Mind you, my road to graduation was not an easy one. It took four years of intense dedication, hundreds of all-nighters, and millions of fleeting moments of doubt and insecurity. Yet, on this day, here I stood, having earned a B.S. in microbiology on the pre-med track with a minor in business from the University of Kansas. The irony of “thank God it’s over” mixing with the “oh my God, I can’t believe it’s over” made this moment all too bittersweet. The intense joy I felt was nonetheless tempered with sentimental tears of nostalgia – a feeling I was not quite prepared for.
Although I’ve heard it over and over again, I never really appreciated the phrase “hindsight is 20/20.” Until now. College years are made up of good ideas, bad choices, and everything in between. And, if you can work your way through these trials and tribulations, then you’ve set the foundation for your next big step.
The following are a few thoughts about some of the biggest mistakes and deepest regrets that I experienced during my college years. Naivete is a given when it comes to undergraduates. No one expects you to already be wise and sophisticated, so don’t worry. On the other hand, my advice is not all negative. I’ve had some really great ideas and positive experiences that I’m grateful for. Without further ado, here are some of the good and the bad I want to share with you:
My Three Biggest Regrets of College
1. Going Out As Often As I Did
Let’s be real, academics aren’t the only draw to going to college. For many, college likens to a giant playground with no supervision and very few rules. In my experience at a big university, the social pressures of going out every night of the week were very real. From the drink specials to the dollar nights, there always seemed to be a reason to hit the bars. I too often succumbed to the pressure. Don’t get me wrong – more often than not (especially early on), I was all game for a fun night out. However, the thrill gradually faded. It was like Groundhog’s Day, often seeing the exact same people at the exact same places, night after night. It became an exhausting routine of picking out the perfect outfit, fixing my hair and makeup, drinking large amounts of alcohol, and staying up way too late.
When you party every night like it’s a Saturday night, the experience not only loses its magic but also comes at the expense of academic performance and personal health. Not to mention the financial toll it takes – it ain’t cheap! Going out every once in a while can certainly be a great time and worth the effort. I just wish I had branched away from the crowded campus bars and explored more of the local establishments for a change of pace. Attending a trivia night or playing a round of pool would have been a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the campus scene. However, truth be told, I never once regretted staying a night in. In fact, game nights and movie marathons at home were some of my most enjoyable and memorable times with my friends.
2. Choosing My Degree Before I Choose My Career
What came first, the chicken or the egg? While I was in high school, I excelled in all of my math and sciences courses. I thought AP physics was fun, chemistry came rather easy to me, and when I was voted Secretary of the Science National Honor Society, my fate in STEM was sealed. So naturally, as an incoming freshman student, I declared my major in biochemistry.
Although there are certainly some students who step foot onto campus, confident in their academic agenda and never default from their plan, about 80% of the rest of us undergraduates change our majors at least once. So, when I didn’t enjoy organic chemistry, I switched to microbiology, hoping the courses that lay ahead would be more appealing.
I was wrong. Now what?
As I entered my junior year, I began to explore other academic options and struggled with the predicament I was in. By now, I realized that medical school was not something I wanted to pursue and was at a loss as to what I did want to do. Recognizing that starting over with a new major would have added additional years to my schooling and a few more expenses to my bank account, I was apprehensive to make a change. So, I stuck it out, even though at times I truly dreaded the coursework.
A few more dollars and an extra year or two of schooling may seem like a really big deal now, but it can make all the difference between settling and succeeding in the future.
I guess my advice to my younger self would have been to really give some serious thought as to what type of work I wanted to do and what kind of environment I wanted to be in. Figuring out that first and then finding academic studies to support this would have been helpful.
And, I’ve since realized that it’s okay to change your direction. A few more dollars and an extra year or two of schooling may seem like a really big deal now, but it can make all the difference between settling and succeeding in the future.
3. Not Taking Advantage of All the Opportunities My Campus Had To Offer
Like most universities, my college campus offered a plethora of opportunities to get involved and foster meaningful relationships outside my sorority life. On the daily, I would cross rows of informational tables set outside to entice passersby to stop and learn about their organizations and causes. Although, at times, I was tempted, I never took that next step to explore these opportunities, and yes, I regret this.
With over 500 student-led clubs, I wonder now what could have been had I taken the chance to think outside the box and try something new. I was, at one point, close to joining the pre-med fraternity Phi Delta Epsilon – but just didn’t, and for no good reason. Perhaps I thought I was already too busy with everything I had on my plate. Again, I was wrong. Looking back, I can now see that these outlets would have helped develop me into a more well-rounded person.
Another opportunity that fell short was taking the time to really connect with my professors on a deeper level. Of course, I sought help when I needed it and was engaged in class, but there was so much more I could have and should have done to truly foster these relationships. For example, a quick pop in during office hours and a few minutes after class would have gone a long way in strengthening our bond. Taking advantage of these opportunities to leave a lasting impression would have helped me immensely come time for reference letters and professional insight.
The Three Things I’m Most Proud Of
1. Staying Healthy and Exercising
College kids are notorious for living an unhealthy lifestyle that consists largely of sleep deprivation, physical inactivity, poor diet, and binge drinking. While I gave myself a pass for my very first semester, I was aware of the negative consequences that these habits were having on my body, both physically and mentally. For one, I felt tired and grubby all the time, which made it hard for me to stay on top of my schoolwork. For another, having been more active in high school running cross country, I could physically feel myself wearing down from lack of daily conditioning. Something clearly had to change, and ordering yet another Domino's pizza to snack on at midnight while I lay in my bed certainly wasn’t the solution.
So, I implemented as much exercise into my daily routine as possible. I ditched public transportation and instead walked to class. I opted for the stairs instead of the elevator, and grabbed a banana on the way out instead of a blueberry muffin. These little steps toward cultivating a healthier lifestyle were simple and easy to implement. Yet, they made a major difference.
My experiences navigating life in a different culture enhanced my perspective of the world.
2. Studying Abroad
This is probably a no-brainer, but studying abroad was one of my favorite experiences.
The week after the end of my junior year marked the beginning of my summer studying in Italy. Being on the plane, looking out the window, my excitement grew as I saw the tiny colored dots grow into the beautiful buildings and landscape that I had always imagined Italy to be. While abroad, my weeks were filled with classes in finance and the Italian language, and my weekends were left free for travel. Needless to say, it was my weekend journeys that truly enlightened my understanding of Italian culture. For example, walking down the city streets of Venice, I noticed the intricate details and vinery that draped each building. I loved how the street markets were quaint and full of flowers. I learned to appreciate the art of drinking wine at every meal and was most surprised by the emphasis on fashion that the Italians seemed to embrace; my typical leggings and sweatshirt didn’t quite cut it here.
Some of my favorite memories were the boat ride on Lake Como, getting lost in the middle of Venice with no internet connection, visiting The National Gallery in London, and enjoying a bit too many Lemonchello shots at the Amalfi Coast. Nonetheless, it was these experiences about navigating life in a different culture that not only enhanced my perspective of the world, but also greatly reinforced my decision to travel abroad.
3. Joining a Sorority
College is a fresh new start, but the adjustment can be very intimidating. Being away from home for the first time and surrounded by thousands of strangers was a bit overwhelming, to say the least. However, I knew that these people were my potential new friends, and it was my duty to seek them out. For me, joining a sorority was a helpful outlet in guiding that initial introduction. Through bonding with girls over various Greek Life festivities, I was able to build a strong social support system that would carry me throughout the next four years.
Examples of these activities included chapter meetings, house dinners, formal dances, spring break trips, and date dashes (where a sorority pairs up with a fraternity for a themed party). In addition, I learned a great deal about Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), an organization that helps abused and neglected children. Kappa Alpha Theta supports this philanthropy, and it was fun volunteering to help raise money through hamburger cook-offs and pancake bars. Living in the house with over 100 other women meant you always had someone to walk with, clothes to wear, and a friend to talk to.
As I look back on my first night in my newly unpacked dorm room, sitting with my roommate, whom I barely knew, on our matching bedspreads, I never could have scripted the way the next four years would play out and how quickly they would go by. All of these memories are now forever tattooed in my mind as “My College Experience,” a memory box that is now packaged and sealed, a diary that has no more pages to be filled.
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