What I Wish I’d Known Before College: Trust Your Gut and Explore

For those of you in the midst of college applications, I know that applying to college doesn’t seem like the most exciting time of your life. In fact, it probably feels like an online form purgatory. However, as a person who has been through the process—and college itself, although oftentimes I can’t believe it—I’m here to tell you that what you are embarking on is truly one of most thrilling times of your life. I know you don’t believe me. Right now everything is in flux. While it’s super scary not to know what the future holds, it’s also incredible to be at the precipice of near-infinite opportunity. Your life can be anything you want it to be. Applying to college and picking the school is just the first step in shaping that life.

So with that in mind, there are some things I absolutely wish I had known before applying to schools. Here are just a few.

 It’s okay to trust your gut.

Have you ever been on a college tour and felt like you could really see yourself on campus? And maybe the name wasn’t everything and it didn’t have that super-specific program you wanted, but you just felt at home there. Apply anyway. If I’ve learned anything over time it’s that your gut is more right than it is wrong. You should go to a place the feels right and not just sounds right.

You don’t have to know what you want to be.

Some colleges have you apply into a specific program and if you’re one of the lucky ones who know exactly what you want to do, that’s awesome! You should totally pursue that to the fullest extent of your capability. But some of us—a lot I would say—are not so lucky. It’s okay to go into the college process not knowing what you want to study or who you want to be. I know it doesn’t seem like it right now but you have a lot of time to figure that out! Take your time to explore and figure it out as you go along.

Applying to college is like a part-time job.

Nobody tells you just how time-consuming applying to college can be on top of all your other responsibilities. You have oboe practice or soccer and school and some of you have siblings to look after and part-time jobs that actually pay and, yeah, maintaining a social life. The best advice I can give you to tackle the mountain of applications is time management and planning. Buy a planner, make a to-do list, and carve out a little time each week to fill out forms, work through the financial process or write an essay. Once you break it down for what it is, the mountain starts to look more like a molehill.

Don’t get caught up in the name game.

If I’ve learned anything from college and then the real world it’s this: your education is what you make it. Every institution of higher education in this country has talented faculty, interesting programs, and successful students. “Brand names” don’t mean anything if you didn’t use your education for all it was worth. Connecting with professors, using your college to get internships, gaining leadership roles on campus or invested in other ways will ultimately be what propels you forward, not the crest on your diploma.

You should take a deep breath and look around.

Breathe in and breathe out. You will never be this young again! Don’t forget to relish in it for a little bit. There are parties to go to and sleepovers to have Mannequin Challenges (or whatever the next thing is) to do. Don’t get so caught in applying to a school that you don’t go to the movies with your friends or have dinner with your family. They say college is the best time of your life. But I’d say where you are right now could give college a run for its money.

You got this, kid. Go out there and tackle the world.

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