We asked five students what they would do differently if they had the chance to start their college careers all over again. Each offered their unique perspective on the best and worst aspects of the student experience.
Here are five recommendations on how to make the most of your college years:
1). Map out a four-year plan
“I wish I had known to plan a little better… I would have made my plans more flexible, so that if I needed or wanted to switch paths, I could’ve more easily,” said Nina Sardesh, a junior at UC Santa Cruz studying bioelectronics. “There’s just not a lot of breathing room for STEM majors.”
While Sardesh is glad she remained committed to her major, she will have to stay a full fifth year to complete her degree.
When it comes to scheduling, Sardesh recommends students of all majors meet with multiple advisors to discuss their four-year college plans, in order to gain a variety of opinions.
She also recommends going to see professors at office hours in order to get advice from experts with field experience — preferably, starting at the beginning of freshman year.
2. Maintain self-control
June Huerta, a junior at UC Santa Barbara studying math and economics, emphasized the importance of having self-restraint in chaotic college environments such as parties.
She notes how easily students can lose control over themselves, especially in situations where alcohol is available.
“Most of the college experiences that I now regret happened because I didn’t control how much I was drinking and as a result didn’t think through my actions that followed,” said Huerta. “All I had to do to avoid this was wait longer in between drinks or just take a moment to count how many drinks I had already consumed.”
Such control is especially important when students are inexperienced and unsure of what their bodies can tolerate.
3. Master time management
Many students wish they had had a better understanding of personal responsibility and time management when they began their freshman year.
Fernando Ramos, a senior at UC Berkeley majoring in film, would like to have better understood what it meant to be independent upon starting school.
“In college, you are free to make a lot of decisions,” said Ramos. “Knowing how to balance the academic with the more social applications of personal growth is important.”
To Ramos, a large part of becoming independent was getting a job to pay for rent and tuition. But working 15 to 20 hours a week, he says, has interfered with his ability to attend professional and academic events.
“Some of the college experience may be lost when one must choose studying and work over social events and clubs,” he explained. “The balancing act of school, work and extracurricular activities is a hard task that many students must go through.”
4. Know what you’re up against
For students living with crushing student debt in the face of bleak job prospects, the ability to get a job during school — and especially upon graduation — is a vital matter. Some students feel they may have made different decisions, had they known more about their options.
“I go to an incredibly expensive private school, notorious for giving little aid; when studying the job market nowadays, it seems like we’re very underprepared,” said Eli Diamond, a junior at New York University. “If I had been more aware, I may have stayed behind a year to try to get a cheaper degree in a more viable field.”
Diamond was “very uneducated on the subject of student loans” when he enrolled at NYU as a theatre arts student in 2012. Since then, he has had to take out over $100,000 in loans, forcing him to expedite his college experience.
Concerned over his debt, he chose his second major — computer science — based on the job market, rather than his passions.
“My generation tends to see college as the one and only path through life and, while it is incredibly important, I wish that we had been made more aware of alternate options, like trade schools or independent study,” Diamond explained. “In a world where you need a master’s degree to even get your foot in the door, it feels a lot more financially stable to go to a trade school, or to even drop out and start your own business.”
5. Follow your heart
While technical degrees are inarguably in great demand, recent graduates with degrees in the social sciences and humanities have also found work.
Meghan Elison, a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, just wanted “a job that wasn’t in retail” when she first started community college. Having spent her entire life in poverty, she chose a practical major for herself, aiming for a paraprofessional career that would grant her financial stability.
But as time went on, Elison’s plans evolved. Her passion for writing grew stronger and, by the time she graduated from Berkeley in 2014, it was with a degree in English.
“My idea of what I would do and who I am evolved so much and so quickly in the process of my undergraduate years that I know I would be someone else without it,” she said. “I wish I had known that it was okay to not have a plan.”
While Elison admits she has not fully figured out how to “pay the rent” with her degree, she believes that her college experience provided her a sharper and better understanding of herself and the world.
“If I had to do it over again, I would have spent less time fretting over lower division math scores and more time sampling diverse electives,” Elison said. “There will never be another time like that in my life. I took advantage of it, but in hindsight there’s always something more I could have done.”