Things I'd Tell My Younger Self Before College, So Listen & Learn

The word around the block is that you graduated high school. About a month ago, you tossed your cap with your besties by your side, promised each other that you'd stay in touch, and started looking toward the future. For you, the future brings a whole lot of "new," but you're more than ready for it. You're going to college, living in a place filled with skyscrapers instead of hiking trails and tiny ice cream shops like your hometown, and diving headfirst into your dreams. You may not entirely know what to expect from the experience. But, you're excited, nonetheless. I felt the same way, and if I could do it all again, these are the things I'd tell my younger self before college.

The truth is, like most millennials who come to their campus without a clue as to where the buildings are or what pasta dishes are so good at the dining hall, you'll figure things out as the semesters go. You'll learn about all the clubs and extracurricular activities you can be part of, and that some classes don't require books because all of the material is online or in slides. You may switch your major, call your mom for advice, or complete a bunch of paperwork so you can study abroad.

Together, it'll be your college experience. These are the five things I wish I knew when I was in your shoes.

1. Take Time To Make Genuine Friends

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First things first: If I could go back in time and space, and chat with my younger self, I'd tell her to take some time in college to make genuine friends. Although I found my people and love the memories we made together on campus and now, it wasn't always that way.

My first semester or two, I hated the idea of navigating college alone and probably rushed into some friendships that weren't meant to be. I spent entire weeks hanging out with girls from my classes who didn't have any of the same interests as me, or making awkward small talk with people who lived on my hall. My mindset was quantity over quality.

Surprise! That mindset was, well, wrong for me. Yes, it's essential to meet different people at college, have talks with them about their passions, opinions, and favorite snacks, and stay open-minded. But, I learned it's also important to find friends who will have heart-to-hearts with you at midnight, give you space to be yourself, and make your experience so fun and loving.

2. Early Morning Classes Aren't That Bad

The summer before I started college, I spent a few days on campus at freshman orientation. There, I listened to lengthy presentations about the fitness center and the study abroad programs that were offered. On the last day, I signed up for my classes.

I scrolled through the different professors, class times, and concentrations for English, math, and astronomy, making sure that I didn't sign up for anything before 8 a.m. After all, I had heard horror stories about those early morning classes and having to wake up and walk across campus before noon like a zombie.

But, as my college years went on, I came to find that those early morning classes weren't that bad. In fact, it's refreshing to wake up, grab your coffee at the dining hall before the crowds come in, and get started on your to-do list for the day. It leaves you more time for everything — hanging out with your friends, getting involved with the student-run radio station, and going to a cute coffee shop around the corner.

3. Find A Cozy Study Spot On Campus

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Next to all the new experiences you have at college, like living on your own and moving into your first apartment, you'll do a lot of studying. That's what you're there for — to get a degree in medicine, journalism, marketing, or something else. It may not be the most exciting part of your four or five years, but it'll absolutely be the most rewarding, especially if you find a cozy study spot to call your own.

This may be a picnic table near the quad, or a corner booth in the dining hall that's quiet and has prime access to snacks. It may be a room near your professor's office, or an oversized chair at a café that's five or 10 minutes away. Either way, it'll be your go-to space for when you have a huge exam to study for, or a presentation to finish before midnight. It'll make you feel calm, while you try to be productive, and turn this new place into "home."

4. Don't Overpack Your Schedule

Spoiler alert: You can do anything you set your heart and mind to, in college and beyond. But, you can't do everything. This is a lesson I've learned the hard way, as a college student and a verified member of the "real world." It's something you can and should, remind yourself of every day, before you say "yes" to another club, class, or commitment.

It can be really easy to stretch yourself too thin, especially when you have a lot of interests and ambitions. As a freshman, you'll likely find yourself putting your email address and name down for so many things, from group trips in the city to rush for Greek life. Don't be afraid to say "no" sometimes, and give yourself space, time, and energy to enjoy college.

This experience usually only comes around once, and you don't want to miss out on things because you're overwhelmed with stress. Chase your dreams, leave yourself with zero regrets, but also learn the difference between being able to do anything and actually doing everything.

5. Two Words: Study Abroad

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Last but not least, if I could give you or the younger version of myself one piece of advice before going to college it would be this: Study abroad. Although it can be scary to leave your campus and what you're used to behind, it was by far the most beautiful experience of my college career, and let's be honest, life thus far. It turned me into that kid who always talk about her semester in Florence, but happily so.

Although I was away from my campus and a bunch of my friends for five months, I was traveling to new countries, making once-in-a-lifetime memories, and learning valuable lessons about the world. I was soaking in the saltwater of the Mediterranean Sea, and eating chocolate croissants at midnight with friends who turned into family. There has been nothing like that semester in my life thus far.

I'd highly suggest having that experience for yourself, and going to London, Barcelona, or Rome. It'll teach you so much about yourself, give you incredible stories to tell, and introduce you to even more "new." The best really is yet to come.