When I graduated in May of 2018 from Penn State University, I constantly found myself answering the same question over and over again.
“How is life in the real world?”
Whether I was hanging out with hometown friends, talking to my relatives at a holiday party or socializing in the office, this question continued to present itself. Despite the variety of faces asking the question, my answer remained constant- “It’s good… Definitely an adjustment, but I’m excited to start my journey”. As I continued to develop a better picture of what professional life looked like, I began to reflect on my time at Penn State.
Over the past four years, I’ve held over five different internships, received scholarships and free cross-country networking trips, held numerous leadership positions in my fraternity, practiced with the Penn State Women’s Basketball team and managed to graduate Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Risk Management and minor in Information Systems Management. Despite what I believed to be a successful four years of college, if I were to do it all over again, I would change a few things.
1. Get Involved Outside of the 50 Minute Lecture
I’m not going to lie to you, going to class is essential in order to succeed in college- or at least it was for me. Throughout my four years at Penn State, I can count on two hands the number of classes I’ve missed. By missing class, I thought I was making more work for myself and that I was failing my parents who were supporting my journey through school. While I was extremely diligent with my attendance, that was about the extent of my efforts. I never fully took advantage of the numerous resources available to me in order to succeed.
If I were to start college over, I would get involved outside of the normal Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 50 minute lecture. I’d stay after class to talk with my professors and fellow students and I’d go to office hours and get to know my professors personally. I’d meet with my TA’s and even start a study group or GroupMe. All of these tools were readily available to me throughout college, but I failed to take advantage of them. These things would have not only made classroom success much easier but may have even opened up doors to a variety of different exciting opportunities outside of the classroom.
2. Pursue a Variety of Experiences
Throughout my four years at Penn State, I held six different internships, although five of the six I completed during summers. During the semesters, I assumed my attention needed to be 100% on school and concluded I wouldn’t have time for other experiences. My senior year I ditched this mentality and found an internship with a local Real Estate Management firm. This opportunity opened my eyes to what I had been missing during the past three years of school and allowed me the opportunity to learn real-world skills while still earning my degree.
If I were to start college over, I would pursue a variety of different experiences starting my freshman year. I wouldn’t settle for only going to class and getting good grades, but I would seek out internships, mentorships and apprenticeships. I would join more organizations and groups that I was interested in, and take leadership roles within these groups. I would go to info sessions on campus and meet other like-minded students. Essentially, I would try as many different things as I was interested in and experience as much as I could during my four years to build my resume and find something I was truly passionate about.
3. Focus (a little) less on Grades and More on Experiences
While I did extremely well keeping a great GPA throughout my time at Penn State, I missed out on numerous awesome experiences because I was too focused on grades. As I spoke about earlier, I rarely missed a class. And when I did, it was for a good reason. (I once passed out during a class giving a speech and still went to several classes and an interview after that.) Because I was so focused on keeping a great GPA, and I assumed going to class was the key to doing so, I said ‘no’ to a lot of incredible experiences. And now, while looking back with regret, I realize there would have been little harm in missing the occasional class to experience something new or exciting.
If I were to start college over, I wouldn’t let my focus on a great GPA force me to miss out on awesome life experiences. I would say yes to skipping the occasional Friday class to take a road trip to a city I’ve never experienced before. I’d show up late to a lecture to listen to an awesome speaker or presentation I was really passionate about. I would pursue experiences that may slightly divert my attention from school but allow me to get involved in something I’m really passionate about or am interested in. Although I discovered this mentality late in college, my hope is that others are able to discover it sooner. It’s not the end of the world if you miss the occasional class to go visit your hometown friends or go do something awesome. Now, if you’re missing classes because you’re hungover, that’s a different story.
Wrapping It Up
Now don’t get me wrong, I loved my college experience. The past four years at Penn State were some of the best of my life that included a lot of hard work, great experiences and a ton of personal growth. Furthermore, the experience has set me up extremely well for my professional life. But with that said, I thought I’d share some insights into what I would do differently if I had the opportunity to go back and do it all over again. I’d make sure to get involved outside of lectures, pursue awesome experiences and focus on college as a culmination of experiences rather than simply a GPA. My hope is that someone is able to learn from my past four years and have a better, more successful college experience than I did.