Thursday, July 11, 2013

My Advice for College Freshman (Even Though You Didn't Ask)

“I've learned one thing, and that's to quit worrying about stupid things. You have four years to be irresponsible here, relax. Work is for people with jobs. You'll never remember class time, but you'll remember the time you wasted hanging out with your friends. So stay out late. Go out with your friends on a Tuesday when you have a paper due on Wednesday. Spend money you don't have. Drink 'til sunrise. The work never ends, but college does...”
― Tom Petty

I suppose that's easy for Tom Petty to say....he's a gazillionaire.  While his advice is not EXACTLY what I would give to incoming freshman, I do have a few hard-earned words of wisdom.

Several of my friends are bidding adieu to their precious offspring at the end of the summer.  They're booting them out of the nest into the Great Unknown of Adulthood...well, semi-adulthood...and into College.  Naturally, my thoughts turn to my own misspent youth and my college years at the illustrious N.C. State University.

Thing 2 and Thing 1 on the Brickyard at NCSU
When I first arrived on campus for freshman orientation a billion years ago, I was completely unprepared for the experience.  I had never set foot on a college campus (nope, never did the pre-college tour thing).  I had no money.  I had no real adult skills.  I have no idea how I managed to make it.

But as I sat on the bottom floor of Metcalf Residence Hall at 2:00 a.m. on a sweaty July night (yes, kids, this was prior to the advent of campus-wide A/C) discussing my future with my new bestie (a guy who'd been a stranger two hours before), I felt like I belonged for the very first time in my whole life.  I remember getting teary sitting there, talking about my wide-open life plans and realizing that this, finally, was a place where I fit in.  College.  I sat there, breathing in the freshly-polished floor, sweaty teenager smells, and I remember smiling broadly and thinking to myself that I would take advantage of this perfect fit.

I lost touch with the car-guy-bestie I met on that first day (I've always been a sucker for car guys), but I entered N.C. State University that fall as a wide-eyed country girl with high hopes and big-city dreams.  I threw myself into the experience with abandon.  I signed up for classes and I met people and I talked and talked and talked.  I put myself out there.  The next year, I became a resident advisor and, for the next three years, watched tides of incoming freshman enter, stumble and then regain their footing.  I listened, mediated roommate arguments and laughed through all hours of the day and night with scores of students.  I miss many of them and often wonder where they are today.

So, if you have a kid who's getting ready to make the leap, I have a few words of advice for them (and for you):

  1. Take advantage of the opportunity.  Tell your kids to do the college experience RIGHT.  There are so many cultural activities activities on a college campus.  I watched bagpipe players.  I went to modern dance recitals.  I fell in love with a cappella music.  I listened to lectures on diversity.  I took a freakin' ballet class.  I began a lifelong love of drama when I played a part or two at Thompson Theatre.  I dove into college headfirst and I took full advantage of the incredible world that exists only on a campus.  Students have everything they need to thrive and become contributing members of society right there.  Don't sit in your room studying ALL THE TIME.  Don't go drinking with your friends all the time.  Go out and experience new things.  Stretch your mind.
  2. Don't stick with the people you know.  There are THOUSANDS of new people on a campus.  I always moan a little bit when I meet freshmen who are rooming with another kid from their high school.  Take a chance.  Meet new people.  Get out of your comfort zone.  You may find that you have WAY more in common with the kid from Minnesota than you do with the kid from your hometown.  I'm not saying you AVOID the people you already know...but, again, STRETCH yourself.  Free your mind.
  3. Explore different classes.  I entered college as a freshman in the engineering department.  Holy mother of pearl!  What was I THINKING? (I would be a TERRIBLE engineer.)  But I took a class called "Interpersonal Communication" (doesn't the title of that class just SCREAM Kelly?) over on the bright side of campus and realized that the people in THAT world were LAUGHING!  The classrooms were brighter.  The students didn't look all dour and morose all the time with their hair standing on end from running their fingers through it in frustration over the latest Diff EQ assignment.  That class changed the course of my life. 
  4. Live in your dorm. (I STILL have trouble calling it a dorm.  A dorm is where you sleep.  A residence hall is where you live and grow).  Do not get an apartment your freshman year.  I wouldn't get an apartment your sophomore year either.  LIVE on CAMPUS.  It's where the action is.  And don't go HOME every weekend.  Home will be there on holidays.  Home will be there when you graduate.  College is short-lived.  BE THERE. 
  5. Parents: Visit (not too often, though) and take your kids out to dinner.  Some of the most wonderful memories I have were when parents would visit campus and take their kid and one or two friends out to dinner.  I just thought this was cool.  And parents can get a glimpse of who (and what) is newly important in their new young adult's life. 
  6. Remember this: the time is fleeting.  You won't be in college long.  Breathe it in.  Be present in every single moment.  The real world is knocking on your door.  And someday, you won't be able to wake up at noon and stagger to your first class.  I don't necessarily believe in the saying "those were the best years of my life" because I believe we can make the best out of every day if we try hard enough.  But I DO believe there is nothing like college.  Enjoy the ride.
I cannot WAIT for Thing 1 and Thing 2 to be ready for their university experience.  I understand that I will be far more excited about it than they will (unless, of course, I drive them crazy enough between now and then that they are excited just to GET AWAY FROM ME).  I am always a little envious of freshman...even now. 

In closing, I only have two more words:  Go Pack!  :)

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  1. Kelly, you aced it with your advice about making the best of college. Send this one in to the News and Record. Emily

    1. Thanks, Emily! I'm ridiculously passionate about the collegiate experience. The News & Record? Yikes, that sounds scary. :)