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6 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started College

First, call your mom just enough (but not too much).

08.08.16
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College is more glorified than dudes who are good at throwing balls. We’re often told, at least in America, that those four years are the pinnacle of existence, the peak from which the rest of our lives tumbles in a slovenly avalanche of unwanted responsibility and general despair. The advice oft given to college-bound kids — to ENJOY IT, like, please please please just enjoy it — is tried and it may be true, but when has the panic-stricken demand to enjoy something ever been effective?

I spent my entire senior year of college attempting to time-hop my consciousness to the future so that I could properly see the present for what it was: my last and final chance of having ANY FUN. (Or that’s what older people would have had me believe.) But I knew it was futile. Nostalgia paints things in too bright of colors.

If you’re heading to college this fall, try accepting right now that you won’t necessarily understand what your college experience will mean to you while you’re in it. And also accept that it’s not the end. It’s just the beginning! Every stage in life brings new joys and challenges and change keeps our bones healthy. Not that I’m a doctor.

That said, here are six things that actually would’ve helped me had I known them when I started.

1. You’re either a person who does the reading throughout the semester or all at once at the end of it.

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One of these will seem reasonable to you and the other will seem psychopathic, and either could send you into a nocturnal tailspin depending on the way your brain works. Decide which is for you and plan accordingly. Or just stay in denial for all of college like I did.

2. The tradition of getting ready for a night out and then rehashing it the next morning will often trump the night itself.

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The memories of curling my roommates’ hair one-by-one to a score of “Stronger” by Kanye West (weird how 2007 was only a couple years ago, am I right?) and then laughing, 12 hours later, in a sweatpants-clad circle on the floor hold such a special place in my heart. Whatever about the night in-between. Outside of the bubble of college, that kind of nonstop indulgent girl time gets increasingly difficult to recreate. Cherish it. It’s pure.

3. An unhealthy obsession with diet and fitness will rob you of a lot of fun.

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Most people I know had a regrettable “health” phase during college. Mine was freshman year during which I spent a lot of time counting calories and making my way towards the 50-minute mark on the treadmill. I can say with confidence that wasn’t worth it; I regret the shallow pockets in which I invested my self-worth.

It’s not always easy, but try not to waste your valuable energy on vapid pursuits. You’ll grow and learn and flourish more outside of those shadows.

4. All the trendy fast fashion you buy will burn a hole in your measly bank account/soul.

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Three words: Going. Out. Tops.

No no no no no no. The number of times I raided Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters during my college years is shameful. I wasted so many of my computer lab paychecks (yep) on piles of cheap clothes. You likely have superior taste than me already, but try to be more thoughtful and pointed when it comes to building a closet. Your bank account and future self will be grateful.

5. You won’t know what you want to do for a very, very long time, but don’t stop trying to find out.

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The passage of time in college will not guarantee you an answer about what you want to do with your life. In fact, you may never have that answer. EVER. But don’t stop trying to figure it out by trying stuff. Not to be a crocheted pillow, but you’ll learn more in college outside of the classroom. Majors and courses matter less than you think. (Unless, you know, you’re studying to be a doctor or a lawyer or something highly specialized. In which case: please pay attention!!!) Everyone: stay curious.

6. Life will still be fun after college.

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Don’t be haunted by everyone claiming that “college is the best four years of your life SO YOU BETTER ENJOY IT.” College isn’t everyone’s favorite time in life nor is it even possible to contextualize the enjoyment of it without some distance from it. Just do your best to be present, heed the above tips, and know that a shit ton of fun awaits you in your post-college life, too.

Illustrations by Emily Zirimis.

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  • Aydan

    honestly college is seriously so fucking fun, but I have to say having the ability to live your life on your own terms post college is more fucking fun!!! Enjoy it while it lasts–its amazing and college will def give you experiences (good and bad) that will stick with you for a long time, but the best thing is — college is where you can make a ton of mistakes and pick yourself up and keep on doing you!

  • Alyssa G

    This was so, so helpful – I’m moving across the country for college in two weeks and I’m definitely in need of advice. I’m a little worried about the “health” phase, especially because I’ve been spending the whole summer trying to build good eating habits (college food kinda scares me), so I guess I’ll see how that works out…

    • Haley Nahman

      Just try not to let it consume you. It’s NOT worth it. So many people fall victim to this during college and regret it. College food culture can be admittedly disgusting but also it’s FUN. 3 a.m. pizza memories are worth the calories. I wouldn’t trade the candy binges with my best friend and roommate for anything. Not even the 15 pounds I gained. WORTH IT x 10000. Also it mostly falls off after college when you start living like a normal person, so just trust that and do what you need to do to stay sane and feeling good physically and emotionally.

      • Grace b

        This! Now that I’m dealing with REAL weight gain I seriously miss that after hibernating and eating whatever I wanted each winter, I easily lost 10 lbs when I came home for summer break. I did not know how good I had it!

  • Caroline

    I wish I went into school with the awareness that “college” wasn’t just going to happen to me, particularly when it came to my social life. You go in with this incredible vision, but have to remember to take the steps to make it happen! As an introvert it was a hard lesson to learn, but awkwardness is never as debilitating as you think, and with a little effort and an open mind the best friends have a way of turning up.

    • Haley Nahman

      This is a good tip!

  • Veronique Villarroel

    hahahaah Nice post!

    Kisses,

    Verónica
    http://www.it-moi.com/

  • Halle Elizabeth

    agreed. My Designated Frat Party Tops very much outweigh my Normal Shirts.

  • Nat Vuk

    “The number of times I raided Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters during my college years is shameful.” Too real!! All I ever needed in this life of sin was a F21 crop top and skirt set. And then I wonder why didn’t anyone tell me that there’s more to life, until I look at the photos and realize we were all going for the same look *laughing/crying* Silver lining? We had fun!

  • Harling Ross

    But Haley! Are you trying to tell me that the polyester bandage skirt I bought freshman year isn’t a timeless staple???

    • Merillionaire

      But what about patent leather nude wedges???

  • Christel Michelle

    THIS WAS SO GOOD! I SHARED THIS WITH EVERYONE! Post party meet ups are the best time, one of my favorite parts of the night. Also, in defense of the cheap clothing! I spend an embarrassing amount on going out tops and rompers BUT! it’s so necessary because if you wear cute, nice, real clothing, to a frat party there is a huge chance it’ll get ruined or damaged beyond repair. So Forever 21 is actually the best and worst lol

  • Sarah

    Can I just say that this is SO accurate. I am going to be a junior in college this year & all of these are VVVVVV relatable.

  • Greer Clarke

    It’s jobs like yours that make me see No. 6 is true! No need to be funemployed to keep having fun.

  • libs

    When I went to my dentist appt last week, my dentist gushed for the whole time about how his first term of uni was the best time of his life, how it would be impossibly incredible and my life would never get better. That was sort of terrifying (I’m very anxious! There’s a month between getting accepted by a uni and moving there! Sorry to my dentist but it makes me want to vomit!) and reading this – mainly #6 – was so soothing. Thank you Haley!!!!!!

  • Another thing I wish I knew when I was in college (that kind of spins off of #5) is that even when you do figure out what you want to do, it needs to be something that aligns with who you ARE. I was a theater tech/costume design major and by the end of school, realized that work days that were essentially from 12 noon to 3 AM 6 days a week didn’t really work for me. There are a LOT of people who thrive in that environment (theater people, hospital workers, etc), but I’m not one of them. Which is okay!!!
    I just wish I had taken a good look at myself at the end of my sophomore year and realized that even though I loved the work I was doing, I was unhappy in a lot of other areas of my life that also matter and changed majors. Even if you figure out “what you want to do”, it’s okay to realize that hey, maybe it’s not! And that there are other things that will make just as (if not more) happy in the long run!

  • Nina

    HELP how do you find good, college-budget going out tops if not at ~fast fashun units~

    • L

      Go to the thrift store! I promise you. It’s was cheaper to try out quick trends from there than urban or Zara. I find clothes from good brands too like anthropologie and lululemon. Be patient! Try buffalo exchange at first if real thrift stores are scary

  • Lovisa

    Oh Haley, I do love the way you write.

  • Shea

    I’m about to start my senior year of college… I needed this. (Also thank you for acknowledging going out tops a.k.a. the bane of my existence)

  • Gina Fuchs

    I think the best advice I could have gotten going in was it’s ok not to be ok. I struggled so much freshman/soph year and it’s so easy to feel alone in that– the biggest thing I could have used was a push to mental health services, don’t be afraid to ask about it on your campus!! Give yourself time to be alone- don’t stop doing the things you enjoy doing, don’t feel bad hoarding cereal from the dinner and eating it for breakfast and dinner, and heck yes enjoy it.

  • Brittany Chan

    I’d have to say that I went through one of these “health and diet” phases, but it was one of the best things to happen to me. Although I must say that mine was not unhealthy. It was all about balance for me. At the end of my sophomore year to the end of my junior year, I adopted a balanced lifestyle of ridding my life of bullshit people and not being so available to others. In the end, I made more meaningful relationships and felt better about myself. If theres anything I wish I had known before college, it was to learn how to balance these things are lose the things that don’t do anything for you.

  • Michaela Williams

    I solemnly believe that if you added up all the money I spent on ill-fitting, low-cut clothing at Forever 21 in college, I could buy a Chanel 2.55, at the very least.

  • Tami Brooks

    YES. Thank you. This is what I needed. It confuses me when people say that college is a peak of your life and than it just fades away slowly. I mean you are still young when you graduate and you can still live your dreams, right? Well I hope I will. In one month everything begins and I just cannot wait for new experience and friends.

  • caoimhe

    This is really amazing and true advice, take note fresh meat

  • Engels_Beard

    Going off to college is the time to develop a capsule wardrobe. I spent so much money on trendy, garbage clothing. A decade later and that waste (both money and environment) still stresses me out.