We hope you’re sitting down, because this might come as a shock: the people who work at Signet didn’t always know everything there is to know about college. It’s just not possible to predict every factor of such a major life transition. In the hopes that this might start a conversation about what you really want to get out of college (besides the degree!), read on to hear what we would tell our 18-year-old selves.
If I could go back in time and talk to my 18-year old self, I’d have a lot of “old-person wisdom” to impart. I’d definitely advise myself to emphasize deeper learning, to dig into the process of engaging with subject material in a meaningful way. I know that not all the information I learned during college is still with me, but if I’d paid more attention to how I was learning, I wouldn’t have had to redevelop those skills as an adult.
I’d also focus more on writing skills, in all of my classes. I now know that strong writing ability is critical to be able to impart your message effectively to the world, but at the time, I thought writing was only important for English majors.
Finally, I’d expose myself more to the working world. I felt a bit lost at the end of college. I had a great education, but no sense of what holding down a job would look like, and I definitely wasn’t sure how to pursue a career based on my degree. I would tell myself to look beyond internships and spend more time learning about real people working real jobs, so that I’d know better what to expect after college.
The biggest thing I would tell my 17-year-old self (I had a late birthday) going into college is that there isn’t one path to achieving success.
I went to undergrad and grad school for musical theater, and I specifically selected a public state school because it had a musical theater program, whereas another private school that I really loved did not. At the time, I was convinced that I had to be on a specific track in order to “make it” in my field, i.e. get a BFA in Musical Theater. The irony was that when I showed up for grad school, I found that one of my classmates had gone to that same private school, the one without the musical theater program, and ended up in the exact same place as me!
Real life isn’t a straight line from a good education and training to the perfect career. Life is more unexpected than that, which can be scary, but also exciting. It means you get to be creative, and it means you get some wiggle room. You don’t have to agonize over every decision, worrying that the “wrong choice” is going to make or break you forever. There are lots of ways to reach your goals and get what you want.
So give yourself some breathing room. Take time in college to reflect on who you are, and let your mind change when it needs to. It’s a time of huge growth and expansion.
I would encourage my 18-year-old self to take risks and fail often. Now, I’m not talking about breaking the law or failing your classes, just trying new things that might be outside of your comfort zone. By the time I got to college, I was so sure that I knew who I was, that I was already fully formed, that I didn’t give myself the chance to try the new things I was curious about. I was so eager for stability that I fell into safe routines and resented anyone who asked me to shake things up.
I had spent so long working so hard to get good at the things that would land me in college that it didn’t occur to me that I might want to try something new. Plus, everyone else was already so experienced, it didn’t make sense to try something new when I might suck at it. So I stuck with the things I was already good at, while my friends who were less afraid learned to use Photoshop, or lived in another country, or took up ballroom dancing. Some of them failed, some of them didn’t continue, but they took a risk and grew because of it. College is the time to try—because if you don’t try, you’ll never know.
I really wish I had sought out mentors earlier in my college career. I was so determined to be independent when I went away to school that I actually pushed away opportunities to connect with professors, administrators, coaches, and other students. To be honest, I struggled a lot in my freshman year, and didn’t enjoy most of it. Everyone always raves about how great college is; the truth is it can be hard and awkward at first. I always heard about how amazing it was going to be, but no one ever told me that the transition can take time. I was disappointed that I didn’t instantly connect to the experience, and blamed myself for it. I spent a lot of time alone for fear of anyone finding out I wasn’t fitting in. I clung to an unhealthy relationship from high school, went home every chance I could, and was constantly worrying.
Eventually, I hit a breaking point. I decided that I had to be more open about my experiences to the people I looked up to. They talked to me about what I was going through, and showed me that I was not alone in my feelings. From that point on, college was the amazing experience that I had always hoped for—I totally understood what everyone was talking about! Those people provided the guidance that most likely saved me from dropping out, and it’s their advice I still seek in my adult life. Long story short: be honest, seek guidance, and advocate for yourself!
I wish I had been prepared to be humbled. High school was easy for me; I never really had to study or work that hard, lived with my family who basically did everything for me (laundry, food, making me get up on time, etc.), and had a car so I never had to walk very far in the cold. My first week at college was so humbling. I met people whose smarts truly intimidated me, and I realized that I was on my own in a lot of different ways. Classes were really challenging; as it got colder I really resented having to walk everywhere; and I generally found it hard to manage my own schedule. My best advice to myself would be to prepare for as much of that as possible in the summer before I left for college: learn to do laundry, get the right winter gear, and get used to using a planner. And be grateful to your family and friends for all they do for you before you leave!!!
I grew up in a fairly sheltered environment—a bit of a bubble—and left home with what I thought was a fairly strong sense of self. I felt ready to tackle whatever came my way.
College introduced me to a lot of people, ideologies, and life experiences that I’d never encountered. I learned quickly as a freshman that there was so much more to the world and to the human experience than I’d ever been taught, and that somewhat shattered my sense of self. I lost myself in trying to understand this new reality, constantly comparing myself to my peers and trying to make myself fit in seamlessly with my new friends without always acknowledging and owning our differences. I tried to mold myself into the new person I thought I was supposed to be, which caused a lot of psychological anguish, and eventually affected some of my friendships.
Now, in my 30s, I’m grateful for the experiences I had and the lessons I learned, as they have shaped who I am today. I wish, however, that my 18-year-old self had been better at self-reflecting, self-advocating, and most importantly, asking for help. The transition to college is a lot to handle. Most schools have mental health professionals and/or spiritual advisors available, but at the time I didn’t know that I didn’t have to deal with these new challenges by myself. Take advantage of any support your school offers that could be helpful, whether it be academic, emotional, or whatever you may need. You don’t have to do this alone.