself to others. Because all the other pre-med students were doing it, I opted to take organic chemistry my first semester instead of general chemistry despite the sense of dread I got from the moment I signed up. My gut feeling ended up being right because I barely managed a B- and completely killed my confidence. My advice is to just focus on what you’re doing and what you’re comfortable with. The only thing worse than messing up is feeling like you messed up on something that you didn’t even want to get yourself into.
2. You’ll never regret a workout
Besides being a way to stay fit, exercise has always been a great stress reliever for me. There were times that I decided to skip workouts because I told myself I was too busy, but I never felt like I got all that much done in that “extra” hour I gained. What I did find was that every time I dragged myself away from my desk, no matter how busy or stressed I was, I always felt better returning to my work after exercising. I’ve really never regretted a single workout, besides maybe the odd 6am spin class before 8am lecture.
3. Get a job on campus
This one might not be for everyone. Maybe you’re too busy to work or maybe you’re already working multiple jobs to help pay for school. In my case, I wanted to get a job for extra spending money and I’m so glad I did. I ended up working one job in a daycare and another as coat check girl at a bar … as it turns out, looking out for small children and drunk adults is oddly similar. Working forced me to manage my time and also gave me some really interesting experiences I didn’t think I’d have in college. Plus working for extra cash = more handbags, and that always makes me happy.
4. It’s okay to be homesick
College is a huge adjustment and people adjust at different paces. I remember looking at all the other kids who were having fun partying and going to football games on weekends and wondering why all I wanted to do was go home and what the hell was wrong with me. The weekends I’d stay on campus I was lonely, but the weekends I went home I felt guilty for missing out on the whole “college experience.” I eventually did get used to being away from home, but more importantly I also realized and accepted my own preferences. I don’t particularly like football – I like selling my season tickets for profit to buy bags and clothes. Parties are always fun, but sometimes I enjoy hanging out at home with family. Say what you will, I like what I like! I think you should keep a healthy balance between overcoming what makes you uncomfortable and embracing what makes you happy.
5. Get enough sleep
You’ve probably already heard this from your mom but I’ll say it again because your mom is right. Obviously college is stressful and especially around exam time it’s simply a fact of life that you’ll be sleep deprived, but you should avoid it as much as possible. I don’t know why there seems to be a sort of pride surrounding pulling an all-nighter, like it’s super cool or proves you work hard or something. Maybe that’s true, but being chronically tired is honestly the worst. There have been some exam periods where I’ve looked in the mirror at the end of the week and have felt actual concern over what I’m doing to my body. You study better when you’re not a zombie – go to bed!
6. You never know if you don’t ask
One of the (many) wise things my mom has said to me is, “ask and you shall receive.” Technically the bible said it first, but I’m not an avid reader of the bible so we’re gonna say my mom said it. I’ve always been uncomfortable asking for things I thought I maybe didn’t deserve, but as long as you ask respectfully for something reasonable and can accept no for an answer, there’s nothing wrong with it. A great example is when you receive your final grade and see that got a B+ when you were .5% away from an A-. On these occasions I’ve gone in to talk to professors to ask if there was anything more I could have done or if there was any extra credit that could push my grade over the edge. I’ve gotten my fair share of no’s, but on at least 2 occasions the professor didn’t need me to do anything and was happy to boost my grade. It never hurts to ask!
7. Don’t be shy about doing what you love
With how stressful, busy, and at times negative life can be, having something you love to do that uplifts you is truly a gift. Once you find that something, whatever it is, you should embrace it wholeheartedly. While there will always be pressure to fit in, just because what you like to do might be a bit unorthodox doesn’t mean you should be embarrassed and stop doing it. Actually one of the most cringe-inducing activities for me is posing for blog pictures in public. I always feel like it looks so vain from an outside perspective, but how else am I supposed to get shots to share my outfits and ideas with you? Everyone has their own weird quirks and so do you. Seek out what makes you happy.
8. Embrace being alone
This is a challenge I’m sure you’ll stumble upon your first time living alone. Moving out of the dorms where I shared a small room with one person all year and into my own apartment was shell-shocking to say the least. I’m pretty sure the silence and loneliness was 30% of the reason I got a cat. But to my surprise, I actually started enjoying all the peaceful me-time I was getting and would miss it when I spent time at my (happily) chaotic and perpetually loud family home. Wanting to be alone isn’t selfish, just human.
9. Switch up your study locations
No matter how well something works, you should always be aware of and open to change. I would have semesters where my favorite place to study was in a busy library with earplugs and others where I’d stay holed up in my apartment to study. I can’t say why I preferred some places to others at certain points in time, but making changes according to how I felt helped me stay effective with my studies.
10. Try something new
A total cliche – I know. But still, with all the changes that come with college it can be easy to retreat back into your comfort zone and stick with what you know. Your campus will be full of so many strange, new, and fun opportunities that you should try out. One year I decided to dance in the annual Vietnamese culture show. I am the worst dancer ever. So the thought of dancing on a stage in front of a theater of people kind of made me want to throw up, but as I spent time practicing with my group over the semester I had so much fun that I pretty much forgot about it until the night of the performance…then I got scared all over again, but we looked awesome and danced great and now I’ll never forget the thrill of that experience.
11. Sometimes you’ll give it your all and it won’t be good enough
And that’s perfectly okay. I always considered myself a good student – I got A’s in high school and never found it too difficult to keep up with my studies. Like a lot of college freshman, I studied for exams my first semester the same way I for high school exams … and man did I not get the same results. I was studying hard but not effectively. The most terrifying part was feeling like I’d given it my best and it wasn’t nearly good enough. Usually in these cases it’s not that you’re lazy or not smart enough, but simply that something you’re doing isn’t working. Don’t take missing a goal as a personal failure, but instead see it as a signal to change something and I promise that more often than not you’ll turn things around far more quickly than you expected.
12. Make a plan
This has saved my sanity so many times. If I bombed an exam or didn’t meet a goal, the one thing that could always calm me down was making a plan to fix the problem. Whether it was scheduling a meeting with my professor or blocking out the weekly time I’d take to study for the next exam, planning made me feel like I was at least doing something effective (rather than crying…even though that also happened at times). If you’re a type A personality like me, making lists or putting your entire life into a planner might help you meet your goals or at least calm your nerves.
13. If someone doesn’t make you happy, don’t spend time with them
This one is so important. I can’t possibly begin to tell you how much time I feel like I’ve wasted on toxic relationships and friendships that simply weren’t a good fit. The history you have with someone can mean a lot, but just because a friendship has been a long one doesn’t mean it’s been a good one. Just because someone was great to begin with doesn’t mean you need to stick around if they’re treating you less than great now. While you should always be respectful and kind, you don’t owe anyone anything besides that. Life is far too short and I’m guessing that you’re far too busy to be dealing with a friendship or relationship you don’t need. End it! End it right now! (with kindness and respect) but I beg you please just do it.
14. Speak up
This can apply to a lot of things – in any case, it’s always important to be heard. In a huge college lecture hall there’s almost no way a professor can know who you are unless you make an effort to go into office hours. It may not seem important at the moment, but later down the road if you need something like a letter of recommendation you’ll be glad you took the initiative to introduce yourself.
15. It’s okay to say no
I’m very much a people-person so it’s in my nature to want to please everyone, but that’s both exhausting and entirely impossible. There will always be a friend who needs a favor or who wants to go out that night. As much as I wanted to say yes to everyone, the busier I got the sooner I realized I had to do a lot of prioritizing and sacrificing. Every time I agreed to go out with a friend instead of finishing the work I knew I had to get done, I couldn’t enjoy myself while I was out and came back even more stressed. Obviously you don’t want to be a total downer who’s turning down people left and right, but you shouldn’t be afraid to say no when it counts.
16. Learn to cook
Definitely give yourself freshman year to enjoy the dining hall food (I still dream of unlimited ice cream available 24/7). But once you move out of the dorm, you should definitely get a leg up on learning how to cook. Not only is it a life skill you’ll always use, but it allows you to be in control of what you eat. This was especially handy for me since I’m on a ketogenic diet and am pretty particular about what I eat. I’ve been thinking of doing a post on that actually, so keep an eye out for it sometime this summer!
17. You get what you give
Simple but true. You might find yourself annoyed at a friend or partner because you feel like they’re not putting enough into your relationship, but first you should ask yourself if you’re doing the same. It’s surprising how often we’re unaware of our own actions. This can apply to all things – looking back I still find it funny how sometimes I’d knowingly slack on a paper I didn’t feel like writing and still be annoyed at the B+ I got. You can’t give 80% and expect 100% out of the results (wouldn’t it be nice if we could though?).
18. Simply be present
I’m still astounded at how quickly 4 years has gone by. I swear I was just moving into my freshman dorm and then I blinked and almost missed it all. My senioritis-ridden self was so ready to leave, but looking back I’m much more sentimental now. From the wild nights out to coffee dates with friends and even the sleepless nights in the library, they were all a part of some of the most memorable years of my life. Although sometimes (i.e. during exam weeks) you might wish time would move faster, try to stay present in every moment and take it all in before it’s over – it flies by faster than you could believe.
So that’s it! 18 pieces of advice to sum up my 4 years of undergrad. Whether you’ve got graduation right around the corner or if you’re many years out of college, I hope some of these things resonated with you. Now it’s onto the next adventure – medical school in July. I can only hope the next 4 years will bring as much growth and as many new experiences as the last 4 brought me. Thanks for stopping by this week!
P.S. I have to give a huge shout out to Katelyn Wollet for the amazing senior pictures she shot for me! If any of you live in Michigan and have a special event coming up I can’t recommend her enough. Visit her website here.