Yesterday, we dropped off my younger brother at his university for move-in day. It was crazy to think that (me being two years older than my brother) two years had already gone by since I started my own college journey. Now of course, my college experience is definitely going to be different from my brother’s, but hey, everyone’s college experience will be different.
Since this week comes most people’s first day in college (what up freshmen!), I decided to write about, in no particular order, the 10 things I learned in my first two years of college that I believe are important and play a huge role in my life today.
1. There is nothing wrong with going to community college.
I’m not sure about others’ experience, but nearing my high school graduation when everyone would excitedly talk about what university they’d go to, the idea of going to community college was somewhat…ridiculed. Maybe it was just some of the people in my environment that made me think this way, but that was my first impression of it. Eventually due to my situation, I ended up going to my community college…and I absolutely loved it. Looking back now, I honestly don’t know what the fuss was about. I met some of the most hardworking people in my life during my first two years of college and my encounter with them did nothing but genuinely motivate me to work harder to pursue my higher education goals. It was so humbling. Although I can only speak from my own community college experience, I would say underestimating them is definitely a mistake. Education is so important and if community college is an option for you, don’t be afraid or ashamed take it because at the end of the day, it all comes down to how much you value your education. It doesn’t matter where you go because if you value and desire any education you receive, you’ll definitely be able to accomplish something.
2. School over work, health over school.
If you’re anything like me, you strongly believe that earning money is important to stay in school. I started a part time job since high school at a local French bakery and stayed there until I graduated from my community college. I can’t express to you enough how much that job helped pay for my education in the last two years. It was difficult yes—I usually worked 4-5 morning shifts from 5:30am to 1:30pm weekly and would head over to class as a full-time student right after. Thankfully, I was able to get used to it (in fact, I became a morning person because of it!), so I was able to figure out the work-school balance that was right for me. But of course there would be those difficult days where I’d just have so much to do to the point it’d stress me out. In those cases, I always prioritized school. Yes, I’d have less money on days I don’t work, but my grades were very important to me. If I already used up the money for classes I’ve already paid for, I can’t waste that money by not doing well in a class. Nonetheless, your health is most important of all. When you’re feeling sick or the need to sleep… heck, go rest. If you’re not going to be able to do work well in a certain health condition, then it’s more important to get better. All in all, learn to prioritize, which in my beliefs: school over work, health over school.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Yes you’re in college now and you’re supposed to be all “independent,” but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for help. Whether you ask a parent, sibling, professor, or even another student… asking questions will help you get where you want and need to be. And I guarantee you, with as big of a community colleges or universities are, you WILL find someone who will be willing to guide you. When I first started college, I was absolutely clueless in what I was doing. But, my friend Abbey and my older sister helped me get through every step. I honestly couldn’t have done it alone. And when it came to money, I took pride in being able to pay for my own tuition all by myself. Asking my parents for financial help was something I avoided at first, but I eventually learned it was okay to ask them if I needed (they always offered anyway!). Although I never actually asked for their help in the end, now, I’m now very open to the idea of asking them if I truly needed it—I comfortably understood there was absolutely nothing wrong with that.
4. Bad grades will never define who you are or your capabilities. Ever.
This was something I struggled with since I was in high school, and frankly, I still have to be reminded of this today. Although it would be fantastic to always get good grades, it’s possible to…well, fail. And you know what? That’s okay. As long as it’s not a constant occurrence, getting back a test or paper with not the best grades may happen some times, but that score doesn’t define who you are as a student. There will be that day where you’re just not feeling it—you’re human, not a robot. It’s best to prepare for school work ahead of time, but if you ever encounter an unpleasant experience with your grades, it’s okay to get upset over it but you’ll have to move on eventually. Nevertheless, don’t make failing a habit and don’t get comfortable with it. College is a learning experience, learn from your mistakes so you don’t have to go through it multiple times. And if it takes multiple times for you to learn a lesson, then so be it.
5. It’s okay to go at your own pace.
For the longest time, I thought college was like high school, another four years of education. I soon learned that college (in America at least) is very customized to people, their schedule, and their situation. There is no such thing as “graduating late.” I always admired students who were a little older than the rest of their class because it’s clear they want to finish their education. There was this one time a mother brought her baby and the professor was alright with it! Really, if you want to chase after a certain goal but you have work, financial restrictions, can’t handle being a full-time student, etc… it’s perfectly alright to take your time. Whether you only take 2-3 classes a semester or take semesters off, as long as you truly intend to finish, there is nothing wrong if you can’t do so in 4 years.
6. Make time for friends.
College is tough at times, I’m not gonna lie. Not just because of the school work, but life in general. As my friend Abbey and I would say, “Life happens.” So make time for friends. Yes, make time for them because your life absolutely cannot revolve around studying and work all the time You need to be able to unwind every other day or week or the tension and stress will just get to you. Even if it’s just an evening with couple of good friends who are able to make you laugh. For my group of friends, we’d go have dinner, celebrate surprise birthdays, hiking, etc… Just anything to relieve the stress that comes with school. But this doesn’t happen all by itself. You have to make the time for them and you will need to have friends who are dedicated to that very same concept. Life is hard to go through by yourself, if not hard, then it’s lonely. Even just having that one person to talk to can make all the difference. So make plans ahead of time or let it be spontaneous! As long as you have a great friend/group of friends who love you, can make you laugh, and care about your well-being, life will be a lot more colorful.
7. If your college or university offers alternative breaks, definitely join at least once!
My most favorite memory in my first two years of college was when I signed up for the alternative winter break. So what are alternative breaks? Basically, the concept was to plan events and service projects that college students dedicate themselves to during the “breaks” in college. As you know, we have a month long winter break, a week long spring break, and a longgg summer vacation. The goal is to involve college students into making a difference in their community instead of spending their time at parties or other recreational events. When I first signed up, I had no idea that was the story behind “alternative breaks,” but now it’s clear in the name! My community college offered winter, spring, and summer alternative breaks and I was so blessed to have been able to participate in one of them. The one I went to involved helping the homeless families in the local area. Some of the things we did during the 3-day event were helping with food tables, cleaning up a homeless shelter’s children’s room, organizing donated items, and many many more. It was such a humbling experience and definitely made an impact in my life. I’ll write a separate post about it one day but as for now, please keep alternative breaks in mind! They’re a great way to make friends and make a difference in the world. Most schools and universities offer them, some may call it a different name, but definitely do some research and get yourself involved!
8. Stay motivated. Aim to do more than just “passing.”
If you spend the rest of your college life just to “pass” and “finish,” then you’re not going to have as good of a time as you should have. College is challenging and it will be the time where you will find out more about yourself. Find a purpose in what it is you want to do exactly and instead of just passing the class—actually learn. I know this is easier said than done especially since that’s pretty much how I started. I went ahead and chose IT as my major because it makes money, it’s what’s popular nowadays, but I didn’t necessarily care about it. To me, I just had to pass all my classes. However, things changed. I got a little more exposed to the field. I remember I took a Systems Analysis and Design course and started to actually enjoy and like what I got myself into. I started seeing the brighter side of my decision and took my classes a little more seriously. Now, it’s going to be different for others, not everyone will find exactly what it is they will be passionate about. But be open and keep searching. Don’t live your college life stagnant because you’ll only feel like your working hard for nothing. Find a path to go to and if you find out you don’t necessarily love that direction, find another path. Keep yourself motivated and work hard when you find a goal because in the end, you will end up somewhere, and I’d want you to be happy and proud of it when you get there.
9. Look for and grab opportunities
College is not like high school where opportunities would be given to you and you were pushed to take it. When you get to college, you have to take the initiative to actually find opportunities, whether this is with scholarships, awards, jobs, etc. Take risks and chances, especially if the only worst thing could happen is for someone to tell you “no.” Back then, I would check my college email regularly (which you should too!) to see if there were any opportunities my school would offer and one of them happened to be an invitation to a LEADS program for the Fall 2015 cohort. It was basically a leadership program throughout the semester that would meet once a week to work on leadership skills, including other events and activities that were planned over the weekend. My experience in the LEADS program honestly helped to develop my confidence in a professional setting and I am so grateful for it. I also got to meet some of the most inspiring people ever… and rode a banana boat with them on a lake as the sun was setting! So don’t just grab opportunities, take initiative and look for them.
10. Enjoy, be grateful, and have fun 🙂
It’s simple—enjoy your college experience by taking opportunities, making goals, and finding something you’re passionate about. People who decide to continue and finish their higher education will invest so much of their time and money towards it, so it’d be pretty horrible if they go through it miserable. Although I’m not much of an advocate for the typical American college-culture, I had the most amazing and memorable experiences with everything that I’ve been through. It’s even better when you learn to be grateful for everything that happens, the good or bad, only because every encounter will help you grow. I know it did for me.
So good luck to everyone this coming fall semester! Freshmen or not, I hope and pray you guys have a successful semester and definitely one worth remembering. Just remember, it’s all a life-learning experience—the path into adulthood, the beginning journey to independence.