Three pieces of advice for your first year:
1. Allow yourself to feel okay about your anonymity. You were a super-star in high school and that’s cool! Now you’re just one of the seemingly 8 billion other valedictorians on campus all of whom are just as new to this whole college thing as you are. While this might make you feel like you’re nothing special, think of it more as a nice little dose of reality: you’re not always going to be the best and that is just fine! This doesn’t give you an excuse to aim for mediocrity. It allows you, instead, to build confidence in your value on a quiet but powerful level independent of your high school reputation.
2. You’re an adult now: own your decisions. This is one of those awesome yet maddening aspects of growing up. From here on out the decisions you make are yours to make – woohooo! Independence! – but the catch is that the responsibility for the result of those decisions is yours to bear – oh. An example could include something relatively inconsequential: you can choose to blow off the reading for the next morning’s class and nobody’s going to force you to do otherwise. Isn’t that great!? But then when the professor decides to use a reading-quiz as the class’ attendance for the day or you are called on to start off the class discussion by stating X, Y & Z from the reading, make sure to recognize that you just experienced a(n) (admittedly sucky) result of your choice. Don’t act like a victim!
Here’s a weightier example: If you take the opportunity go into significant debt in order to pay for school, that’s your choice! Living on loans feels rather like free money when you’re 18. But when you’ve been out of school for a few months and the grace period on your loans has ended you will pay for every single cent of that “free” money and then some. Even if you are blessed with a great job after college you will still feel the weight of your loans, perhaps to a lesser degree, but you’ll feel it nonetheless. If you don’t believe me here are a few sources: this article, this article, this article, and pretty much any article that comes up when you google “student loans and the American Dream” or “student loan crisis.” Not to mention the life of your very own sister… that’s me!
3. Lean into the college experience as YOU experience it. I think there’s a lot of hype out there about what the “college experience” is supposed to be. High school teachers and administrators might build it up to be this glorious season of splendor, parents might tell stories of their college days dripping with nostalgia, older siblings might overemphasize the tales of miserable all-nighters in the smelly library and the professor of doom who had it out for them. 😉 All this could understandably lead to a conflicting idea of what the college experience is supposed to look like. Here is a handy little snippet of advice to carry with you this year: this is your college experience it might be exactly what you pictured, it might be the very opposite. Either way it’s yours so embrace it.