This article was published on USAToday.com.
I am one of those people who has enjoyed the college experience so much that it’s obnoxious. I can’t get enough of my charming college town or the busy, hectic, colorful university lifestyle. I love the opportunities and the sense of possibility that collegiate life affords.
All the same, though, there are things I wish I’d done differently before starting on this four-year adventure. As I watch my younger brother and his friends settle into their last summer before college, I realize there are so many things I could have done with my own final summer.
So here’s a list of the things I wish I’d done. Personalize it, pick and choose what works for you – and get ready to be confident and prepared when the fall semester rolls around.
1. Do your best to figure out where you want to be and how you’re going to get there.
When I was 18, I was convinced that I wanted to be a journalism major because of a book I read when I was 12. What I didn’t know was what journalists actually do — or how people become journalists. In retrospect, I wish I’d taken the time to find out exactly what I’d wanted to do, then make a list of goals that would have gotten me there. Think about the general career path you’re interested in — do you want to write? Design? Work in the medical field? Visit career websites like monster.com to determine what kinds of jobs are available in your field of interest. Start narrowing them down and determining what appeals to you most — that’s your goal. Then figure out exactly what you need to do over the next four years to get there. Which clubs, organizations and programs can you get involved with on campus? Is there a part-time job that would give you experience in your field? Which companies would you like to have internships with? Make a semester-by-semester list of what you’re going to do to reach your goal. Be specific and dream big!
2. Make a hometown bucket list.
When you pack up and leave in August, there’s certainly a chance that you’ll be back. You may have three or more summers left in your childhood home. But for many, college summers are quickly filled with internships and study-abroad trips and summer classes. This may be the last time you’ll take up permanent residence in the town where you scraped your knees and played at the park, so make the most of it while you’re there. Get together with your best friends or your family and make a bucket list. What sites in your hometown have you still not seen? Which restaurants have you not frequented? Which crazy festivals haven’t been graced with your attendance? Grab a stack of local guidebooks and local newspapers (they have great event listings) and start thinking like a tourist.
3. Set goals for your freshman year.
If you’re moving to a new town for college, you’re probably going to feel a bit disoriented in the fall, even if you’re completely confident in your decision. Even the best and most thought-out transitions are tough to make, and if you’re not careful, you’ll let the enormity of the situation keep you from having fun and enjoying your new surroundings. So make another list, this time of promises to yourself. Decide to start a conversation with at least five people every day, or to eat at a new restaurant every week, or to accept every (non-sketchy) social invitation you’re offered. Make a list of places you want to see, activities you want to do, clubs you want to join, and do your best to check every item off. Remember, you only get four years of college. There’s no reason to spend it sitting in a dorm room.
4. Take time to make improvements before your new life starts.
If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, learn or be, this is the time. College is wonderful, but it comes with a side-serving of being insanely busy. When you’re not studying, working or interning, you’ll likely be dedicating your time to extracurriculars or squeezing in time with your friends. So if you’ve always wanted to learn Photoshop, make a documentary, bike across the country or read Infinite Jest, why not do it now? You can also use the time to start eating healthfully (before you start relying on the school cafeteria for meals) or work at a summer job and build up your savings account.
Whatever you do the summer before college, do it with excitement and anticipation. There’s a lot of life ahead of you, and the best is yet to come.