Life Lessons I Learned In College

September 18, 2015

It's hard to believe over a month has passed since I graduated from UCF. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of changes- becoming a college graduate, securing and starting my first "big girl" job, moving into a new apartment in downtown Orlando...the list goes on. All these changes have been incredibly exciting, but now that I'm settled into my new life, I find myself reminiscing on the past five years, in awe of how much I've changed and grown up since I started college in 2010. Ironically, it's what I learned outside of the classroom that has really, truly stuck with me and helped me transition from a student and sorority girl living in a college town to a full-time PR coordinator living in the heart of a city. 

That being said, here are the most valuable life lessons I learned in college:

1. You might realize halfway through college that you want to do something entirely different with your life- and that's okay.
In my senior yearbook in high school, there was a page titled something along the lines of "Where Will You Be in Ten Years?" My answer - "a physician assistant" - was featured on the page. Guess what? I didn't end up becoming a physician assistant, and it was my choice not to. Halfway through college, I realized that, even though it meant higher competition and a lower starting salary, I wanted to work in a field where I could write and use my creative and social skills in a related field. I was miserable in my health sciences major- I've always been a word person; not so much an equation and measurements kind of gal. Once I made the switch to PR and marketing communications, I never looked back. Scary? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

2. You also might take longer than four years to graduate- that's okay, too.

I graduated a full year and a semester later than I planned. Before college, I cringed at the thought of being "that student" who graduated late. As it would turn out, my fifth year of college was one of the best years of my life. I made more friends than I imagined I'd make in just one year, I went on a cruise to celebrate my last spring break, and I even adopted my kitten, Nova. There's truth behind the saying "it is what you make it." I learned that my fifth year of college.

3. Two words: Get involved.

I can't emphasize this enough. You might be tempted to stay in the comfort of your own room, or to remain solely in the bubble of friends who joined you in the move from your hometown to your college town. While both are okay every once in a while, don't let them keep you from other experiences. Venture out of your comfort zone, and become a part of something- whether it's related to your studies, your hobbies, or networking. I've seen the difference between students who didn't get involved at all and those who did. Trust me, the latter have more fun and gain access to a much larger, more appealing variety of opportunities.

4. When in doubt, see for yourself

Before college, I never, EVER thought I would be a sorority girl. All I knew about Greek Life was what I saw in the movies, and that didn't deliver the best representation. However, I knew there were some appealing factors to it, and I knew I wanted to get involved and meet new people in college. With a little convincing from my cousin and my freshman year roommate, I signed up for recruitment at the last minute possible, and now, six years after rushing, I am happy to call myself an alumna of Zeta Tau Alpha. My four years in Zeta were so wonderful, it baffles me that there was ever a time I looked down upon Greek Life. It's not for everyone, but it was definitely for me- and I wouldn't have known that had I not decided to discover it for myself.

5. Travel - or take small trips- when you can

I don't really have any regrets, but the thing that comes closest to one is that I didn't save up enough money or make more of an effort to study abroad. The trip I took to Europe in high school was incredible and eye-opening, and I can only imagine how much more of an appreciation for Europe I'd have now. Several of my friends spent months in college studying abroad or backpacking in Asia, Europe, South America, Australia- you name it.  While I didn't, I made sure to fill my years with as many trips as I could- from 4 hour road trips to visit friends at Florida State, to a week spent in Atlantis Paradise Island, Bahamas. Work with your budget and your schedule, but please- go somewhere.

6. Foster the relationships with the people you love back home

It can be easy to push back calling your parents, grandparents, siblings, and best friends back home when you're going from class to studying to extracurriculars and internships. However, all relationships are a two-way street, and if you don't put in an effort to reach out and say hi, you'll hurt the people you love and possibly jeopardize your friendships. Try and put yourself in their shoes, and remind yourself how lucky you are to have them. You want to go home to people who are happy to see you, not annoyed at you and hurt you haven't kept in touch.

7. Explore your area

Almost every single time I heard someone say they hated Orlando or UCF, it was because they thought it was all drinking at local bars or going to a theme park (which they couldn't afford to do).  I remember feeling similarly bored with my surroundings my freshman year, but after I finally made an effort to drive around and explore, I realized just how much more there is to this city than I ever imagined. It's one of the reasons I decided to stay working in Orlando after college. Even if you're living at home, take some time to drive around and get lost. You never know what you'll find.
8.  Treat your internship search like you would treat your job search

I'm proud of the fact that I had two internships in college and was able to find a job right before graduation.  Getting any kind of experience under your belt is great, but if you have a certain industry you're interested in, you should conduct as much research on it as possible. My dream is to eventually work with a film production company, starting with PR and maybe *hopefully* transitioning into full-time writing. I wish I had researched companies and internships in the film/entertainment industry months before sending out my resumes. Aim for more than just getting an internship. Aim for an internship in the field you want to work in.  If you don't end up getting in, at least you tried. An internship in any industry is better than no internship at all.

9. Thank You cards are everything.

Going off my last lesson on internships, when you do get home from an interview, take ten minutes to immediately write a hand-written - (yes, hand-written) - "Thank You" letter to those who interviewed you and had any process in getting you the interview. In fact, make sure to always have a set of Thank You cards in your room, along with stamps and a nice pen. They make such a stronger impact than emails do, and I always receive nice feedback when I send them out. On that note, when you're close to the end of your internship, send another "Thank You" to all those involved in your experience. In my opinion, last impressions are as strong as first impressions.

10. Don't make one person or one thing your everything

I didn't learn this lesson from personal experience, but through friends of mine who learned it the hard way. Whether it's your job, boyfriend, or gym obsession, be sure to keep your life in balance. Make time for your friendships - your friends are the ones who will be there for you when all Hell breaks loose (which, hopefully, never happens). Put it this way: you'll never regret making time for all the people you love.

11. Be responsible for something other than your school work

When you're in college, your school work and internships are most important. However, it doesn't hurt to hold a position of responsibility by choice. Get a part time job. Take on a position in your organization/team. Adopt a pet (if you truly have the time for it. It's a life, not a position). Case in point: in a world where you're forced to study for exams and you're being told how to do things, it's actually kind of nice to be responsible for something you choose to be responsible for.

12. Take a personal finance course, or read a personal finance book

I'm pretty annoyed with myself for not having taken the personal finance course offered at UCF. To be honest, I don't know why it isn't a requirement for students to take this class. My friends who took the class said it helped immensely. Since I never took the course, I bought myself a personal finance book aimed towards people in their twenties, and I've created an Excel sheet to write out my expenses. Knowledge is power, and if there's something you want to have power over, it's your finances.

13. Check your email and voicemail as often as you check social media

Unfortunately, I learned this lesson over and over again. I once had an agency I interviewed at call me with an internship opportunity, and I somehow managed to not see the call for a whole four days. Needless to say, even after calling back a few times and leaving a voicemail, I never heard back. Companies want to know you care, and not returning a phone call after more than one day doesn't show that you do. As far as emails go, professors will email you when classes are cancelled. Save yourself the fifteen minute walk in the rain at 8 a.m., and check to see if class is still on. I say this from experience.

14. Take care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally

College is a lot of fun, but it's also a lot of responsibility. Nowadays, it's even more difficult thanks to social media. We live in a time where we're always comparing our lives and experiences to those near and far, and as the saying goes, "Comparison is the death of happiness." That being said, if you're ever feeling depressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, talk to someone. There's no shame in reaching out for help. Furthermore, surround yourself with people, things, and activities that make you happy, scatter pictures of your loved ones in your room, and of course, kill two birds with one stone by exercising and eating well. The freshman 15 (or the college 10, in my case) is real, people.

15. Take advantage of everything you can

Now that I've graduated, I kick myself for not having done all the things I wanted to do on campus. Take advantage of your school's gym, pool, athletic activities, etc. You don't realize how expensive a gym membership is when it isn't included in your college fees! A couple of my former sorority sisters did a campus scavenger hunt upon their graduation - a great, fun way to see everything your campus has to offer.

16. Don't rush it

It really feels like the last five years went by in the blink of an eye. While it's great to look forward to things, work towards your career, and admire those older than you, it's equally important to bask in your last few years as a student. Make the most of every moment, learn from every experience, and just enjoy the ride. There really is nothing like college.