With the beginning of a new school year approaching, I am consumed by the nostalgia of being 18 years old and thinking I was untouchable and had everything figured out. It took graduating college to realize I knew nothing, and I was a lot more fallible than I ever would have admitted. Looking back, there are things I wish I would have known in the beginning of college so that perhaps I wouldn’t have had to learn so much the hard way.
I have reflected upon some of the wisdom I gained and, in a Jordan Peterson-esque fashion, now present these 12 rules for college with the hope that they can serve as a guide for current and future students.
1) Study something practical.
In a culture that insists you can be anything you want to be, this is likely going to be unpopular advice. It is foolish to go into college with the assumption that you can be successful in any field of study that catches your fancy.
As a writer, I have been in your shoes. Journalism is an overpopulated and dying field, and successful authors are few and far between. I had to weigh my options and make a choice between what I wanted and what was best for me. I chose the latter. I graduated with a degree in Finance because business provides useful knowledge across all industries. I’m heavily involved in writing and politics on the side.
Business, for example, is practical. It will allow you to kick-start a career so that you will have the means to focus on your passions outside of the office. It will also ensure that your passions do not fade into humdrum routines or give you anxiety because you rely on them to pay your bills. The more successful you become, the more financial freedom you will have to dedicate to them. Study something practical so that you will have the freedom to do what you love.
2) Do not stay in an echo-chamber.
Higher education is a privilege. It is intended to push boundaries and broaden adolescent knowledge. Don’t waste your opportunity to really educate yourself by sitting in an echo-chamber where you only hear those limited things with which you agree.
This is the time to expand upon ideas and deeper thought. Read great books. Take a couple Economics courses. Reach across the aisle and talk to peers with opposing values. Engaging in meaningful conversations will help bridge the cultural divide, encourage critical thinking, and strengthen your own arguments by having them regularly challenged. There is nothing more powerful than someone who is articulate. Humble yourself. Listen. Learn.
3) Be unapologetically precise in your values.
Universities are rampant with political correctness and left-wing biases. It is no wonder that conservative students typically refrain from voicing their opinions, particularly as they pertain to politics. I was guilty of this during the first half of my college career. After joining a few conservative campus organizations and discovering my passion for politics, I realized that my life suddenly had infinitely more meaning than it did when I felt too afraid to speak up.
Your values are defining characteristics of who you are. Take pride in being a free-thinking individual, even when doing so is counter-culture. Stand for something so that you don’t fall for everything.
4) Get involved.
Now is the time to start networking. Getting involved on campus will help you discover your passions and purpose. Universities won’t advertise them, but believe it or not, there are so many conservative clubs and organizations to explore that will connect you to other like-minded individuals: College Republicans, Young Americans for Liberty, Young Americans for Freedom, Gun Club, TPUSA, just to name a few. Don’t see a club that you like? Start one. You’ll thank yourself later for a meaningful college experience and an impressive resume.
5) Seek meaning outside of partying.
Going out plays a major role in college culture. It is normal is be social and experiment with alcohol, but it shouldn’t define you. Partying is self-gratifying in the moment, but provides very little satisfaction long term. You won’t find meaning at fraternity parties or at the bottom of a bottle. Go out and have fun, but also find what gives your life purpose and keep your calendar full of opportunities to grow on a deeper level.
6) Let go of the dead weight.
You might discover that your relationships with the people you routinely go out with are superficial. Perhaps you’re going down a path you’re not proud of. Drinking buddies are not necessarily true friends. It is okay and even virtuous to let them go and surround yourself with people who genuinely want what’s best for you.
7) Protect yourself.
Predators exist on college campus. I learned this the hard way. It is naive and even dangerous to pretend that there aren’t people out there who mean you harm. Be proactive in protecting yourself. Don’t accept drinks from strangers unless you watched them pour it. Don’t leave your drink unattended. Make it a habit to travel in groups, and don’t leave unless you’re all accounted for. Know what your limit is, and try to stick to it. All of this still will not guarantee your safety, but it will give you the best chance. Take it from me. If you find yourself in need of help, reach out. There are on-campus resources that will provide you with the support you need.
RELATED READ: 25 Ways To Stay Safe On Your College Campus
8) Be independent, and take responsibility for your life.
Going away to college is often the first time young adults are on their own and away from the comfort of their families. You have the freedom to start walking the path that you have created for your life, and with that independence comes responsibility. When you are faced with unexpected challenges, it is often easier to play the victim-card and blame everyone else for your misfortunes. It also damages your soul. Hold yourself accountable when you make mistakes and have the discipline and humility to grow.
9) Let your love life occur naturally.
Like many of you, I had a high school sweetheart when I started college. And, like many of you, we were faced with the dilemma of attending different universities and pursing a long distance relationship. Due to unforeseen circumstances, we were unable to survive the second half of my college career. It is far more common than not that high school relationships end sometime after graduation; people change and grow, and not always together. Don’t let the pressure of not wanting to fail allow you to struggle in a relationship that is not helping your growth. It is important to recognize a regression when you see it and allow yourself to let that person go.
Conversely, many students are desperate in their search for a partner, which can result in issues with self-esteem and unhealthy relationships. Don’t let a feeling of need lead you to make decisions that will send you down a self-destructive path. Love is meant to occur naturally; don’t settle or try to force something disingenuous. Relax. You have plenty of time. Take care of yourself in the meantime.
10) Strike a balance, but don’t get too comfortable.
College life is a mixture of academic, social, and professional dimensions. Time management will prove to be a crucial skill to master with so many opportunities and distractions. Find the life balance that maximizes happiness and minimizes stress.
Go to class. Complete your assignments in a timely manner. But don’t let one facet tip the scale too much in one direction or you will miss out on the many opportunities college has to offer. Take advantage of new experiences and find your niche, even if doing so scares you. You won’t discover what you’re made of until you push your boundaries.
11) Call your parents.
Just do it.
12) You will change; do it on purpose.