Emma Plank is a fourth-year journalism major and writes “Tea Time” for the Daily News. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
Growing up, everyone had an idea of what college was supposed to be. I think the idea I had maybe wasn’t the most realistic — it had its ups and downs — but the end came much faster than I expected. Now that my time is over, I want to reflect on what I learned and gained from this rollercoaster of an experience. I’ve compiled 20 things that I’ve picked up as a college student in these last four years.
1. Romanticize Your Experience
Allow yourself to live in a fantasy for a bit. Your college experience is about working toward your career, so it’s the time to be selfish and not limit yourself. Treat yourself or live your life like you're in a movie. You’re only this age once.
2. Be On Campus
Being in college during a pandemic really changed my perspective on what I wanted to get out of this time in my life. I wanted to be as present as I possibly could, so I made it a point to try and study on campus. Go to the library, sit outside by Frog Baby or do homework while eating dinner at North Dining. Don’t get me wrong, I could spend all day in my room — if anything, I prefer it — but I made it a point to walk to campus. It kept me on track and allowed me to immerse myself in this temporary environment.
3. Call Your Mom
Talking to my mom kept me sane. If I had a question about a recipe, why my car was making a weird noise or I just needed someone to calm me down from failing a test, being able to talk to my mom was a blessing. I wouldn’t be graduating if it wasn’t for her constantly being in my corner. Find someone who’s an anchor. A person who will listen to you rant about next semester’s schedule, to call if your roommates are being annoying or to just tell you that you’re going to be okay. A mother’s support, in my own book and experience, is truly unbeatable.
4. Protect Your Peace
As I mentioned earlier, I love to be alone in my room with no one to bother me. I will schedule time in my day to debrief with my thoughts. In an uncontrollable environment like a lecture hall, it’s so easy to get overwhelmed. Schedule time to be by yourself and to do stuff for yourself. If this means renting a movie, buying a $7 coffee or going to TJ Maxx and smelling every candle in the aisle, then do it.
5. Good Things Will Come
Work toward your career. Make friends. Be forward. But remember that what’s meant for you will find you. With that comes a lot of patience and wisdom. Your dream job might land in your lap as soon as you graduate or it might be 20 years down the line. I’ve found comfort in throwing away my clock.
6. Make Playlists
There are times in my life when a good music playlist solves all my problems. Curate playlists that help you get through the day. No matter what season, my “fall” playlist is constantly on repeat. A little bit of Lana Del Rey and Amy Winehouse have been known to take me out of any funk.
7. Never Stop Being A Fan
Obsess over the little things. Did the new Euphoria episode come out? Yes, and I’m calling all my friends to debrief about our favorite character. Harry Styles is releasing a new album? I’m on my way to the listening party. The Oscars are on tonight? No one talks to me until my favorite actor wins. Allow yourself to care about the small things and be a fan. It’s important to put your all into the lighthearted aspects of life.
8. Yes, Chef!
I come from a family of cooks, but cooking is not the gene that I was blessed with. The kitchen and I do not mesh, but being a broke college student didn’t allow me to be picky. Call home to get your grandma’s recipe or scour Pinterest before going to the grocery store. Learning how to cook was one of my biggest takeaways from my college experience. It’s a skill I’ll use forever.
9. Time Management
Scheduling out your time pays off in the long run. Time management is public enemy number one for me because being time conscious is difficult. But once you grasp it, it’s smooth sailing and so worth it. Once I realized how important it was and learned how to do it, the continuous relief throughout the semester was well worth it.
10. You Got the Cinema
Go see a movie in person. Go by yourself. Go with friends. As a kid, my mom couldn’t afford to take me on family vacations, so we would instead spend a whole day movie-hopping to different showings. In finishing a test or having a tough week, I have picked up the habit of grabbing a couple of friends and heading to the theater. It can be a perfect place to escape your reality and decompress for a couple of hours.
11. Clean, Clean, Clean
Cleaning can seem extremely boring and time-consuming, but a clear space means a clear mind. A full hamper, a messy workspace and an untidy bed will cause anyone to spiral. Coursework by itself is overwhelming, and most college students don’t have a parent to pick up after them. My room would be a mess throughout the week, but once Sunday rolled around, it was all about laundry, sweeping and dishes. Your space reflects your mind, so try to keep your space together in order to keep your mind together. And while you’re at it, light a candle. Candles make everything better.
12. Clothing Therapy
Buy that top. It might sound shallow, but clothes hold a lot of importance in my life. All it takes is putting on the right shirt to change my entire attitude. Looking good means feeling good. College is the time to develop your personal style. Be adventurous with your appearance. People dress based on their personality. Wearing clothes that feel like you establishes your identity and allows you to find yourself.
13. Take Pictures
Digital. Film. Polaroid. iPhone Camera. Take as many pictures as you possibly can. You’ll be grateful that you did. Pictures are proof that you lived and they last longer than memories. Memorialize the special moments.
14. Time for Transition
Cry. Scream. Laugh. You’re going to gain so many friends and lose some too. You’re going to get good news with a heap of bad news. The most important thing you can do is feel and feel hard. Don’t expect yourself to figure everything out. College is your in-between stage. Still a kid but also an adult. You’re going to fail as much as you succeed. Be open to it.
15. Join Something
Don’t regret not putting yourself out there. Joining a campus organization keeps you immersed in the community. People want to get to know you. If you haven’t had the opportunity to make friends, then now is your chance.
16. Generation Water Bottle
Turn to your left and then to your right, someone has a water bottle. Stay hydrated. It's important to stay healthy and take care of yourself. After walking around campus in September or needing to find some middle ground during a pregame, it’s necessary to drink water. Plus, clear skin never hurt anybody.
17. Notes App, You’ve Never Looked Better
Write everything down. A three-item grocery list you scribbled down in class? Got it. Rant about your friend? Done. Username and passwords? It’s written down for later. Affirmations? They’re there. Getting the chance to write anything at any point in your day is so special. My notes app has saved me so many times. It’s my day-to-day keepsake and it’s a corner of my life that I’ll always hold close to me.
18. Learn From Your Instructors
They’ve been in your shoes. Most of them understand the struggle of being a college student and balancing all the other aspects of life outside of it. In high school, I found it easy to slip through the cracks. But in college, your professors should want you to succeed. It’s their job. Get to know some of them. Talk to them and ask them questions. You’re paying for your education, get the most out of it while you can.
19. Get on Your Soapbox
If you stand for nothing, then what will you fall for? College is the melting pot of perspective. Be ready to find yourself within the things that you care about. What are you willing to speak up for? What are you willing to learn and unlearn? Learn how to advocate for yourself and others. Resistance demands change. We are all the product of those that came before us. Be loud. Be unapologetic.
20. Be Present
I thought it would last longer. I thought it would feel longer. Some of my best memories now live in the Snapchat app on my phone. It’s okay to worry about the future and want to get ahead of yourself, but don’t sacrifice the experience. I’m going to miss every door frame conversation, next morning debrief, music blasting pregame, late night library cram and so many more memories that I will look back on fondly. These are the years you can’t get back, so be present in every moment.
Contact Emma Plank with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.