College was one of the greatest times of my life. It was the first time that I set off on my own and was truly responsible for myself and managing my own life. Mom and Dad weren’t there to bother me or tell me what to do.
During college, I made lots of friends, went to fun parties, and learned a lot about myself. Although I don’t have any real regrets about my college experience, there are a few things that I think I would do differently if I had the chance to do it again. Below are the 5 things I wish I had done.
1. Put myself out there more
I was very shy in high school. I mostly hung out with my neighborhood friends, and even though I went to a high school with over 1200 kids, nearly all of them had no idea who I was. I was scared to talk to people or join clubs because I thought I would look weird or people wouldn’t like me. Those are legit fears.
Like this doggo, I was shy and wanted to hide.
The cool thing about college is that everyone is on the same footing. All those high school cliques and hierarchies are dissolved, and everyone is starting from square one all over again.
When I first started college, most people were just as scared and awkward about meeting new people as I was, which is great because everyone is far more forgiving about small social mishaps and are more open to meeting new people.
My freshman year I lived in a dorm room with a kid that was the definition of a nerd: long scraggly hair, glasses, chips and soda, and endless sessions of World of Warcraft. He was not much help in making new friends, and after the first semester he moved out, so I was all alone in my room, and because of my shy nature, I tended to stay there. The more I isolated myself, the more I got in my head about meeting people, and my freshman year was spent lonely and depressed at times.
This is what my college roommate looked like 6 hours a day
Luckily, I was able to turn it around my sophomore year. Fortunately for me, a charming and smooth-talking Hawaiian kid named Jesse convinced me to join the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. That was a shock! I never considered myself a frat bro, and in fact I kinda hated the idea of being in a frat. All the frat stereotypes of dumb jocks and hazing never sat well with me. But looking back now, I can say joining was one of the best decisions of my life.
As a Phi Delt, I met a bunch of cool people, and started going to parties. I got out of my shell and developed the more outgoing personality that I have today. And the best part is that my current best friends are all of my former fraternity brothers (including Jesse!)
You don’t have to go out and join a fraternity or sorority like I did, but I would definitely recommend putting yourself out there. Like I said before, everyone is trying to figure it out when they first get to college, so it is a perfect opportunity to make new friends before everyone falls into cliques again.
There are endless social activities too: join a recreational soccer league, join the book club, join the Dungeons and Dragons club, or just walk around campus. There are usually random, fun events happening or people tossing a frisbee or slacklining. Just get out there and meet people!
2. Pay more attention to campus life
At the time I went to college, I was a huge football fan. My mom and I had season tickets to the Rams, and we would religiously go to the home games even though they were terrible. I really loved being part of the atmosphere of an NFL stadium, cheering on my beloved team, and hoping for a victory along with thousands of other hopeful fans.
For college, I ended up attending Saint Louis University ultimately because it was close to home and it was a Jesuit institution much like the high school I had previously attended. I chose it because it was familiar and it felt safe, which are definitely good reasons to consider when selecting a college. Looking back though, I wish I would have expanded my selection criteria a little wider.
The biggest drawback for me about Saint Louis University was that it did not have a football team. I dreamt of putting on my school colors, going to the game on Saturday, and having a party inside the stadium much like I did with the Rams. Unfortunately, those dreams never came to be.
Courtesy of ESPN
This is what I wanted my college Saturdays to look like. Alas, it never came to be. What do you want your college experience to look like? It is important to think about.
Right now, I am helping a student prepare his college applications, and when I probe him about what kind of school he would like to attend, he is completely indifferent. But he shouldn’t be. Attending a large school with tens of thousands of students is very different from attending a small school with only a thousand. A campus in the heart of a city is very different from a campus out in the middle of nowhere. Think about what kind of college experience you want to create.
Every school has its own feel and identity, and you should take the time to think about what type of environment you want to be a part of for the next few years of your life. That’s why College Scoops is such a valuable resource. Do online campus tours, do ACTUAL campus tours if possible. Ask current students what it is like to attend. Figure out the things to do nearby campus like restaurants and shops. Make sure it is a place you really want to be.
After a decade post-graduation, I hardly remember which classes I took, or the things I learned. But I do remember the beautiful architecture of all the buildings that made up Saint Louis University. I remember the little bars and restaurants near campus that all the kids flocked to on the weekends. And I definitely remember that there was no football team.
3. Try random classes
Some of the coolest things I have experienced and learned in life happened in places that I didn’t expect. Like I mentioned before, I never imagined joining a fraternity, but making that move led me to meet most of my best friends. When I moved to LA, I had never thought of doing yoga because I thought it was only for women, but then I took a class, and I loved it! Now, I use yoga regularly to destress and relax.
I used to think that I wouldn’t like yoga, but then I tried it, and now I love it!
The point is that you never really know if you will like something or not until you try it, and college is a perfect opportunity to explore. Looking back now, I actually wish that I had taken more classes in college.
More classes? Are you crazy?!
Just hear me out.
Many universities offer really random and interesting classes. I just hopped on my alma mater’s website and found some class listings like this: Brewing science and operations (how to brew beer), Dance, Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Music, Neuroscience, Security and Strategic Intelligence, and Sustainability. All of these sound intriguing to me, and also like classes I would never normally take.
At most universities, if you are paying tuition to be a full time student, it does not cost anything extra to take additional classes, so you might as well explore. Sometimes taking electives that sounded cool to me, like Cellular Communications, really impacted my life (I ended up working for AT&T as an internet engineer).
You never know…you might find your new passion in life.
4. Work harder for scholarships
I was a pretty sharp kid in high school. I got good grades, and my GPA was high. When I went to Saint Louis University, I got a merit based scholarship that amounted to half of my tuition, and I thought that was a pretty good deal. However, because the university kept raising the cost of tuition every year, by the time I graduated, that half scholarship became a third scholarship.
During the first two years of college, my parents actually took out the loans to pay for my school. I only took out loans during my junior year and senior year. Even with the partial scholarship and my parents taking part of the loan burden, it STILL took me until I was 33 years old to pay off my student loan debt. That is 11 years from the time I graduated. 11 years!
The cost of college is going up every year, and loans are hard to pay back. Scholarships and grants make your life much easier.
The cost of going to college is rising more and more every year, and it will continue to do so. But there are many scholarships and grants out there that will help you pay the way. You just have to go find them. Yes, you will have to write essays and answer questions, and it will be a lot of work, but would you rather do some work now upfront, or spend a decade or more paying off student loans?
All that money I spent repaying my loans could have been spent on a trip to Paris, or a new car for my mom, or a down payment on a house, but instead it went to banks and lenders. I suggest trying your best to find every possible scholarship and grant you can find to make sure you graduate debt free. You could even potentially do a work-study at your college. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.
This could have been me, but instead I had to pay back my college loans.
5. Use my free time bette
One of the nice things about going to college is that there is a surprising amount of free time. In high school, my school day was 8AM-3PM every weekday with about 30 minutes for lunch. Most of my time during the day was spent at school.
In college, I typically took 15-18 credit hours (about 5 classes) per semester, which meant I had 15-18 hours of class per week. That’s only 3-3.5 hours of class per day. Sometimes I would even stack all of my classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays so that I could take Tuesdays and Thursdays off entirely!
I spent a lot of my free time playing video games and watching TV as many college students do. It was really nice to have that relaxation time when I wasn’t doing homework, but now when I look back, I wish I had spent my free time better.
At college, I had access to an unbelievable gym with every piece of workout equipment imaginable, but I rarely went. I had access to advanced technology in the engineering labs which cost tens of thousands of dollars that I could use for free anytime I wanted, but I never did. I could have gotten a part-time job to help pay down my tuition. I could have joined a rec sports league. I could have volunteered. But I didn’t do any of those things. And when I graduated, all that opportunity disappeared.
Sure, I love kicking back and vegging out to Netflix as much as the next guy, but I also wish I had taken time to develop myself. Looking back, I think I would have expanded more as a person if I took more time to work on myself, both physically and mentally, instead of playing another game of Call of Duty or Halo.
Don’t be this guy. Go out and explore the world. Make good use of your time.
I’m not saying you have to fill up every free second with some activity. College is supposed to be fun as much as it is a time to develop yourself. But if you find yourself with hours of time on your hands, and all you do is waste it away on Tik Tok or on your PS4, then you might want to think about trying something else a little more productive.
I’m 34 now, and I still consider college to be one of the best times of my life. But if I had followed these 5 tips, then I think it might have been even better, and I hope that you can use this advice to create an awesome college experience for yourself.
Reach out to Greg at Think & Evolve.