There are lots of things that you should take away with you when you graduate from college: friends, fond memories, professional connections, solid career goals, a borderline unhealthy affinity for ramen—not to mention an education and a degree. But the one thing you shouldn’t leave with is regret. While I loved my time in college, there are definitely some things I would've done differently. Hindsight is 20/20, but foresight is priceless, as the saying goes. In hopes that you might learn from my experiences (or lack thereof, as you’ll see), here’s a look at a few of the things I wish I’d done in college while I had the chance.
1. I didn’t study abroad
The thing I most regret about my time in college is that I didn’t study abroad. Studying abroad can be expensive, but it’s an invaluable, incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience. And as someone who’s been out of school for over a decade now (yikes!), I can tell you that life isn’t going to hand you many—if any—other opportunities to live on the other side of the planet for months at a time. Just imagine studying French in the morning then having a picnic on the Champs de Mars, or studying Scandinavian literature one day and sailing down Hardangerfjord the next. The possibilities are endless—and I kick myself for missing out on them. If cost is a concern, talk with your school’s financial aid office to see what types of grants, loans, and payment plans are available for study abroad. You can even find special study abroad scholarships. In short, if you’ve got your heart set on studying abroad, find a way to make it happen!
2. I didn’t live on campus
I started college at a university that was within driving distance of my parents’ house, so in an effort to save on my cost of living, I decided to live at home and commute for my first several semesters. While I’m glad I saved the money, I wish I’d at least lived on campus during my freshman year. I missed out on so many opportunities to meet new people and try new things, and I probably would’ve done better in my classes if I’d lived within walking distance of the library. Some schools require students to live on campus for a specified amount of time, but even if your school doesn’t have this requirement, I strongly encourage you to live on campus anyway, at least for your first year or two. You’ll get so much more out of your college experience.
3. I didn’t join any clubs
I’m painfully shy, and going to a large state school made me feel especially invisible. I was so shy that I was afraid to join any clubs, when in fact that’s exactly what I should’ve done in order to make new friends and break out of my shell. Even if you’re an extrovert, joining a club will help you meet like-minded people, and if you take on a leadership position, it could even help you boost your résumé. I wasn’t interested in joining a sorority, but if you’re so inclined, Greek life can also be a great way to make lifelong friends, gain new experiences, and contribute to the campus and surrounding community through volunteer work. Finding ways to get involved in campus life outside the classroom can help you get out of your comfort zone and open you up to new adventures.
4. I didn’t do an internship
Unfortunately, a college degree alone isn’t always enough to “wow” potential employers. The job market is competitive, and internships are a great way to give you a leg up. I didn’t do any internships, and when it came time to go on job interviews, that hole in my résumé was generally met with a chilly, dismissive glare. It’s one thing to get an education, but it’s another thing entirely to demonstrate that you can put that education into practice. If you have the time and can afford to work for free (though it’s worth noting that some such positions are paid), I strongly encourage you to do at least one internship before you graduate.
5. I didn’t talk to a career advisor early on
I waited until a few weeks before graduation to speak to a career advisor at my college. If I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, I can honestly say I wouldn’t pick a different major (mine was English), but I do wish I’d given more consideration to my professional goals earlier on in college. There I was, less than a month away from entering the “real world,” and I hadn’t the foggiest notion of what I wanted to do with my life. Well, not a practical notion—“New York Times bestselling author” isn’t exactly a position you’ll find in the classifieds. I was about to start grad school, but even that was something of a game-day decision. I should’ve started thinking—really thinking—about what sort of career I could picture myself in well before graduation.
Of course, it all worked out in the end, and here I am blogging away and passing along my pearls of wisdom to you! But you’ll save yourself a lot of nail-biting anxiety if you start thinking about your job prospects and speaking with your advisors as soon as possible. Regardless of what you decide to do (or not do) in college, the experience is going to be uniquely yours. Be sure to make the most of it!
For more ways to have the greatest four years of your academic life, check out How to Be Awesome at College: A Student's Cheat Sheet.