This blog post is on a topic totally different from what I usually cover, but these ideas are on my mind as I get ready to send my second child to college this fall. I don’t know whether this advice is useful or whether my kids will even think about it once they hear it, but these are five things I urge and encourage my kids to remember as they go to college and into their early adulthood.
- Try as many things as you can. Whatever you enjoyed in high school, college is a great time to try new things. Try kayaking or improv comedy or debate or tutoring kids. Use your time in college to explore interests you didn’t have time for while you were focused on getting into college, and explore things you never thought about trying before. Of course I’m not suggesting you do things that are illegal or that could have a potentially negative impact on your future – don’t try recreational drug use or partying all night long for a week or skipping classes and not doing your work. But you will have more free time in college than you have ever had so take advantage of the opportunities at your school and the surrounding area to uncover new interests and hobbies.
- Learn as much as you can. I don’t mean worry about your grades, I mean take classes in things that interest you and get as much out of your learning opportunities as you can. When I went to college I took classes in French, calculus, theoretical physics, Chinese history, sociology, philosophy, colonial America, the French Revolution, urban design, nineteenth century piano music, astronomy and more – and I loved getting to learn from the professors and my fellow students. Of course it’s important to pick a major, fulfill your graduation requirements, and maybe even gain some practical knowledge – but college is a wonderful time to simply learn. Enjoy this as much as you can.
- Meet and interact with as many different people as you can. Think of this as the ‘human side’ of networking. College is certainly a great place to make connections, and you never know when in life it will come in handy to have gone to school with someone who can be helpful in the future. But this is about more than that; so much of what you learn in college really comes from hanging out with people and getting to understand what makes them tick. Meeting ‘as many people as you can’ means something different for natural extroverts than it does for more introverted people like me, but no matter your temperament it’s worthwhile to keep meeting and befriending new people all throughout your college years.
- Make some deep friendships. Of course college is about learning, but these few years will also give you some of the most concentrated time you will have to build friendships. Whether you’re introverted (like my son) or extroverted (like my daughter) use your time in college to connect deeply with at least a few other people. Some of my closest friendships were formed in college and these relationships made a much bigger impact on me than even my favorite classes did.
- Be true to yourself. This isn’t just a Hamlet reference; college is a time of unprecedented freedom and offers a chance to begin deciding what values are going to shape your adult life. Make good choices; don’t be swayed into doing things that you don’t want to do and don’t give up things that are important to you even if the people around you don’t value them. You’re going to make some mistakes; that’s ok as long as you learn from them and as long as they aren’t life-limiting. Pick yourself back up or turn yourself around if you realize things aren’t going the way you want them to go. College is a time to shape who you’re going to be when you grow up so make sure you are becoming the kind of person you really want to be.
Maybe my children will find these thoughts meaningful or relevant as they grow up and maybe not. I’m fortunate enough to have pretty close relationships with my kids as they grow up, and though they certainly don’t tell me everything or talk with me about all that they go through, we do talk pretty openly with each other. I still think about these five ideas in my own life more than 25 years after college. These are good principles for navigating life at any age because in truth it’s not that simple.