By Ella Dawson, GHS 2010, Wesleyan University 2014
High school seniors are flooded with college advice. So many pearls of wisdom I received when I graduated from Greenwich High School in 2010 came from adults so long out of college they didn’t know what they were talking about anymore.
So here are five tips for incoming college freshman from someone who just graduated college.
- No one knows where or what “Greenwich” is. Whether you’re ashamed or proud of your Fairfield County origins, they won’t have as much of an impact on your ability to make friends as you think. I was mortified to admit I was from Greenwich during freshman orientation, especially because I was going to college in state. But Greenwich is not the center of the universe, and, for the most part, no one at my school had ever heard of it.There was no spoiled rich girl association with my hometown in the minds of most, except for the occasional professor and the kids from Manhattan. But private school prepsters from the City had more to be embarrassed of than I did, so they never did more than give me a sly wink. Seriously, no one cares. No one.
- Not every paper you write has to be the standard persuasive five-paragraph essay. You are not in high school anymore and you have more freedom to experiment. College is the perfect opportunity to work on developing a voice, whether it is snooty and literary or funny and confident. You also have just as much opportunity to bullshit your assignments, and I’ll admit to writing the bulk of my freshman year papers the night before they were due while hyped up on Red Bull and Doritos. Learning to write well is one of the best skills you can take with you from college: Unless you are coding for Google, being able to write competently is a job requirement in any field.
- That image you have of yourself as a senior four years from now, valedictorian and accepted to a great law school? Yeah, probably not.
Very few of my friends wound up where they expected to be as freshmen, and that isn’t a bad thing. When I arrived at Wesleyan, I thought I would be an English major with a concentration in creative writing, and after graduation I would become a literary agent and work for a massive publishing house in Manhattan. Instead I took courses that interested me as an underclassman and found myself drawn to the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program. My senior thesis was an anthology of short fiction exploring the potential of feminist erotica, and I am about to move to California to intern with a women’s erotica publishing house. Is this what I planned when I was 18? Definitely not, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Be open to deviating from your plan, because you might wind up somewhere far more suited to you and your passions.
- Get to know your favorite professors! Keep taking their courses even if the subject matter isn’t something you immediately gravitate toward—quite often it is the teacher that makes the course worthwhile, not the content.Professors are the real resource of college: They can give advice, recommend other classes or opportunities within or outside of the university, advise projects and independent research, and help you grow into an actual adult. I met my favorite professor during my first semester at Wesleyan and went on to take six more classes with him. He also advised my senior thesis and became one of my closest friends. Professors like my advisor have seen everything, and they have all the great gossip on the administration and other staff members.
- You will learn more from the people around you than you will in any classroom. I’m serious. I know this is a cliché and not a particularly inspirational one, since many of you will be paying tuition through the nose. But living in a co-ed dorm, running a campus literary magazine, and dating quite a few jerks brought me from being a sheltered, arrogant, and terrified teenager to an adult about to move across the country by herself.Maybe you will learn not to believe first impressions (you might find that tightly wound RA upstairs high on shrooms next to you at a concert). Maybe you will learn that the loudest people at the party are often the most lost. Maybe you will learn that intelligence isn’t about a GPA ranking but about getting a room full of college students to talk about their fears. One of the most important lessons I learned (as a senior, no less) was that a warm, infectious smile isn’t always indicative of a good person underneath, and that owning your flaws can make you stronger than anything else in this world.
College is awesome. Get ready for the wildest, scariest four years of your life thus far. They might not be the “best four years of your life!” as everyone is no doubt telling you, and adjusting to an entirely new place can be difficult and upsetting.
It might take you a year or two to feel steady, and you will never really feel like you know what you are doing. But that’s the point. Good luck, and don’t go overboard on the Bud Lite.
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