Looking back, there are lots of things I wish I had known when I was applying to college.
1. There is no sudden “AH-HAH” moment. People tell you there will be one, but there isn’t. When I applied to college, everyone told me when it was the right college, I would “know.” I never quite figured it out, though; I thought the feeling had somehow skipped over me.
So I applied to around 14 colleges, and just went to the one that offered me the most money (in this case, a full-ride). Talking to friends later, I figured that was what most people did. The only ones who were 100% sure they picked the right college were the ones that only got into that one (or maybe another backup) school.
2. You will probably second guess and/or hate your decision well throughout freshman year. I certainly regretted my decision the first semester of Ursinus. I think it was a mix of a terrible roommate and classes I wasn’t interested in. My second semester I switched roommates and switched majors, and suddenly stopped regretting my decision to pick Ursinus over Ohio Wesleyan.
I didn’t really start to love Ursinus until the beginning of my Sophomore year; by that time I couldn’t imagine wanting to go anywhere else. I’m really glad I didn’t transfer.
3. Transferring doesn’t fix problems, because you will probably hate the new place for different reasons (and miss the first place for other reasons).
I almost transferred. And by almost, I mean seriously considered it – I never actually filled out any paperwork. However, I have had several friends that have either transferred to or away from Ursinus/International Christian University (where I did a year study abroad) – and the sad thing is that they usually hate the new place just as bad as the old one. They just hate it for different reasons.
For instance, I have a friend who transferred because she hated the dorm life and cafeteria at her old college. Her new college has much better dorms, but now she hates the classes at the new place. They are much larger and less personal.
In a way, she traded better dorm life for worst classes. The problem is that you don’t know what you’re going to have to give up when you transfer until it is too late.
4. High expectations can ruin your freshman year of college. I came in expecting it to be just like my boarding school was (the Texas Academy of Math and Science). It wasn’t. At all.
In retrospect, those expectations were probably the reason I hated my freshman year so much.
5. When things go wrong, don’t assume the world is out to get you. I have friends who like to complain about college. They can talk for hours about how much their roommate is a jerk, the teacher is out to get them, their advisor is uneducated and offers no actual advice, students are racist/sexist/bigots/uneducated morons, financial aid purposefully making the forms complicated, and none of the classes actually teach them anything. I don’t doubt that any of this is true. It probably is. But it is all about your mind-set. If you get to college looking for things to complain about, you will find a never-ending list.
The world does not revolve around you. In a similar manner, the college does not revolve around you. If you have a problem, fix your mind-set about it.
Those same friends go to study abroad (or transfer) and hate the new place as much as they hated the old place. I guarantee wherever you are, there is SOMETHING to love. Just focus your energy on what is good (instead of the mountain of things that are wrong), and your college life will improve substantially.
6. You don’t have to decide your school based on your major, because your will probably change. And by probably change, I mean “nearly always” will change.
I came in as a Math and Japanese double major.
I had to change my Math major – mostly because the only reason I was going for a Math major in the first place was because enough high school credits transferred so I only had to take 5 more classes to get the major. I couldn’t sit through 5 more math classes. I gave up after 1.
I had to change my Japanese major – mostly because my college didn’t offer one. The online course manual I was looking at when I applied was out of date.
Now I’m an International Relations and East Asian Studies double major. I love it.
7. Somewhere around 60%-80 of the students that go to the school probably come from the surrounding areas; it is much safer to pick a school based on location than on curriculum.
There is nothing wrong with applying to a college based on noted faculty, great course catalogue, and the major you’ve dreamed about since freshman year of high school. I’m just saying your major will probably change. Not always, I have friends who have had the same major since freshman year. But I also have friends that have switched through 3-4 majors in their four years of college.
So if you hate the cold and choose that school up in New York that has amazing criminal forensic studies major (so you can be like Abby from NCIS), only to find out the second semester you faint at the site of blood or the smell of formaldehyde makes you break out in hives, you’re stuck. You can change majors, but you’re still stuck in that blizzard for three more years. Or you can transfer – but as said before, that doesn’t necessarily fix any problems.
If you think you like cold weather (like me), then try to test that theory out before you decide to ONLY apply to colleges up North. Otherwise, you might realize you hate snow (after the first winter) and just suffer for four more years.
8. Never take the bare minimum for classes, especially your first couple years. I know people all of freshman year who slacked off, dropped classes left and right, joined a bunch of clubs, and told everyone they were taking time off to “find themselves.” Don’t get me wrong, nothing is wrong with “finding yourself,” finding your passion in a club, or taking a break after a stressful senior year of high school. Just… do this on your own time. Take a semester off of college or a gap year, if needed. Most public universities cost AT LEAST $10,000 a semester (including room and board)– depending on where you live. Private universities cost more. My private college costs $54,000 a semester (including room and board). I don’t pay the full price; not a lot of people at my college do. However, I have friends that are paying the full price at other, more “elite” colleges. And of the friends who have graduated already; most have graduated heavily in debt.
Don’t pay (or realistically make your parents pay or take out student loans for) around of $30,000 dollars a semester to waste everyone’s time.
If you are in college, your full-time job is to be a student. Yes, clubs are great, but I guarantee if those clubs are bringing down your grades by more than one letter, it’s not worth it. The world only cares what it can get out of you. That “C” you got in Post-Colonial American History is going to stick with you and alter your life choices (employment, scholarships, graduate school) much more than a semester on the Volleyball team before you accidentally hook up with someone’s ex at a party and they ostracize you from the team.
When you start applying for scholarships, grad school, or (certain types of) jobs, they will probably ask for your transcript. While you can write an amazing essay about how Volleyball changed your life by teaching you the meaning of teamwork, if your grades are low enough, they might not even look at the essay. To them, at least right now, all you are is a sheet of paper with grades on it. If you want them to “bet” on you over anyone else, you need to convince them that you’re worth it.
That being said, join clubs.
9. Join clubs and participate in extracurricular activities. The more the better, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your classwork (too much). Clubs are like mini-classes, minus the pressure of grades. In a club you get to meet people, learn about new subjects, try something new, and put it on your resume later.
If for no other reason, join clubs for the sake of saying you joined a club. All throughout college (and even for a while after), every time I applied for a scholarship, job, or volunteer activity; they would ask me about my college extra-curricular activities. You don’t want to leave that section blank.
Add me on Google Plus: +Grace Buchele