Earlier this week, I went back to my high school for some of my favorite teachers’ “alumni day.” This day is meant for some of our school’s graduated students now living it up in college to come back and share what they’ve learned with the current high school students sitting in seats we were in just a few short years ago.
College has changed my life for the better in ways I couldn’t have ever imagined. I love talking to students about to embark on their own journey because they’re so full of wonder, anticipation, and potential! Today I’m sharing my 9 most important points that high school students should know before stepping onto the campus of their new home.
1. If you graduate with a feeling of entitlement, the real world will laugh in your face.
Let’s start off pretty blunt, shall we?
Nobody, and I repeat, nobody owes you anything. One of the worst things you can be is entitled. Things may have been given or guaranteed for you throughout your life so far, but in college you have to work for everything you get starting on day one.
Want a scholarship? You better make the grades and write a killer essay.
Want your foot in the door at your dream company? You better network. You better ace that job application for an interview and then ace that interview to even enter the bottom of the totem pole.
Want an A in a class? You better earn it. An 89.7 in college is an 89.7 (aka a B) and it won’t be rounded up like it would in high school. You will find that good grades are not as easy to maintain once you leave high school, even if you were at the top of your class.
2. You will have support for your grades, but zero fluff. Start finding your study habits now.
I know that you know college classes are a lot harder than high school, but what I never really believed was how few assignments make up your grade. Grades like participation or homework have very little weight in college. This past semester, I had a class where 80% of my final grade was tests; the final exam was half of that. There are very few curves and no extra credit or partial points, so don’t depend on those to bring your grade up. College is no joke; you have to work to get there and you definitely have to work to stay there.
Also, plagiarism and incorrect citations can get you expelled from a university. If you get in the habit of copying work in high school, you may not fully realize the severity of that same act in college until it comes around to bite you later. I remember seeing tons of people copying other people’s work, even going so far as to steal or “borrow” notebooks to get the answers. It’s ridiculous. Don’t do it. Grades are there to motivate you to put in the time to actually learn. Go figure.
3. If you want something, you have to go after it.
The following has been my phone’s lock screen for a few months now and it’s a really important reminder for me:
“You get in life what you have the courage to ask for” – Oprah Winfrey
People can’t read minds. I know, surprised me too. For this reason, you have to ask for the opportunities you want. If you’re looking for something, talk about it and ask others for suggestions. If you want a different essay topic, ask your professor. If you want a job application, go down there in person and speak with a manager. If you want a recommendation letter, sit down and have a conversation about it.
My point is, people are busy. Humans are self-centered by nature and, without purposely doing so, often won’t realize you’re subtly trying to hint at something. Don’t let life pass you by because you were too afraid to speak up!
4. It’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do with your life.
I’ll let you in on a secret. Not everyone in college knows what they want to do either. I thought I finally “made up my mind and got my life together” at least four times over the course of a few months, but I eventually ended up on a path I never thought I’d be on. I don’t have a super specific career goal. I don’t even have a concentration within my major!
It’s okay. It’s normal. Don’t fret. College is your time to figure yourself out. Your freshman year is basically full of general education requirements and introductory classes anyway, so you have the opportunity to try a little bit of everything. If you have absolutely no leads whatsoever that can help you nail down a broad topic like English or science or more administrative majors, use a semester or two at a community college to take a wide variety of classes. Trust me, you’ll learn pretty quick which classes speak to you and which ones don’t.
Side note. If you do have a major in mind and it’s not offered in your state of residence, check out the Academic College Market. You can get in-state tuition at an out-of-state school!
5. You can be yourself.
There is literally no such thing as popularity in college. Most people have a very diverse group of friends/acquaintances, none of which are “more cool” than another. College more or less levels the playing field in that you will find your people. There is exponentially less pressure to act, dress, or experience life a certain way. You do you and no one will judge. You can wear what makes you happy and spend your time on your own terms. You are not alone in anything, don’t give up on the real you!
6. Drinking and drugs do not make you an adult.
If anything, it makes you look less mature. It’s not a good look, it’s not healthy, and it’s not cool. There’s no such thing as “popular” in college anyway, right?
I know I also just said that you can do what you want and no one will judge you and I still stand by that, but I want you to understand early on that you don’t have to feed into the college drinking culture. I don’t condone college alcohol in any form; I don’t drink, I try to redirect conversation when it turns to “this one time when I was wasted” stories, and I won’t hang out with people while they’re drinking. The same goes for drugs, though in my experience that’s a lot less common.
Trust your gut. Support your own morals and values and do what you feel is right. It will in no way detract from your college experience.
7. Put yourself out there.
Don’t hide away in your dorm room 24/7. Get to know your roommates/suitemates/hallmates. Talk to people. I mean, I do it and I was voted quietest for high school superlatives! I’ve met some awesome people in my classes just from random conversations. Never underestimate the power of a genuine compliment!
Take risks. Try new things. Take a gym class for a sport you’ve never tried before (I took bowling. Yes, you should be jealous 😉 ). Go out to eat by yourself and people watch. Go to a professional workshop, network at an alumni event, and sign up for a mentoring program. Go Greek. Join a service team for spring break. Study abroad. Take a course for a different language. Do things you never thought you’d be able to do. Some things may not be for you and that’s okay, but the “what ifs” are some of the worst regrets you can have in life. Save yourself the painful pondering later.
The examples I listed above probably aren’t as available to you in high school, if at all, but start getting your feet wet and branching out. Join a new club at school. Get to know a teacher better. Volunteer and get involved in the community. Step up at your job. There are still ways to start pushing your comfort zone, so if you start in high school it won’t be as scary later on! Plus, these look great on resumes, scholarship profiles, and college applications so #winwin!
8. Getting to know your teachers doesn’t make you a teacher’s pet.
We already covered the absence of “cool kids” in college and how important putting yourself out there is to your college experience. A huge piece of advice that will be drilled into your freshman heads by upperclassmen is to get to know your professors. Talk about their research, professional journey, and hobbies. Take advantage of their office hours; they’re usually bored most of the time anyway! Most of your professors are pretty incredible people, I promise 🙂
9. Don’t shy away from a challenge.
When I was in high school, I would hear so many kids talk about how they switched out of an AP class because it was “too much work” and they didn’t feel like making the effort. You guys, that’s so dumb! I got very little out of the majority of my non-AP classes but to this day use what I learned in the advanced ones. The point of AP is to model a college class and get college credit after all!
Can the workloads be a bit much? Without a doubt. Will you have to work harder than before? Of course. But rising to the occasion is awesome. AP (or IB, whichever is offered to you) classes are 1000% worth it.
If you have too much on your plate (work, family, other classes, etc) or you and your teacher have discussed better options, obviously don’t set yourself up for unnecessary low grades and stress. What I want for you is to realize your potential and take full advantage of it!
Also, don’t just apply this embracing challenge thing to academics. Try a new workout. Take on a new hobby. Never stop competing with yourself to be the best version of you you can be!
Best of luck, I believe in you and can’t wait to see what you accomplish <3
~What would you tell your high school self about college?