Find What You Love: 12 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started College

by Kara Cronin

Let me start by telling you this: I loved college.

There isn’t much I would have done to change my experience, but there are a few things I wish I’d known at the very beginning (other than where to buy dorm decorations and who makes the best late-night pizza).

With each picture I see of a family friend sending his or her child or sibling off to college this year, I think of another thing I wish someone told me when I was the eager, nervous, naïve incoming freshman in the photograph.

Now, just over a year out of college, I am laughing at the cliché, “hindsight’s 20/20,” and sharing with you some lessons I learned in the hope you’ll make a few less mistakes than I did.

That being said, make lots of mistakes. That is one important rule to being successful and learning a lot in college.

Just take my advice to heart and make different mistakes than I did, so you can make a totally different list like this for incoming freshmen once your college years are behind you.

1. Get involved.

The best way to find out what your hobbies and interests are is to join a lot of clubs and organizations. It won’t take you long to weed out the ones not suitable for you and focus on the ones you love.

The more you get involved right away, the more you’ll be exposed to different people. That’ll help you find "your people" sooner.

2. Find people you admire and do everything in your power to learn from them.

I’m talking about mentors.

Whether it’s a professor, a guest speaker, a local business owner or the girl who sits in front of you in creative writing, don’t be afraid to reach out.

Network, treat them to coffee and ask them questions.

This will help you grow both personally and professionally.

3. Find your lunch friends.

In college, it’s easy to find people to go out with.

Those are the people who are down to get drinks and have some fun, and by all means, have these friends.

It tends to be more difficult, however, to find people you want to call in the middle of the day to grab lunch with. Lunch dates tend to bring with them more substantial friendships, where you can talk about more than booze and boys.

You will have friends that fall into both categories and that’s great.

But if you find yourself out with a big crowd at night and at a table for one at the dining hall the next day, reassess the situation and find your lunch friends. 

4. Just because your roommate has a boyfriend doesn’t mean you need to find one.

In a land far, far away from parents and curfews, it is not uncommon to feel lonely when your roommate is going home with her boyfriend every other night.

Don’t let this make you feel pressure to find a guy of your own.

Read a book. Knock on the door of the nice girls down the hall. Discover some new music. Get some shuteye. Start a blog. Hobbies are cool, and a great way to find yourself during college

There are many productive and fulfilling ways to spend your night that doesn't include chasing after that hunky asshole on the baseball team. If it’s meant to be, he’ll chase after you.

5. Pay attention in class and do your readings.

I’m not saying you need to be a straight-A student, but it feels good to feel well-educated.

Plus, there is a lot of money going toward your classes.

Looking back, I wish I used Spark Notes a little less and asked questions a little more. Most of the stuff you’ll learn is actually really interesting and will benefit you later in life.

6. Find time for yourself.

It can be easy to get lost in a perpetual storm of FOMO, so don’t let yourself.

Sure, there will always be someone wanting to grab a coffee, attend a sporting event or check out the new bar. It’s okay to say no.

It can be overwhelming to be around people 24/7. Sometimes you just need a “me day” to relax and rejuvenate.

7. Intern as much as you can in as many different fields as possible.

You are young. It’s so hard to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life.

Your best chance at figuring it out is to try your hand at as many different things as you can. This will help you learn what you don’t want to do for the rest of your life and will help you discover the things you find important to have in a work environment.

Plus: network, network, network.

8. If you fall in love with beer, find a gym or workout class to fall in love with too.

IMO, there is nothing quite like an ice-cold beer. However, beer in excess will often lead to a beer belly.

Beer is good; beer bellies are not.

In order to look, and more importantly, feel good if you take a liking to brewskis, it may be smart to get out your running shoes or find some fun classes at the campus gym.

If you’re not into the campus gym, check out your area for local spots and be sure to ask about a student discount.

9. Go on road trips.

Explore cool cities that are only a drive away.

Pool together some money with your friends so you can split the costs of gas and a hotel room.

As you get older, it gets harder and harder to make time for spontaneous vacations. Take advantage of it while you can.

10. Spend time each day doing something that will propel you forward and make you feel positive.

Do 10 push-ups when you get out of bed. Write a thank you note to someone who did something nice for you. Send an email to a long lost friend.

Read the newspaper, watch the news, talk to your professor after class or volunteer for a good cause. Bring your best friend flowers when she's feeling down.

It's the little things that will make a big difference.

11. Take advantage of learning opportunities outside the classroom.

College is great because it exposes you to people from all different states, countries, cultures and backgrounds. You’ll have more freedom socially and financially.

You’ll probably do your own laundry and eventually, pay your own bills. You’ll live independently from your family.

This is part of growing up.

Buy a calendar and make a budget to help ease the transition. Learning these skills now is far better than learning them later.

12. Don’t let anyone change you.

Be yourself. Be you, a thousand times over.

In a new place around so many people who don’t know anything about you, it can seem easy (and tempting) to recreate your identity.

But if you love the person you already are, don’t go changing to fit anyone else’s standards. You will find the people who love you for being exactly who you already are.

College flies by, and when it’s over, you won’t be living on the same block as all your friends anymore.

Be smart. Go on adventures. Don’t waste any time. Be grateful every day for this opportunity you have, and make the most of it.

Be safe and have fun!