It was a hot August day in Tempe, Arizona as I walked toward my first college class. The year was 1998, and I was hopeful about what these next 4 years would bring. I got good grades in high school and felt well prepared for what college would offer. I had already chosen to major in Communication, and as I sat down at my desk, I knew that it was only a matter of time until I would graduate and get my dream job.
It didn't take long before I realized that there was more to college than classes. It was like a whole other world, and that first semester was a real eye-opener. Some students came to class every day, while others came whenever they felt like it. Textbooks were ridiculously expensive, and for some reason every credit card company seemed to want my business. It's been 13 years since my first day in college, and looking back, there are a lot of things I wish someone had told me. Whether you are graduating or just starting to think about what school you want to attend, here are 5 thoughts that I hope will benefit you.
- Find your school's Newman Center or a local Catholic parish. If you're going to a Catholic university, praise God, and make the most of that opportunity by staying active in your faith. If you're going to a non-Catholic university, chances are that there is a Newman Center somewhere on your campus. If there isn't, try finding a local parish that you can join. Finding a community of fellow Catholics is so important in college, as is keeping an active prayer life. You'll be making a lot of decisions about your future, and it's always good to have Christ at the center of those. It may not be the same as your home parish, but that's the beauty of the universal Church. Jesus is still the same Jesus, and the Eucharist is still the same Eucharist.
- Stay out of debt. I can't stress this one enough. One of the reasons our economy is in its current state is because we have been spending more than we bring in. Even Scripture tells us of the evil of debt: 'the borrower is the slave of the lender' (Proverbs 22:7). In college, you will be targeted from every angle possible to get you to sign up for a credit card. They'll offer you airline miles, free t-shirts, even cash. Don't fall for it! Pay cash for everything (including your tuition if you can), and if you can't afford it, don't buy it.
- Pre-register for your classes. Unlike in high school where your schedule is basically assigned for you, in college you choose your own classes. This is pretty cool and allows you a lot of freedom (I was once able to set my schedule so that I only had classes on Tuesday and Thursday for an entire semester). On the other hand, if you don't prepare and a class fills up, you could miss out on a class that you really need to take. If your university allows you to pre-register, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity. While you may not get all the classes you requested, you'll be a lot better off than those who wait until the last minute.
- Eating out not only drains your wallet, but it can pack on the pounds. One thing I loved to do when I got to college was go out to eat with my friends. Wendy's, Applebee's, and Domino's were some of my favorites. That was until I realized how my bank account was getting smaller, and my stomach was getting bigger. Going out to a restaurant is a great way to socialize, but going every day can become a real burden. Most restaurant food is way overpriced and high in calories. You're better off shopping for groceries and learning how to cook. You'll save money and eat healthier.
- Get out and vote. Once you turn 18 in the U.S., you are able to vote. I knew this, but the only problem was that I didn't know where or how to register. Nowadays, it's a little easier and can be solved with a simple Google search, but be sure to do it. As a citizen, you have not only a right, but also a responsibility to vote. Even more importantly, it is vital that you become an educated voter by researching candidates and state/local propositions. Too many people vote without really knowing who or what they are voting for. Remember, this is about your future, and the future of our nation. Take it seriously.
Bonus: Meet with your academic advisor regularly. You may ask why I decided to throw this one in, but let me tell you a story. I got pretty good grades in college and was always a good student. I don't say this to brag, but I tell you this because I did not feel like I ever needed an academic advisor. Needless to say, I only went the two times I was required: before my first semester, freshmen year and before my final semester, senior year. When I met with my advisor right before my final semester, she told me that everything looked good and I was on track to graduate. Then the following conversation took place:
'Are these your grades?' my advisor asked.
'Yes, they are,' I responded.
'Well, they are very good. So I assume you've been getting a tuition waiver for the last few years,' she said.
'A what?' I asked.
'A tuition waiver, so you don't have to pay the cost of your tuition.'
'Nope! I definitely have not been getting that.'
It turned out that this whole time I could have been getting my entire tuition waived. Had I met with an advisor earlier in my college career, I could have saved myself thousands of dollars. Advisors are there for a reason, so meet with them regularly. They can help you schedule your classes, find scholarships, and do a variety of other things during your time in college.
These are just 5 things I wish someone had told me before going to college. I could probably think of a lot more. If you'll be heading off to the university soon, I hope this advice helps; and if you're still in high school, I hope you can take these to heart as you continue to prepare for the next stage in life.