COLUMN: Your college experience is what you make it — go for it
You are the person who will define your own college experience. When I first came to OU, I heard a dozen voices telling me what I should or shouldn’t do.
“You have to rush. Fraternities define the college experience.”
“You have to pick the perfect major so you can acquire a prestigious job.”
“You have to be active on campus. Join clubs. Volunteer.”
“You have to take at least 17 hours. Study hard and snag that 4.0. Get a job, too.”
“You have to enjoy yourself. Skip a class from time to time. Go out on the weekends. Network.”
I must confess I wasn’t sure what to make of all this advice. It seemed physically impossible to rush, pick a challenging major, take 17 hours, get a 4.0, join every club on campus that interested me, volunteer, go out on the weekends, network and get a job. I suppose there are a few multi-tasking Albert Einsteins out there who manage to do all this in one day and still have time for a full night’s sleep, but I’m not one of them.
I decided to ignore what everyone told me and made my own rules. Surprisingly, it worked.
My first piece of advice to incoming freshmen is deceptively simple: Don’t do what you don’t want to do. Instead, do what you want to do. I am amazed by how many times we do things we know we won’t enjoy. The only reason we do them is because we think we are supposed to, or we are worried what other people will think of us if we don’t.
I contemplated rushing, joining four or five clubs, and going to networking events until I realized that I didn’t actually want to do any of that stuff. It was just what other people thought I ought to do.
Now, there’s nothing wrong making friends this way, but I realized that, knowing myself to be introverted and independent, I couldn’t do these things. I opted, instead, to spend time with close friends and make new ones on my hall, in classes and through current friends. I dislike formal settings, so this was perfect for me. Decide what you like and what’s right for you, and then do what you want to do. It’s that simple.
Second, remember that people are more important than paper. That is, at the end of your college career, you will receive a nice piece of paper we call a diploma. Congratulations and all, but what you’re really going to remember are the people you met and the things you did.
I have no memory of any of my test scores, the small number of meetings I attended or my GPA. What do come to mind are late-night conversations with friends, snowball fights on campus, elevator pranks and shenanigans in general. You don’t have to sacrifice your social life to make good grades. Likewise, you don’t have to give up all hopes of a decent GPA just because you want to have some fun.
Last, college is a place where people often reinvent themselves. I heard this concept many times before entering college. At first, it was off-putting to me. I imagined someone changing their hair, their fashion, their personality and their interests just to gain approval. That’s a bit much.
However, maybe there’s a side to you that others haven’t seen. Maybe you’re terribly shy, but you’d like to try out dancing. Go for it. Maybe you were a class clown in high school, but you want to delve into biology in college. Why not? There’s a difference between totally reinventing yourself and merely tapping into a part of you that hasn’t been utilized much. College is a great time to try that out. You’ve got absolutely nothing to lose.
Your time at OU really is what you make of it. Your expectations will affect your experience. If you welcome feverish studying, draining all-nighters and weekends so packed with academic duties that you have no time for friends, then that is exactly what will happen. If you think you will skip the majority of your classes, be hung over every other morning and fail all your courses, then your vision may just come true.
The perfect balance is somewhere in the middle. Find it, and I promise you will have an amazing freshman year. Good luck and have fun.
Tom Rains is a Spanish senior.