By Bill Delehunt
It’s me, your older self. I’m back in school, working on a master’s. I know it’s hard to believe, since you’re just an undergrad freshman — but I’ve got some ideas on the best way to enjoy the next four years and get the most out of them.
You are going to be immersed in the most intoxicating drug ever — freedom. You will wallow in it, with almost no accountability. You won’t enjoy this much autonomy again for 60 years, until you retire. But like any drug, it’s easy to overdose. For every opportunity it offers, it hides an equal and opposite land mine. Hear me out.
Have you thought about your major? Even a crystal ball wouldn’t show you what you want to do the rest of your life. People will advise you to “follow your passion,” and that’s a good idea, but only to a point. Like it or not, your interest in medieval French poetry written by left handed nuns won’t get you a job after graduation. Concentrate on an employable major. Forbes and Fortune run articles on professions projected to be hiring in five years. Do some research, find a major that interests you and will allow you to move out of your parents’ basement before you’re 45. Look around a bit and take a variety of intro classes. Trust me, you will reinvent yourself a couple of times during your working life and a foundation in writing, business and technology will maximize your flexibility as you move from one job to another.
As you choose classes while exploring different potential majors, be careful in selecting your professors, since they run the gamut from lousy to exceptional. Professors who give easy A’s don’t give a damn about you. Avoid them. You’re spending a lot of money on school, so get the most out of it. If you were taking a cab, you wouldn’t want a driver who only took you a couple of blocks and “let you out early.” A demanding teacher isn’t one who hates you — she’s one who wants you to reach your potential.
One more word on getting your money’s worth: Go. To. Class. You will always find a reason to skip, and you won’t even have to look too hard. Right now, you only have to worry about yourself; kids, mortgage, aging parents, that all comes later. For now, just get to class. You’ll be amazed at how well you do academically if you treat this like a job. To mix metaphors, you can observe a lot by just showing up, and that pays dividends during finals.
Now, let’s talk about extracurriculars. Remember reinventing yourself? The best thing about graduating high school and attending college is you can do that. Almost nobody knows you. The downside is, you have nearly no friends and you’ll want to make some, quickly, because all the freedom in the world can’t compensate for loneliness. Follow your passion and get involved in one of the 150 groups on campus. Write for the Minaret, go Greek, serve in Student Government — all are great ways to meet people with the same interests, which is the start of friendships.
While exploring your passions, make sure one of them includes physicalactivity. The “Freshman Fifteen” is real, and while everyone complains about the food in the
dining facility, you will eat a lot of it. You’ll also cram snacks while cramming facts, and those midnight runs for pizza will be a double whammy. Remember, you’re here to expand your mind, not your jeans.
A final word about those land mines we’ve discussed. If you run over one, academically or personally, go talk to someone as quickly as you can. The university has help for you, in the health center, the writing center, even in professors. Talk to someone and do it early, as soon as you think you might be spinning out of control. Finding yourself in a mine field it doesn’t mean you’ll be destroyed; you’ll always have a chance to recover. Be sure to learn from the experience, though, so you won’t become a land mine magnet.
Some of this advice has been hard, and I don’t mean to harsh your enthusiasm asyou enter the most exciting period you have known. Enjoy this extraordinary freedom smartly and you’ll have a fabulous undergrad experience.
All the best,