By Jess Ekstrom, Guest Blogger August 19, 2015
My first week of college at North Carolina State University was one of the most nervous and exciting times in my life. Meeting tons of new people, decorating your dorm, finding your classes on campus, and not to mention the millions of free t-shirts you get.
But during a time of so much change and unfamiliarity, things can get blurry. You’ve heard people tell you to be yourself and do your best, but let’s take that a step further.
Here are 5 tips for first-year students that you’ve probably haven’t heard yet:
1. You’re not bound to your academic department.
College isn’t necessarily about becoming an expert; it’s about becoming a professional. Being a professional doesn’t mean you have to excel in only one specific area. I studied Communications, but when I started my company my junior year, I worked with all different areas of the university to help me get started. The business school helped me create a business plan, get a tax ID and a business license. The textile school helped me find a manufacturer. Graphic Design students taught me Photoshop so I could build my website. I used every area of campus to help get my questions answered.
Just because you’re studying one specific major, doesn’t mean you can’t get your feet wet in other departments.
2. The first people you meet don’t have to be your best friends.
The beginning of college is a social flurry. Even on move-in day, everyone’s talking in the elevators and meeting their hall-mates. Then people start to group up and go to the dining halls together and walk in groups to their classes, which is fine. But there’s a certain amount of pressure to “find your group” in the midst of all this chaos.
Don’t feel scared or intimidated if no one strikes your fancy yet. I found my true friends from joining clubs and organizations that interested me. I met one of my best friends through giving tours on campus and the other through teaching fitness classes. Joining these clubs and organizations gives you the opportunity to surround yourself with like-minded people. So don’t stress if you don’t find people that interest you during that first week of school. Join clubs that interest you and you’ll meet people with those same passions.
image via Tyler Olsen- Shutterstock
3. Your professional career starts now.
One of the biggest mistakes I see college students make is that they believe their professional career starts the day they graduate or the day they find a job. Your professional career starts the moment you set foot on campus.
Don’t wait until your junior or senior year to do internships or even shadow professionals in the area. People might try to tell you they’re looking for someone with more “experience,” but the way you gain experience is by putting yourself out there.
Whether it’s on campus working in the admissions office or off campus interning at an accounting firm, stack up your credentials with transferable skills that you can apply to the workplace. Interview whenever you can, sit in on meetings, network with the administration, contribute to the school newspaper. Once it’s time to actually start applying for jobs and do interviews, it won’t be your first rodeo and the employer will notice that.
4. It’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do.
It can be intimidating to hear your roommate talk about how she knew she wanted to be an aerospace engineer since she was born (and if that’s the case, she’s definitely exaggerating). It’s totally okay to not know what you want to do when you get to college. Find out if your school has a first-year program for students who are unsure what direction they want to go.
Instead of picking a direction with uncertainty, take general education classes that can be applied to anything. Don’t waste your time, money and credits on Intro to Architecture if you’re unsure you want to be an architect.
You probably won’t have your “aha” moment by googling dream careers. Instead figure out how you can even just touch the surface of a lot of different careers. Maybe that’s through seminars on campus, or shadowing local businesses, or even just talking to friends and family about their professional jobs.
Also, always know that no experience is a waste. There will always be room in your life to change directions. Whatever you choose now, you don’t have to be locked into forever.
5. College isn’t the best four years of your life.
You’ve probably heard (dozens of times) to enjoy college because it’s the best four years of your life. I disagree. If you play your cards right, you can use your time in college to create a foundation for the best years of your life. It’s not about how many friends you made or how much “fun” it looks like you’re having on your Instagram.
It’s about using your time in college to build who you are, figure out what you want, and start taking the steps to get there. That comes with making a few mistakes (okay, maybe more than a few), figuring out what motivates you, surrounding yourself with positive people, and understanding that life is dynamic.
Eat at the dining halls. Run for Student Body President. Start a ping pong club. Scream your head off at football games. Learn a new language. Camp out for tickets with your friends. And most importantly, learn from everything.
For more tips and tricks about making the most of college, check out Jess' book: The Freshman Fabulous: The Girl’s Guide to College.
Jess is the founder and CEO of her college startup, Headbands of Hope. For every headband purchased, one is given to a girl with cancer and $1 is donated to fund childhood cancer research. She loves speaking on college campuses through CAMPUSPEAK and has recently launched her first book, The Freshman Fabulous: The Girl's Guide to College. When she's not working or speaking, she enjoys trying new foods, doing crossfit, writing (especially for IATG!), taking improv classes, being outside, and helping others find their path to help the world.
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