An Open Letter To 2022 Graduates Or, What I Wish Someone Told Me Before College
Well, it's about that time, class of 2022! Graduation for some of you has come and gone. But Now What? I've got you. This is a big time! I know it seems like a very important milestone in your life, and it definitely is. I thought I would use the limited wisdom I’ve acquired in 43 years to give you a few bits of advice that I wish someone had given me when I was getting ready to go off to college. Here goes.
- Nobody Cares What You Did In High School.
Don’t get me wrong, you’ll definitely swap stories with your new friends about what you did in your HS days. But when you’re in class…. No. You’ll see this every year. There will be a kid who has to join every discussion in class with, “Well, when I was in High School”, or “Back in my High School…”. No. If the story is relevant, start it with, “In my past experiences…” or “In past projects I’ve worked on…” Otherwise, you’ll get an eye roll from your fellow students. It'll get cringey quick. Nip that in the bud.
- Experimenting Is Okay, But The Real Will Not Judge.
I know you’ll probably try a bunch of stuff in college that me, your Mom, your Dad and any rational adult will tell you not to do. But the thing is, we also know that while you’re all smart kids, you’re going to have to experience and learn things on your own. When it comes to college parties, theater festivals, band trips, afternoon study groups, whatever, people will ask you to do something you don’t want to do. It’s going to happen, no matter what. And I know you know it’s okay to say no. But your real friends, people who really care about you, won’t ask you again if you say no. Somebody who repeatedly asks if you want to try some Adderall to study with, for example, is not your friend. They’re looking for somebody to do things with them so THEY don’t feel bad about what they’re doing. Sure, they may be cool and are good with gas money, but in the clinch…they’re Not Your Friend.
- Jobs Are Important, But Balance Is…. Importanter.
You will probably work your way through college. That’s great, I know a lot of you are willing to pull your own weight. However, remember that boundaries are very important, and people in positions of power are more likely to try to push those boundaries now that you are legal adults. Bosses will try to make you feel bad for choosing school over work. Don’t. You can always get another job, and they will not think twice about replacing you if they suck. I would suggest looking around on campus for jobs first. Places like the student union, the library, the school sports stadiums, will be more likely to be understanding of schedules, finals, etc than a normal retail job. Remember, whatever job you have while you’re in school is just that – a job. You might not even put it on your resume to find the next one. School is the most important part of all of it, because that’s going to be your Career, not just a gig to pay for books or rent.
- Listen To Yourself.
I know that sounds trite. But you will feel pressure sometimes in college, and it’s important to know when you need a minute for your own sanity. Sometimes you’ll stay up all night working on a test the next day. That’s fine every now and then, but remember to stop when your body tells you “That’s Enough”. Times will come when you’ve read the same paragraph twelve times and you still can’t remember any of it. That’s a good indicator to stop. If you’ve worked every weekend for the last six weeks and you just want one Saturday to go on a stupid road trip with your friends, Listen To Yourself. Being present mentally for your studies will only really come when you’re able to give 100% of your concentration. You're not gonna learn what you need to know on the job if you can't pay attention. You can’t concentrate if you’re tired, if you’re stressed, if you’re worried, or you’re burned out. Yeah, you might have to soldier through a few days of overtime in the future to make sure rent is paid or something…but make sure to be mindful of your recovery from that.
- Never Stop Applying for Grants or Scholarships.
I know this is something I wasn’t aware of until I was maybe in my first senior year (I HAD TWO, OKAY). Check with the departments of your major, your minor, even the general administration office. A lot of times they’ll have smaller scholarships for upperclassmen (sometimes less than $500), equipment you can borrow or use for free, vouchers for books and supplies, or they’ll probably also be able to point you in the right directions of smaller grants (smaller, lesser known ones than the Pell Grant, obviously) you can get later. They don’t advertise those, and sometimes they just sit in the funding because nobody asks for them. You know, kinda like my Coal Mining Scholarship story*. Any and all of that stuff will make every semester a little easier. I think of it as, “Okay, I spent an hour on that application and got $200… but that means I don’t have to work two shifts for that $200.” And if you go in there often enough/email the right people enough…when new stuff comes up, they’ll contact you first. If nothing else, to get you out of their hair, but mostly because educators want students to actually use resources.
6. Miscellaneous… Gems?
- Don’t sign up for an 8:00 a.m. class your first semester unless it’s required. Trust me. You may think you can handle it because you’re used to getting up early, but College Is Different. Don’t do it. Save it ‘til later.
- Don’t join groups just to put them on your resume. If it’s something you’re actually interested in like a Women’s Advocacy Group, or an LGBTQIA group, or a sorority/fraternity that’s doing something you’re passionate about, go for it. But don’t join groups just to find likeminded friends or for the “connections”. Even if you don’t know ANYBODY on campus… you’ll find friends easily. Don’t sweat it. Employers in the real world do not care that you were President of the History Club.
- Limit merch to one or two items. One shirt, one hat, one sweatshirt with the Uni logo is enough. You might not even stay at the same school all four years, and if you graduate you can always get alumni stuff later. That merch is Super Expensive and for the most part, it’s a rip off.
- If you can, volunteer. Even if it’s only a couple of hours a semester… it’s going to do a lot of good for your mental health.
- Explore the city you’re in. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have fun wherever you’re going. Just going for a walk in the local park, checking out the public library, going on a mural hunt…. These are all good things that are going to give you a lot more memories than the local College Bar Row. Same applies for your campus. Don’t be afraid to look around departments that aren’t yours. Art departments, music departments, theater departments, there are all sorts of things that will be nice to experience and give you a boost for your mental health. I used to walk through the art building on my campus just to look at what they had on display – didn’t have anything to do with my major, but it made me smile on the way to class.
- Loans are to be avoided, but like anything, are good in moderation. If you’re finding problems making ends meet, loans are not the end of the world. But remember that you don’t want to overborrow – those won’t go away ten or fifteen years from now. In fact, you might be able to pay off a little bit of them as you go through your last couple years of college. Just make sure if you have to get a loan that it’s for tuition or books, not for your living expenses. It’s easy to overborrow if you’re trying to get ahead on rent for your first apartment, for example.
Well. I think that’s just about all the “wisdom” I have to impart. I know you’ll do great. Everyone is super proud of you, and we’re proud of whoever you choose to become in the future. Congratulations on your hard work, and good luck in the future! Go get 'em, kiddo.
*One time my Senior year of High School, I had one of those books that you could go through and look for scholarships. I applied to one that I was absolutely not qualified for, kinda did it by mistake. It was for students that had parents that were Coal Miners. It was only $500, but I GOT IT, because nobody else applied and they had to give it to somebody.