Z.J. Ascensio, University of Tennessee at Martin
College is a time for education and growth. Some of you entering college for the first time are under the impression that all you should do is take the classes required for your major and get out as soon as you can, and I agree that it can be done that way. Still, if you’re so narrowly focused on just speeding through college in a hurry to join the working world, you’ll be denying yourself the life experience that you can only gain during your time as a student. Here are five must-have experiences you should enjoy before graduating college:
1. Take a class because it’s something you’re interested in, not because it’s required to graduate: You may have been told that taking an art class is a waste of money for a business major, but you’ve always wanted to know a bit more about drawing. Or perhaps you’ve been advised to avoid a difficult math class because it would take time away from your literature studies, but you feel you’d love the challenge. Even if you majored in something you feel you’ll enjoy for the rest of your life, that doesn’t mean you won’t have interests in other areas of academia that are unrelated. Indulge a bit and explore your interest by taking a class or two on that topic. You’ll broaden your horizons and maybe even find a way to apply that topic to your main area of study, making it all the more worthwhile.
2. Travel: If you have the time and the funding, study abroad. Emerging yourself in another place and culture is an educational experience unlike any other. It’s highly recommended and most students who have studied abroad agree that it expands both your mind and worldview.
However, not everyone can do something like this. Everybody has their own circumstances. You don’t want to spend your entire time in college lingering around the campus and town, though. You’re young! You’re in a period of life where cheap and slightly uncomfortable room and board won’t be a big problem. Go on a road trip with friends; rough it in a tent in a forest for a bit; stay in a hostel in a city you’ve never seen. Witness the people and life to which you’re not accustomed. It’s an education in its own right.
3. Be a part of something greater than yourself: You’re an adult. You now have the opportunity to voice the opinions that you couldn’t as a child or to work to see what began as an idea become a reality. No, you don’t have to be an extreme activist, but you should join a campus organization and actually participate. Whether the group is political, charitable, religious, academic or anything else, it’s all your call. But work to help with those fund raisers and campaigns that are important to meeting the goals of the organization. You may not feel the success of changing the campus rules or meeting that contribution goal, but at least you’ll know you tried. Even better, you may succeed and experience the joy that accompanies such an accomplishment.
4. Make friends outside your circle: Gone are the strict clique restrictions that plague teens in high school. As an adult, move past that. Everyone has a lesson to teach and lessons to learn. People who aren’t exactly like you may show you things about life you didn’t know about. Likewise, you may teach them a thing or two. Most students will make the mistake of sticking with their comfort zone, leading to a narrow perspective. Be open-minded. You wouldn’t want to pass up a potentially great friendship because someone didn’t fit in with your group.
5. Experience at least one meaningful relationship: It doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship, though it could be. If the relationship teaches you a lesson about life and people that you didn’t realize before, then you’ve got it. It could be a best friend with whom you share everything; one who will still be in your life long after you graduate. It may be that professor who dedicated extra time to help you succeed; someone you see as less of a teacher and more of a friend. Perhaps it’s a romance that will or will not work out but, whatever the outcome, it’ll live in your memory forever. It may not be people you meet in college either. It could be childhood or family friendships that grows stronger through your college years. You don’t have to and shouldn’t face your college years alone.
Formal classroom education is very important in college, but it’s also essential to learn about life by living life. There is nothing wrong with being grade-focused with a goal to join the workforce, but also keep in mind that you may not have the time or energy to take part in these things listed once you say goodbye to campus. Don’t wait and have regrets later. Enjoy your time as a student, and don’t pass on these experiences.
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