- University isn’t like any other time in your life.
- Nearly a decade after graduation, the things I did right are becoming clear to me … and so are the things I did wrong.
- For instance, I didn’t take advantage of many of the available opportunities, and I didn’t realise how much time I had for adventure.
I graduated university eight years ago.
Sometimes, it feels like a lifetime ago, and sometimes, it feels like last week. I loved uni, and I’ve morphed into one of those tedious adults who, upon hearing that some poor unsuspecting teen is heading to university, starts gushing about how wonderful it is and how they’re so lucky and how they should enjoy every single moment or else.
Seventeen-year-olds love talking to me.
But on the other hand, when my friends and coworkers and I reflect back on those years, all of the things I would do differently if I had the chance become glaringly obvious. I suppose it’s youth wasted on the young and taking opportunities for granted and all of those other things people bemoan of millennials – or 20-year-olds of any generation, really.
Here’s the place for a quick disclaimer: Everyone does uni differently. Some people do it part-time. Some people take more than four years. Some people return for their degrees after a few years off. I can’t speak to anyone else’s experience – only my own.
There were so many wonderful things about university: I met exceptional people, took some fascinating classes (geology: total dark horse), and absolutely loved returning to campus after breaks. But let’s be honest: Who wants to hear about the things I did right?
Here are the things I did wrong.
I didn’t seek out half the opportunities that were available.
Universities absolutely shower undergraduates with opportunities for help, for internships, for charity work, for socialising, for anything you can think of. Wellesley College, my alma mater, is no exception to this rule.
I didn’t seize half of them.
I did some cool stuff: I interned at an art gallery in town. I fulfilled my childhood dream of taking riding lessons at a stable down the street (for half gym credit, too!). I fulfilled my major requirements early and graduated with a teaching certification for elementary school, thanks to my mum. I joined the class crew team and delighted in rowing around the lake.
But I didn’t get internships in Boston, just 20 minutes away from campus. I didn’t take advantage of cross registration at MIT and take a class there, just to try it. I didn’t become close with my academic adviser and I didn’t haunt the Center for Work and Service for career advice. I didn’t call up alums and ask about their experience, I didn’t show up and schmooze at department teas, and I didn’t make myself a fixture at the free gym classes – the ones I have to pay for now.
I didn’t plan ahead.
Here’s something that’s maybe obvious to every else but me: Your grades in uni actually matter.
For whatever reason, I was always under the impression that you work hard in high school, and then your reward is university, where your grades don’t matter because afterwards is adulthood, and who cares about grades in adulthood?
Lots of people, is the answer.
I was flummoxed when it turned out that study abroad programs were based on your GPA. I had never even considered grad school, and frankly didn’t until I was well out of uni. That’s another place your grades are critical.
I was able to study abroad, and I’ve been fine so far without grad school, but it took me way too long to realise that people were actually going to ask for my grades.
I didn’t prioritise adventure.
Here is my life most days now: Wake up. Commute to work. Work. Commute home. Do some life admin. Go to bed.
I jumped right into full-time work after uni, and I wish I had more adventures when I had time for them. For most of university, I had a car. I should have become intimately familiar with Boston. I should have road-tripped to the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. I should have planned trips abroad, or even out of state, from the major airport that was only 30 minutes away.
Now, I love having adventures, but I don’t have the time for them.
I didn’t immerse myself in tradition.
Wellesley overflows with cherished traditions, and somehow I managed to let most of them pass me by. I shouldn’t have let being a terrible singer stop me from attending step singing, and I should have gone to hoop rolling, the annual race where seniors roll hoops to the lake and the winner gets thrown in, at least once. When I was a senior, I didn’t even decorate my hoop.
Sounds like no big deal, and I guess it isn’t, but I would like to be able to share those memories with other alums.
I didn’t get a clear picture of life after university.
I never sat down and planned what I would do after uni. When people ask me now, I genuinely can’t remember what I was going to do before I got an email about applying for an internship at a New York City startup the last month of senior year.
Things have worked out, and I’m lucky to have a fantastic job now, but what on Earth did I expect to happen after university without any semblance of a plan?
There was one big thing I did right: I appreciated how lucky I was to be there.
Fellow Wellesley alums will know the path between Clapp Library, at the center of campus, and the Tower Court dorms, which are on a hill overlooking the lake. I lived in those dorms for three out of four years, and I hiked up that path nearly every day.
And nearly every day, even the snowy ones and the rainy ones and the ones where I’d just done four straight hours of class (ha, I thought four hours was taxing) I would look to the lake, and to Severance Hill on my other side, and to the dorms ahead of me, and think: This is so beautiful.
I knew I was lucky to be there. I loved living there, I loved studying there, and I was grateful every day. Even among the things I would do differently, that’s something I would do exactly the same.
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