For The College-Bound

You have a lot to be proud of, having completed one chapter in your life and going onto the next. It’s beyond exciting, but also terrifying to be going through this kind of change, especially since you’ll be away from what you know and are used to. It’s overwhelming, having so many things to do and so many people to meet that you’ll feel like you’re going in a million directions. Take a deep breath and take it each day as it comes; just because you don’t get to see and do it all right away doesn’t mean that it won’t ever happen. Spreading it all out is actually a good thing because not only will you have more energy, but you will also have the ability to cherish the experience more.

 With that being said, your experiences will probably be somewhat different from mine, as well as your parents. Don’t try to recreate or walk the path that the people before you did, because chances are it will not go the way you expect it to, nor will it have the same effect. Instead, take this time and make it your own. You’ll be glad for it in the long run.

And though college itself is quite the adventure, it is an adjustment and it will be hard. Your schedule is not as consistent as it was in high school, with classes possibly taking place at weird times (you might start at eight o’clock and go until noon, or start late in the afternoon and go until after dark). And you will legitimately have to study in order to keep up and pass each semester.  Though you’ll probably have a mini-heart attack or two from forgetting to do your homework every once in a while, checking your syllabus and your e-mail regularly do help. Lord knows I didn’t always do this, but writing everything down in a planner and utilizing office hours do work wonders. Professors can be intimidating and their policies can be downright annoying, but deep down they appreciate it when you take the time to ask questions and clarify information. And who knows, you may even find a mentor or two by doing so.

Yet, the difficulties do not always involve preparing for impossible exams or staying up late to write papers. Despite being surrounded by people all the time, it does get lonely. The people you meet now might not end up being your best friends in the long run, and that can be frustrating. You might get close to people, drift apart and then come back together in a couple of years when you’ve all grown up and matured a little. Kids your age are often selfish because for a lot of them, this is the first time on their own and they don’t have parents around telling them what to do or how to act. Regardless of what stage you’re in, friends do come in and out of your life, but the ones who are meant to be part of it will always be standing in the doorway. You won’t always see each other and you won’t always talk, but they’ll be there.

On that note, take the time to call your parents at least once a week and let them know how you’re doing. This is a time to learn how to be independent, but in some way, you’re always going to need your mom and dad. It doesn’t have to involve sobbing on the phone or rehashing every small detail of what went on over the weekend, but let them in on your life. They love you and they want you to support you and be there for you, even though you’re growing into an adult. And don’t forget to thank them for helping you get to where you are, because whether you know it or not, they played a huge role in it.

Romance and relationships are tricky aspects to navigate as well. I’m not going to tell you that all are motivated by hormones who only want to sleep with you and nothing more, because that’s not always true. I’m not going to tell you what types to avoid, because it’s so much easier said than done (and quite frankly, I always try to do my best to see the good in others). It’s normal to be curious about the hook-up culture and to do things for the sake of wanting to know what it’s like. On the other side, it can become a slippery slope that may very well end in heartbreak and confusion. If you’re going to go down that road, I hope it’s with someone who’s willing to be honest with you about what they want and in turn you can be honest with them. Furthermore, that they respect your boundaries; I don’t care how “normal” certain things are considered in college, if someone is treating you in a way that you absolutely do not feel comfortable with, you have every right to speak up about it. Above all, trust your instincts and listen to them. Once you realize that something isn’t working for you or doesn’t feel right, it won’t get better or easier.  But if heaven forbid you get in a situation that you have little control over and lines get crossed, please know that it is never you fault. Ultimately, what you do or don’t do with your body does not define you or make less of a person. You and everyone else in this world are human beings who are worthy of love and respect, regardless of what mistakes you make or if you make them repeatedly.

Yes, bad things do happen and not everyone has good intentions, but that doesn’t mean relationships are impossible. It might seem rare, but I have witnessed some awesome things and met some amazing people. If you’re attracted to someone, take time to be friends first, building a solid foundation on trust and respect.  There’s always the risk of things not working out, but what’s the alternative, really? If you meet someone who can take the good with the bad and meet you halfway, go for it! If they motivate you to be a better person and compliments you well, cherish them. To love is to learn, and to learn is to grow.

Partying is fun, which you either know or will figure out eventually. I certainly had my share of crazy nights, and I made my own choices. But what I do regret is not taking a step back once I realized that drinking was not going to dull the pain when I was hurting, nor would it be the main focus of so many great memories. Legality aside, going out should be awesome because of who you’re with, not necessarily because of how much alcohol you’re consuming. It’s age-old wisdom, but do your best to moderate yourself when it comes to that stuff. It can get in the way of your academics, and getting slapped with a drinking ticket isn’t something to brag about (side note: I did not get one. I just know that paying seven hundred bucks or more just for having a beer is insanely dumb). Find something that can help you stay grounded, whether that is a church, a volunteer organization, or having friends to keep you accountable. You will run into a wall at some point, and if you’re not careful, it’s going to hurt.

On that note, be mindful of who you surround yourself with; if they force you to choose between your values and fitting in, they’re not the kind of people you want to have in your life. It will be tough away to step away from an environment that’s a lot of fun, but being constantly physically and emotionally drained won’t do you any favors in the grand scheme of things. 

More than anything, I just want you to be in the present moment, because not everyone gets to be where you’re at. Live for the moments where you spontaneously stay up talking with people until three in the morning, whether it’s a conversation about life or the most random things. Live for the moments that involve meet-cutes in unexpected places, and don’t micro-plan every move you make when it comes to introductions. Go to at least one football or basketball game, if only to see what it’s like. Create your own traditions out of television shows or changing seasons. Take walks and marvel in the natural beauty of your surroundings. Put down your phone and camera at some point and give your attention to whomever you’re with.

If you want something, pursue it. Looking back on my time in college, there are some things I wish I would have just straight out asked for in the beginning. If nothing else, I learned that the definition of truly living life is to worry less and just go for it. Choose a major based on what makes sense to you and what you enjoy, not what will be easy in terms of getting a job or a big paycheck afterward. If you don’t know right now that is perfectly OK, but don’t overthink it too much. If you care about someone, there’s no shame in telling them. That is how friends turn into family.

And that is one of the greatest things about college, knowing that you went all in, and knowing that you were part of something wonderful.  You are part of a community and you will leave a legacy.

This year is yours, dear one. Instead of lowering your expectations, be open to the possibilities.

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