Trial-and-error is a perfectly acceptable way to learn – especially when it comes to learning life lessons in college. Unfortunately, trial-and-error is also a style of learning that tends to end in LOL, oops, or well now I know.
Less than a month ago, I graduated from the University of California, Davis with a degree in English and history, and in my college’s defense, I had a good experience. I made it through alive. I made friends. I learned some things here and there, and I’ve got my degree. Well, I’ll get it when the university mails me my diploma.
So without any massive hiccups, why do I feel like I have advice to offer? Because no one makes it through college without one or twelve mistakes. For me, it all kind of stems back to one misconception. At 18 years of age and bursting with optimism, I was absolutely sure I knew what I wanted and how to get it.
So what do I wish I knew when I was a high school senior? Here are just a few things I wish someone had told me before I packed my bags and headed to Davis.
On Picking The Best College For You:
Size and Style:
You might think you want to go to a small liberal arts school. If that’s the case, you might apply to mostly small schools – population 2,000 or less – and maybe one or two mid-sized schools just in case. That’s what I did anyway, and when April rolled around and I started going on campus tours, I realized that I did not, in fact, find small schools very appealing. I attended a two-day welcome visit at a small school in Oregon, and by the second day, I could recognize people everywhere I went. This may seem cozy to some, but to me, it meant that I now had only a few schools to choose from – the Universities of California that I had offhandedly sent applications to.
The same issue can arise if you presume you only want a large school, or a party school, or a school with a reputation in a particular academic program or for new age hippies who never shower. You could, and probably will, change your mind as soon as you visit. Don’t get stuck because you think you know yourself. Apply to a very wide range of colleges, and seek out opportunities to visit however many you can.
Four years is not a very long time to be in college, and what you get out of those years will not come from how pretty the campus is or how much greenery you have access to while you’re there. In fact, even if you’ve lived by the sea your entire life and cannot fathom a life away from it, you’ll be used to the dryness of central-wherever in no time, and you’ll have the opportunity to appreciate lakes and rivers instead. What matters, ultimately, are the people your school can connect you to.
Don’t go for a school in the middle of nowhere. UC Davis is pretty close to Sacramento, and as the state capital, there were some opportunities there. However, one summer I spent an hour commuting to work at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and I realized that location is everything. Even if you think you’ll enjoy the peace and quiet of a secluded college town, you won’t get what you’re looking for, and it will only be an inconvenience in the end. This is because many college students will entertain themselves in a way that is not peaceful or quiet regardless of where they are located. The practical effect of living in an isolated town, as such, will not do anything for your inner peace that you cannot achieve in a city by signing up for yoga. Instead, it will just make internships more difficult to access.
If, God forbid, you accept an unpaid gig, you don’t want to pay the rent for two apartments – one in your college town and one near your internship. Pick a school in a city or town with local internship options. You might change your major and your career trajectory at any time, so the bigger the area, the more likely you are to have opportunities.
This isn’t necessarily true for everyone, but in general, don’t worry too much about how the campus feels. I picked UC Davis almost entirely because I loved the campus. I didn’t know anything about the English or history departments when I sent in my SIR, but there were rabbits all over the quad when I visited. From what I’ve heard, there are rabbits around every spring, but to be honest, in my four years there I never saw another one.
After spending some time living in an area, you will either have adapted to your new environment, or you will have found within it a community of people who have similarly not adapted. This means that if a school can offer you the opportunities you want for your career, but doesn’t feel as welcoming as another school does, you should do what’s best for yourself professionally. Comfort problems are much easier to solve.