Making the Best of Your College Experience
By Alan Waters, B.A.
Northeastern University Graduate Assistant
When you graduate high school it is the normal routine to hear all your friends, family, teachers and supporters to tell you how much you should enjoy college. Usually the phrase "these are the best years of your life" comes up at least a dozen times. It is their way of telling you to live college to the fullest and make the best of your experience. Looking back they are right, I know for me it took my four years through undergrad to appreciate that, but I sure do realize it now. College is a time for growth in so many areas of your life and is a time where many of us find our true identities. So this is my attempt at giving you advice on how to get the best out of your years in college. I have decided to break it down into five easy talking points that I feel will help you accomplish your goals.
The first key to success for any student is having the ability to challenge yourself and challenge those around you during College. This is something most of us are not accustomed to do on a regular basis. However when we do, we tend to get the best out of ourselves and others. Being able to challenge who we are, what we stand for and what we believe in, helps us to get exactly what we want out of life. Being able to challenge others allows us to understand others deeper, gain new perspectives and become more inclusive in our everyday lives.
College is the perfect time to do all of that while learning what works for us and what does not. Each of us should strive to do the best we can in all we aspire to do and be. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built." So I challenge all of you to have the courage to challenge yourself to do the best you can. Take the risks you may be scared to take. Take the class you may have little knowledge about. Join a group or organization you are passionate about or even know little about. Challenge yourself to get an A, when you only think your best is a B. At the same time be honest with yourself in your limitations. Know your weaknesses and challenge yourself to get better at each one. In doing so, challenge those around you whether it be friends, family, professors, advisors or administrators to do the same. My advice to all of you is to do one thing that challenges you each day, for this is when you will find your true character and identity.
Give and Get Support
Throughout your college experience, surround yourself with a strong support network. During college most of us experience some of the hardest times in our lives to date, the best way to get through these times is by having people around you that can pick you up when you have fallen down. Do not be afraid to ask for help, we all need it at times in our life. By having a strong support network we can have the confidence to do our very best, knowing others are behind our efforts.
At the same time give that same support to those around you. Whether it is a friend you have had for years or someone that lives on your floor reach out and let them know you are there for them. As one of my favorite motivational songs by Bill Wither explains, "Lean on me, when your not strong, I'll be your friend I'll help you carry on". It is important for all of us to have shoulders to lean on in times that are hard but is just as important to be there for others that need your shoulder.
Perhaps one of the best ways to get to know others in college is by getting involved in things that you are passionate about or want to become passionate about. By getting involved in programs, student groups, committees or leadership roles on campus you open up numerous doors of opportunity for yourself. Being involved also allows you to take what you have learned in the classroom and put it to practical use. I challenge all of you to seek out at least one organization that interests you and become a member. By doing so you will meet new people, be involved in exciting initiatives all while getting to know who you really are and how you work with others. Some of your best friends might come from taking a chance with a club or intramural sport. Being involved also allows you to expand your experiences and create lasting memories while simultaneously giving back to your college or surrounding community.
Find a Mentor, Be a Mentor
This is perhaps one of my biggest pieces of advice to college students. While at college begin to seek out people you feel are role models to yourself. Find at least one individual on your college campus that you feel holds strong morals, ideals and values. Seek out someone who makes you a better person and challenges you to do your very best. Having a mentor is one of the most important things to establish while you are in college. They could be a professor, upperclassmen, administrator or a supervisor. By establishing a mentor you create a relationship with someone who you feel makes you a better person. This does not mean they have to be your best friend, but they can be someone you can trust to give you honest advice and feedback on the type of person you are. They also can help you strive towards accomplishing goals you have set for yourself while at college.
Just as important as finding a mentor is being a mentor to someone else. It follows the idea of paying it forward. If you have found someone who gives you inspiration and motivation the best repayment is doing the same for someone else. Being a mentor does not cost you money out of your pocket; all it takes is time and dedication to improve someone else. Be that person who listens to others in hard times, celebrates with others during good times and leads by example. Each of us needs a mentor in life and each of us should be a mentor in someone else's life.
My last piece of advice is perhaps the most significant of all. More than anything you have come to college to become a well educated individual who is ready to tackle the world. While doing that, make sure you take time to enjoy yourself. There is no bigger regret than sitting back after you college career wishing you had done more. You want to look back at your college career and be able to answer the question "Did I get all I could have out of college?", "Did I allow myself to enjoy my experiences?" You want to be able to sit back and say confidently "I loved my years in college".
You want to be able to tell others you had wonderful times with your friends. You should be able to look back at your college career and remember all the wonderful experiences you went through and how much you grew as a person. That will not be possible if you do not take time to enjoy yourself and all that college has to offer. Because after all, college should be the best years of your life!