As the back to school catalogs are pouring into my little steel mailbox, the cable sweaters and matching notebooks tell me that Fall is just around the corner. This Fall is my first fall as a teacher’s spouse with Evan starting student teaching in only 12(!) days. It’s also been a full ten years since I started college. So today’s post reflects both of those auspicious occasions. Continuing on my reflections on college last week with a bit of unsolicited college advice thrown in, I thought I’d go ahead and give a full 10 pieces of my college wisdom.
Each season has its own rewards and challenges. I loved my college years, although they probably would have been a bit better if I had done more of the following:
1. Practice Minimalism – or bring less stuff. This is not something I followed particularly well, although each year I went I brought less. You simply don’t need a whole lot of things for college. It’s hard because Bed Bath and Beyond, the campus Bookstore, and that welcome to the dorm packet tell you otherwise. But what you need are something with which to write stuff down, something to wear to class, something to sleep on, good lighting, and a few pretty things to put up on your walls. It’s easier to keep a minimal dorm room clean, and have it be an an inviting room that is void of strange smells so it can be a place for those meaningful college conversations. You don’t really need a teddy bear with your college name on its shirt. For other ideas about how to create a holistic dorm room check out Lauren @ Empowered Sustenance.
2. Lift Weights – or don’t be intimidated by the football team. I wish that I could go back and tell myself to get off that silly elliptical machine and lift some weights. I loved my modern dance class, but what I wouldn’t give now for a free gym and 30 minutes a day to lift weights. But I know that it can be intimidating with the football team pumping iron and grunting at the mirrors. Still, figure out a way to learn how to lift: spend a couple hours with a personal trainer who can help you learn technique and starting weight/repetitions, or take a weight lifting class, or get a friend who knows what they are doing to go with you (and perhaps a few of your other friends who also need to learn.)
3. Learn to Be Alone – or don’t skip a meal because you can’t sit by yourself. The image that college often pushes is that every moment you aren’t studying or sleeping you should be with people, preferably a lot of people. There is something to that of course; there are a lot of people in the dorms and on campus—it can sometimes be a crowded lonely. But college is also a time to get more comfortable with yourself, including being alone. So don’t shy away from taking a walk by yourself, practicing intentional rest, or going to a meal alone. I had really gregarious and popular friends confess even in senior year that they just skipped meals rather than brave the cafeteria alone. But solitude is a great gift to be cultivated, as the wonderful Henri Nouwen writes in his book Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life.
4. Sleep and Vegetables – get enough of it, eat enough of them. All-nighters and midnight runs to hole-in-the-wall restaurants (I’m looking at you Los Burritos) will almost always leave you feeling pretty dreadful the next day. I am a big advocate of high quality sleep and high quality food. College is a time when there is a lot to do, and no time for being sick. I was pretty good about this in college, but I had my share of late nights and gluteny goodness—I know that I would have had a better time, with more stable emotions and energy to go do fun things if I had more optimized sleep and nutrition.
5. Find Great Professors – ask around for the good ones. I may have not had the housing luck (I didn’t ever get the prime real estate) but I won the gen. ed. lottery. I had some of the very best professors for those required courses that sometimes get picked up by a well-meaning adjunct. General Education courses taught by someone who’s passionate are amazing, because they pick all the things they love and give you a great taste of the major. It’s way more enjoyable to study for a course in which the professor really cares and has crafted the syllabus well. So ask around before you sign up for classes. Then Go. To. Office. Hours.
6. Money – it may seem like play money, but it’s real. College is a great time to practice financial stewardship. If you are really lucky, then all your expenses are shampoo (or baking soda) and movies. Although a lot of people have to think about paying for more than just lattes and stamps, how to decide to approach college debt is a complicated and individualized issue. But no matter what you want, you do want to keep from accruing a credit card debt. Take a consumer ed class. That was the best class of my senior year –and although everyone came in wanting to know how to budget, we left learning about how to pick insurance, apply for a mortgage, and contribute to a retirement fund.
7. Church – find a good one. College is a great time to explore different denominations. Discover the liturgy. Meet a baptist. Take communion at a Covenant Church. Evan always says his best advice is to go with your friends, because then you’re more likely to go. And I would add, get involved if you want, but don’t be afraid to just soak in the goodness and receive peace from grandmas and toddlers. College can make you forget there are people who aren’t between 18 and 22, and a local church is a good place to get outside the bubble.
8. Time – don’t lose your syllabus. High school is highly structured, and college is not. It’s an important developmental milestone–being able to manage your time and assignments. So figure out what works for you–Google Calendar or going to the writing center. I went to the writing center for almost every assignment, even though half the tutors weren’t great. My undiagnosed dyslexia needed a second set of eyes on every assignment. Figure out what helps you get stuff done on time and without a lot of panic. That is something that will keep on giving even after your graduate.
9. Relationships – be a good friend. Sometimes people give high school students well meaning advice that if they aren’t dating in high school they just have to wait for college. And well, a lot of people do have really serious relationships in college, so I see their point. But also, a lot of people don’t. And sometimes I think that people feel pressure to date someone, anyone, because, well, that’s what is supposed to happen. But college is still ultimately about good friendships, and good friendships are the basis for a good romance, even if it’s not in that order. So focus on listening, and showing up when you said you would, and being kind, honest, and happy to see your friends.
10. Study – find a way to enjoy it. Find your special place, with your special playlist, and your special pen, and special notebook. Try to enjoy the process, because that’s why you’ve come. And if you aren’t enjoying it, chances are because you either don’t feel well (see #4) or aren’t getting what you’re reading. So go get some help, go to office hours and ask about it, make friends in the class, read it slowly and out loud to yourself if you’re not in the library. Draw pictures, or timelines, or maps, or diagrams, until you understand it. You’re smart; you can figure it out!
It turns out, of course, that most of these thoughts apply to my life after college. Only instead of trying to track down the best classes, I am trying to track down good books and blogs. I think a lot of this is because college is real life. It’s wonderful and terrible, sad and joyful. It’s filled with real relationships and challenges, and learning about yourself and the great world that God has made. So go and live well, whether you are heading off to college or find yourself having to cobble together your own curriculum in the university of life.
What’s your best college advice?
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