I am a senior at Old Dominion University, studying Political Science, Addiction Treatment & Prevention, and Human Services. Today is the first day of classes and I was thinking back on my (unconventional) college experience and compiled some a few things I have learned and some things that I wish I knew going into college when I was a freshman.
Be open to other majors your first year (or even second year)
I was dead set on Political Science when I started school, so I didn’t even bother looking into other majors or programs that ODU offered. There’s nothing wrong with having an idea of what you want to do, but try and take one class that’s a little outside of your comfort zone (after talking to your advisor to make sure that it can be applied towards credits later). You might be pleasantly surprised at what other classes can open the door to.
Get involved on campus
Seriously! I thought getting involved on campus was unimportant, I could not have been more wrong. Even though working, school, and being in an on-campus organization is a lot—it is so worth it! Not only can advisors and other people you meet in higher education be great references for jobs or graduate school, being in an on-campus organization is extremely fun and rewarding!
Try to only take a few online classes
One semester of college, I only took online classes. It went fine and it worked well for my work schedule, but when I took classes that were on campus the following semester I realized how much I missed being there.
It’s okay to say ‘No’
Sometimes I don’t have to do everything. I feel like I have had moments in time where I did not want to say no to something because I had a fear of missing out or an anxiety about never having that opportunity again, but my feelings are not always facts. That party did happen again, I did see that girl again, and yes, that opportunity did come up again.
Maintain your mental health with self-care that works for you
I have learned the hard way that it is a lot easier to maintain my mental health by taking time for myself and listening to what my body needed, rather than working really hard to regain it after letting it slip for several months. I also found that “traditional” self-care does not work for me. I can’t sit in a bath with a glass of wine and relax, sometimes my self-care looks like walking away from an assignment for 15 minutes or going to therapy, sometimes it looks like watching Netflix, sometimes it looks like sitting outside for 5 minutes. Other times it can look like actually doing the assignment and finishing it so that I can stop stressing about it or organizing my room or a binder.
There is no rush
It’s okay to take 12 credits a semester instead of 15 credits. It’s okay to finish a semester late or even a year late. Nowadays, more and more people are taking longer to graduate and there is nothing wrong with that! Especially if you have to work, know that comparison is the thief of joy and everyone has their own experiences and there is nothing wrong with yours!
Take advantage of your professor’s office hours
Even if you don’t have any questions, just drop in and say hi. Professors can be great mentors, especially if they are in the same field you are studying. Most of them really love what they do and want to help you succeed. It’s not brownnosing, it’s networking and growing.
Look out for each other
College is hard enough, if you have the time and ability to help someone out (even if it’s a stranger)—do it. It will make both of you feel better.
Professors know every excuse in the book
Just be honest with them. Every time that I have been up front with a professor about something that was giving me trouble, they have always helped me with it. From an extension to meeting with me, they really are there to help you and they want you to succeed. If a professor brags about how many students fail their class because of how hard it is, drop that class immediately— find a new professor or wait until next semester to take it (advice from me and professors that I respect).
One glass of water for each beer, drink containing alcohol, or shot you consume
Just trust me on this one.
Editor’s Note: Sarah has been our amazing intern, delivery person, font of ideas and educator for several months. Next month, look for SNAP!, an LGBTQ student and youth oriented publication Sarah envisioned, edited and put together for the Hampton Roads community.