Donning a crimson gown and poorly-decorated cap (glitter isn't my thing, clearly), I walked across the Boston University stage last week. I finished school in December, started working in February and received my diploma in March. However, nothing beats the feeling of crossing the stage, especially because I didn't walk in my undergraduate ceremony.
The Commencement ceremonies were especially unique because some of my closest friends were completing their undergraduate degrees. They won awards and received high honors while celebrating with the groups they've been part of for the last four years. This got me thinking about my own undergraduate experience and the many, many, regrets I have.
First, relax about money. I know that's easier said than done. If you're like me, you're paying your way through your undergraduate degree with little financial help. That's a scary and overwhelming task. Suddenly, going to a movie doesn't seem worth it, and you're desperate for every additional shift you can pick up. I'd wake up and fall asleep stressed, always calculating the amount of debt I'd finish with. I refused to get involved in anything social at school because I believed my time would be better spent working. I stopped going out and I lost touch with many friends. And for what? As I worked my way through graduate school I realized I had nothing to show for all that stress. I still owed money (I was incurring more debt, actually) and I hadn't paid off much of my undergraduate debt. What was the point?
As my mom always says, "You're not the first student in debt, and you won't be the last." Be smart with your money, budget, plan and save all you can. However, going for diner, taking a vacation, using your day-off, or letting go of a shift to join a group won't make or break you, so just relax.
Next, be weary of your commute. We aren't all able to live on campus, and we don't all want to. However, it's important to consider the impact lengthy commutes will have on your life. I lived at home and endured a four to six hour bus ride almost every day. By the time I was home I was cold, cranky, tired and unmotivated. I struggled with homework and readings, and exercise and eating at a decent hour were out of the question. This commute also meant I wasn't able to participate in any extra curricular activities, join any clubs or attend any on-campus events.
If you think you can't afford to live on-campus, consider the cost of that choice. Even if you can't get on residence, research renting near by, or find a friend who will let you stay over on late nights.
Third, get involved. I can't stress this enough. Your university or college experience is only as good as you make it. If you're nervous, insecure, or too shy to step up and join a group, newsflash: so is everyone else. Get involved in any group you can fit into your schedule, academic or social.
Fourth, take learning seriously. I treated University like I did high school. I showed up, did what was asked of me, and got out. I finished with incredible marks (bragging) and graduated with distinction (bragging). However, I didn't invest in my education and forgot a lot of the lessons I should have retained. I catch myself recognizing tactics and tools and having to go ahead and relearn them. If I had engaged in the academic experience, I wouldn't have this problem.
Also, go to Commencement. Seriously - stop being selfish. Guess what, Commencement isn't really for you. Luckily I went to graduate school, or my family would never have seen me walk in a higher education ceremony. Can you imagine? Your family and friends are so proud and supportive, give something back to them.
Last, and probably most important, it's not real life. People want you to believe the opposite. It's serious, and it's expensive, but it's not the real world. University comes at a time in our lives when we're still discovering who we are and what we want. Declare the wrong major, take a crazy elective, join the Quiddich team. You still have time to make mistakes, so do it.
I have plenty of advice for my 18-year-old self starting university. If I could go back in time - I would. I don't believe people who say they don't regret anything. I love every single part of my life right now, but if I knew then what I know now, I'd be better off.