What I Wish I Knew as a College Freshman

Editor’s note: This week’s Future View features advice for younger college students. Next week we’ll ask, “What should America’s stance be toward the latest fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas?” Students should click here to submit opinions of fewer than 250 words before May 25. The best responses will be published that night.

Sometimes you have to make selfish choices. After all, you’re in college for self-oriented goals: to educate yourself and become a better candidate for whichever job you want at the end. But people can get carried away with this logic and lose their way in the process—I’ve seen it happen. Students volunteer solely to build résumés, make friends only to strengthen professional networks, and exclude others to make themselves look better. It’s sad watching passions dissolve and be replaced by a heartless drive to shape appearances.

Many students become frustrated, lacking the meaningful personal connections and pursuit of real interests that make life exciting. My advice to younger students would be to take a step back at several points in your education. Notice whether you are doing something because of how you will be perceived or because you truly enjoy it. Boosting your résumé and building networks are important, but in focusing on success at all costs—getting the job or the internship—it is all too easy to suppress doubts about whether what you are doing will contribute to your happiness. If that’s a concern, face it earlier rather than later. Stay curious and pursue the things that truly mean something to you.

—Anjalee Bhuyan, University of Pennsylvania, international relations

The Passion Problem

High-school and college students are told to chase their passions, but often these passions are misaligned with the job market. This makes it difficult to feel good about choosing a career. Given the increasing cost of college, it is no wonder many students believe that material success and personal fulfillment can’t coexist.

I’d advise students to reject this notion entirely. The value you derive from your academic or professional pursuits may be different from the kind of animating passion that your guidance counselor might emphasize, but this doesn’t make it any less valid. There are endless legitimate reasons to choose a major or career, and most have nothing to do with passion.

Not all painters need to go to art school and not all musicians need to go to conservatories. In my time at NYU I have seen accountants become tattoo artists and neuroscientists compose concertos. I myself have been playing and performing blues and jazz guitar since I was 8 and continue to do so even as I work toward a career in finance. The most important thing is to continue doing what you love, even if you don’t major in it.

—Henry Corkran, New York University, economics and psychology

Take Care

I used to dread the clichéd self-care advice I’d receive from others. “Ugh,” I’d think. “I can get away with living off of pasta and Goldfish, doing laundry twice a month, and staying up until 3 a.m.” But the older I’ve gotten, the more I think younger students should put conscious effort into adapting their habits to promote a healthy lifestyle. I wish I did it earlier. I know it sounds so unnecessary; you’re young and invincible. But when times get tough and stress levels are at all-time highs, as I’ve experienced as a first-year law student, I cannot overemphasize the importance of health, routine and boundaries.

A consistent sleep schedule, a diet high in protein and full of veggies, a cutoff time for work on most nights, a chores schedule and regular exercise all contribute to long-term happiness. When you finish school and enter the “real world,” you’ll have to wake up early. You’ll have to squeeze in a workout before or after work. You’ll have to spend weekends tidying the home and doing chores. That’s life, and despite what you might hope as you cram for finals, your life will only get busier over time. What better way to enter the workforce than already equipped with habits geared for success? People will teach you job skills. No one will teach you how to live a life that optimizes your productivity and mental health. Prioritize this now.

—Paige Stroud, University of Texas, law (J.D.)

A Little Kindness Can Go a Long Way

Identity crises will come. “Do I really love this?” “What am I doing with my life?” There are many things in life you can’t control, but the most important lesson college has taught me is to focus on what I can control.

Small choices can make as much of a difference as big decisions. Whether it be buying someone a cup of coffee before a big exam, handwriting thank-you notes to professors, or taking the time to console a friend during a difficult time, people will remember small courtesies and acts of thoughtfulness. It’s easy to think people will forget them, but often these are the touching moments that they remember most. I know I do.

Grades, accolades and résumés are only one part of college. Remembering that will keep things in perspective when the real troubles of life creep in, and you realize that people are more important than things.

—Isabella Redjai, Hillsdale College, political economy

Time to Reflect

Take a gap year. I had to take one between my sophomore and junior years for medical reasons. Many of my friends took time off before starting college, and only in hindsight do I understand why. As an 18-year-old freshman, I hadn’t the faintest clue what course of study or career I was really interested in pursuing. I didn’t know what would make a college the right fit for me. The kids who are completely sure that being a doctor or engineer is the path for them are few and far between. For the rest of us, plenty of time in college is spent—sometimes wasted—trying to find out what we’re even interested in.

After a year away from school, with time to reflect, explore different interests and refine my thinking, I transferred schools and changed my major. Since then, I’ve been happier, more confident and more mature in the way I approach school. It’s never too late in college to take a gap year, and I know I would’ve regretted it had I not.

—Kieran Murphy, University of Colorado, Boulder, political science

Click here to submit a response to next week’s Future View.

Wonder Land: By paying people not to work, the Biden Democrats will damage the U.S. work ethic for a generation. Images: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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