Over the weekend, I did my best to sell my friend’s little sister on the joys of becoming a Michigan Wolverine. After two visits, she decided to come to campus one more time for less than 24 hours, as if wandering the Diag one last time would clarify the agonizing decision.
She asked all the typical freshman-to-be questions: “How hard are your classes?” “How many activities are people involved in?” and, of course, “How easy is it to make friends?” I did my best to answer, coloring each response a bright shade of maize and blue.
After she left, my nostalgia kicked in full-force. It seemed like just yesterday that I came to campus a wide-eyed freshman-to-be, thinking life was over just because high school was. Now with graduation looming two weeks away, the same foreboding sense of the unknown is starting to sink in. I began to feel like I’d done my friend’s little sister a disservice. What good did it do her to visit the basement of the Union, as if seeing Magic Wok and Wendy’s would somehow illuminate her life plan?
I should have told her about aspects of college life that really matter, like Stockwell having the best food on the Hill, Espresso Royale selling $2 lattes every Wednesday and Stats 350 knocking out your entire quantative reasoning requirement and giving you four natural science credits. But aside from the little tidbits I’ve discovered over the years, I’ve also picked up some modest insights on college life. Passing along these little pieces of wisdom would probably have been more valuable touring Angell Hall.
So, for this my last column, I’ve complied a brief list of things I wish I knew before I came to the University. It is a college tour of sorts, only without the smiling, back-peddling tour guide:
Don’t try to do everything. Even as a person who thrives on being busy, I was at my happiest when I had one extracurricular to focus on. Instead of being a worker-bee in 10 organizations, be the president of one. Of course, take freshman year to survey your options (I think I’m still on the ski team mailing list from Festifall), and after something strikes a chord with you, make a choice and shed the excess.
Take great classes. This might seem obvious (particularly to those of us who are paying out-of-state tuition), but signing up for blow-off classes at the University is just a waste. Registration is annoyingly stressful and often it’s easy to just sign up for a random class because it fits into that Tuesday/Thursday 1-2:30 p.m. slot you’ve been trying to fill. It’s not worth it. There is nothing worse than being stuck in a class you hate for 15 weeks.
Go abroad. As I embark on the real world without a dependable bank account or health insurance, I am eternally grateful I traveled when I had the chance. Signing up for an abroad program is another process that takes effort, but seeing the Eiffel Tower or hiking Machu Picchu doesn’t disappoint.
Push yourself to hang out with different types of people. The University might have a “blueprint for diversity,” but until we actually reach outside our comfort zones, diversity will remain strictly academic. While it might be easy to travel en mass to the same bar every Friday night because that’s where your group goes, nobody ever grew as a person by flocking with birds of the same feather.
Get close to your professors. If you find professors you really click with, stick with them. Take more classes with them or go to their office and just talk about life. College is all about gaining insight, and professors are a great place to start.
If you don’t like your situation, change it. So many times I’ve heard friends say “If I could do it again, I would have been a ____ major.” It’s never too late to change your mind, although administrative red tape can make it seem that way. For example, I spent two years in the University’s acting program before switching to LSA. Those Theatre and Drama credits are only ink on my transcript now, but its better to change your mind rather than stay in a place that doesn’t quite fit.
I don’t know if this advice would have quelled the fears of my friend’s little sister, but it’s definitely more valuable than touring an academic building. After four years, the only real truth I can come up with is that college is what you make of it. I hear the same is true for the real world. I just wish there was a tour.
Whitney Dibo is an associate editorial page editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.