This story was published in 2007 for FastWeb, an online education resource and scholarship search engine.
When designing this column, I aim to relate the peaks and pitfalls of my experience as an undergraduate in a way that will make you think, feel and laugh. I hope the information I’ve shared has been a help. As a grand finale and because I love compilations, I created this: a list of the Top 10 Things I Wish I’d Known Four Years Ago.
1. … that Barbaro was going to suffer a breakdown in the Preakness. That’s the last time I’ll put my money on a horse.
2. … not to take survey classes. A general education in a subject may sound like a good idea, but these types of courses are often lecture-based, over-populated and generally useless. Go for something more specialized, even if you don’t have a background in the area.
3. … that numbers don’t correspond with difficulty level. Unlike the gym’s RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) levels, course numbers don’t indicate how much effort you’ll put into the class. Higher numbers almost always mean smaller classes, which almost always work better for almost everyone.
4. … to spend time alone. I place a lot of emphasis on involvement in extracurricular activities, and the fuller my schedule is, the better I function. Yet, some of the moments I felt most at peace were when I was strolling through my neighborhood, baking, knitting, out for a drive… don’t be afraid to do things by yourself.
5. … to expect a change in outlook. I knew I’d be different after four years at U.Va., but I was thinking in terms of hair cuts and favorite colors. I didn’t foresee a huge change in my political opinions or which groups I identify myself with. Even my musical taste has altered. That’s right, folks. Now I only listen to the Beach Boys on special occasions.
6. … to figure out how you operate. It seems obvious, but learning what strategies work for you can simplify your life enormously. I like to study with music playing, but if there are lyrics, I can’t focus. I accomplish more if I do it early in the day, rather than late at night. Pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses early and learn to work with – not against – yourself.
7. … to take pictures. Like reality television, college is worth documenting.
8. … to enjoy your college. Go to sporting events, shows and class functions. You’ll feel tapped into the school. And there’s always free food.
9. … to cozy up to your city. Even if you live in a college town like Charlottesville, there are loads of local happenings that will appeal to you. It’s also important to remember that you aren’t living in a city created exclusively for students; imagine the town as a hotel that you’re staying in. Think town center, not self-centered.
10. … to choose teachers, not topics. A good professor is like a pair of galoshes. You can wear them in all weather and be pretty comfortable. A bad professor is like a pair of spiky stilettos. They look nice for a while, but it’s t-minus two minutes until your feet begin to hurt. Great teachers will make anything interesting and the opposite is true of bad ones.