College Revisited, OR Guidelines for Doing it All Again

Shrubs in snow, early February.

As February draws to a close and the April 1st deadline for my senior thesis draws nearer and nearer, high school students of my brother’s age group are getting closer to finding out where they’ll be matriculating as college freshmen this fall. The thought makes me want to glance backwards and look at all the things I wish I could now do differently, because–I’m just gonna say it–I’ve fucked up tons, as everyone does.

If I were to find myself a freshman again, I would:

(Live interconnectedly.) I lived in a single all four years of college, including during two sessions of study-abroad. It’s not usually recommended that students live without roommates or quadmates because it does dramatically reduce your social prospects. However, that said, I do not regret choosing to live on my own for so long — I like having my own space and thus an infinitely flexible schedule (I’ve never had to worry about playing music too late at night or setting an alarm for too early in the morning). The key is to balance solitary dorm living with an otherwise active dorm life — getting to know your neighbors, making friends in the same hall, going to your RA’s events, etc., so that random bathroom encounters are never awkward, and so you never have to pass your neighbors in the hallway with a blank face because you have no idea who they are.

A dorm building on campus, seen beyond some bare shrubbery. Early February.

(Eat cleanly, move often.) My biggest end-of-college regret is that I waited until senior fall to really get my eating habits in check, eliminating 90% of my late night snacking, skipping the fried food counter, giving up pizza, and trying all the grains and roast vegetables available in the dining hall. I was never big before (at my heaviest in college I had a BMI of just over 21), but in less than a semester I lost 12 pounds and lowered it to 19 with a combination of clean(-ish) eating and regular visits to the gym. The routine still isn’t perfect — I still indulge in shitty food about 3x more often than I’d like to. But I’m closer to good habits than I’ve ever been.

Bikes in snow. Early February.

(Work responsibly.) All these years I’ve been very erratic with working habits. Some nights I have zero free time because I’ve crammed the day full of essays and novels and a workout. Other days I mostly watch movies on my computer for the hell of it. This can be detrimental. But if you consistently keep track of your assignments and commitments, all of your diversions quickly become manageable and the tasks at hand won’t seem quite so mammoth. And if you miss one, don’t beat yourself up! Don’t forget that your greatest responsibility is just to yourself and your physical and mental health. If you’re having a rough week and that problem set has to suffer as a result, don’t punish yourself for it. Shit happens. Keep a healthy, balanced outlook on grades and workloads.

(Socialize openly.) Within reason, one should say yes as often as possible. That’s not to say that if your gut is screaming at you not to do something dangerous, you should say yes anyway. Absolutely not! But if your best friend wants you to join, say, a kendo club and you have no idea what that is, say yes anyway. If your roommate wants you to tag along to a poetry reading and you normally hate that stuff, say yes anyway. Try things, hang out with people, break into different circles, and reap the horizon-broadening rewards.

More shrubs up campus, early February.

(Think deeply.) I’m actually quite happy with how (more or less) successful I was at doing this during these past 3.5 years. But it’s a habit that can always be expanded upon. There’s no limit to how far you can go. This is abstract, but…read broadly, question boldly, write freely, love fearlessly. Every little detail you come across, every book you read, every person you meet is an opportunity to grow — so always be sure to jump at that chance.

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