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Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to College

In high school, I was a highly motivated student who thought she knew what she wanted to pursue. I was interested in becoming a veterinarian specializing in equine sports medicine, so I spent summers interning at Tufts and Cornell. I thought I had everything figured out. I knew what kind of student I was, I had a career path that I had mapped out, I understood what it took. But when I actually went to college, I hated my college experience. Here is what I wish I knew before looking and applying to schools.

  1. Study what you are good at. I was never a great test taker. I was an above-average writer and could give stellar presentations, but tests were a struggle. I wish someone had advised me to pursue a major in something with a strong writing background, like environmental science (which I eventually switched my major to), rather than biochemistry (a very test-heavy major and my original college major). The reality is that college academics tend to be substantially more challenging than high school academics. If you are struggling in a class in high school, chances are that you will struggle with the same subject in college. Rather than working against you, work towards figuring out your academic strengths early on, and find a major that optimizes that.
  2. Location is important. I went to college in a small town in Pennsylvania. I wish someone had told me that location should be considered when selecting a school. Instead, I focused on the academics of each school and whether they had programs I would like. Looking back, I would have done much better in a community with more diversity and closer to a city. I could have done more internships over the summer and felt a bit safer in the community itself if I had paid more attention to where the college was located.
  3. Look at what kids do for fun at each campus. Like the location criteria, I largely overlooked the social scene of each college. I was so narrow-mindedly focused on the academics at each institution that I dismissed where I would fit in socially. The people you surround yourself with, both peers and professors, are quite important. Think about what kinds of students, teachers, and community members you want to surround yourself with. Do you like the social structures of Greek life? Do you enjoy hiking on the weekends? Do you want people who are politically active and engaged? Each college offers a unique social network for you to learn and grow in.
  4. It is okay if things do not go as you plan. I am now a college counselor, not a veterinarian living on a ranch in Montana. My life did not go according to my teenage dreams and desires. And that is okay! I wish when I was younger, I had learned that life is a journey and it is okay if the destination is unknown. It really impacted my mental health that I could not pursue what I set out to pursue. Organic chemistry was not my friend. I had to change what I wanted to do with my life, and I am much happier now for it.
  5. If you do not like your college, transfer. I knew I hated the college I went to my freshmen year. While I had made many friends, I was not very happy with the experience. I wish I had transferred to another school my sophomore year. Instead, I was stubborn and decided I could not escape my problems. If your gut is telling you to transfer or that you do not like the college you decided to attend after all the blood, sweat, and tears you put into your application, transfer. It is not worth sticking it out. There is genuinely a college out there for everyone.