I wrote this a couple of years ago – but it still feels relevant today – enjoy!
A younger cousin of mine was just accepted to my Alma Mater, Wake Forest. I wrote her an email recently reflecting on what I wish I had known about college given what I know now. I thought this might be valuable for others as well.
Hey and Happy New Year!
I know your generation doesn’t read emails, so bear with me. I mentioned this briefly over the holidays, but I could not be more excited for you to head to Wake Forest this coming fall. I think if anything your acceptance has encouraged me to remember what a wonderful time I had there, and be excited (and a little jealous) that you will get to build your own memories at a place that is so near and dear to my heart.
At the risk of coming across excessively parental, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I wish I would have known when I stepped foot on my college campus as freshman vs. what I knew when I graduated and now know 13 years after graduation. I thought I would put down a few things, in the hope that you may find it encouraging and helpful at some point during your tenure.
1. You will make some of the best friends of your life, but it won’t happen at once. Coming from a smaller private high school as I was, we are forced to make the best friends we can, given the people available to us. At college, you will find an amazing group of people and easily find folks that fit who you are as a person, and who you want to be as an adult.
I still talk regularly to my closest guy friends from Wake. The flip side of this, is that these friends may not happen at once. My freshman year was marked by periods of overwhelming loneliness. Please know that those are very normal, and everyone is feeling the same way. Those alone times forced me to reach out to others, and set the stage for meeting what are now my best of friends.
2. Play the class game well. Ok – I don’t know what your high school is like, but I came from a private high school which had a few choices for course work, but not many. Classes in college and at Wake are a game and you can learn how to play it well. My first academic mistake was taking a math class freshman year that was too hard for me. I toughed it out and finished with my worst grade in college. I should have just dropped the class 2 weeks in and changed to an easier class but I didn’t realize that was an option.
It is your education, so focus on building the skills you want and exploring the interests you have. The pace will be breath taking at first – a full year’s worth of high school material in 1 semester, but you will get used to it.
Don’t overload your first semester – I took a writing seminar, calculus 111, a second semester sophomore Spanish class, and an intro to history class (huge reading load). Insane – 15 hrs – you’ve got 4 years to get it done. Find a junior or senior who gets it and figure out how they study and use their time.
3. See a lot. Wake is incredibly diverse in student body, experiences, and opportunities. There is a ton of stuff going on at campus that a lot of students won’t go to because they are too busy (or think they are too busy). Take advantage of those resources. I ended up taking 5 fine arts classes, and saw a ton of theater, music, and art all on campus – something I would have never been interested in if I hadn’t explored what was so easily available to me.
4. Study abroad – Seriously, this is the best thing I have ever done, ever. It changed my life more than any other experience at Wake and has dramatically shaped how I live my life today. My wife would say the same thing. (Your parents may freak out – but they’ll deal) I was abroad when the Iraq war started – it’s always dangerous. Also – you can study abroad no matter your major, it just requires more planning. I was a business major and studied abroad (which has a reputation of being impossible to do)
5. Make friends with your professors. People who chose to teach at Wake value their students – more than research. I am still very close with several professors to this day. One invested in my business, and I saw one a few months ago on campus. They are sometimes quirky, but good and generous people. If you show that you are well-intentioned, paying attention and working hard (and not entitled), they will bend over backwards for you.
6. Talk to career services early, and get an internship. The team there are really good. Internships are so invaluable in helping you figure out what you want to do with your life, no matter your field. I would consider it as early as summer after sophomore year.
7. Make it your own. Your Wake experience will be uniquely yours. The school has changed a lot since I was there, and since your parents were there – and what you love about Wake may be the same, but may also be really different from our experiences.
8. Time is valuable. You will never have more time and freedom than the next four years. With 12-15 hours of class total a week, you will have lots of time to do what you wish. Wake students will always complain about how busy they are and how much they have to study.
Most of the time, it’s because they aren’t disciplined with their time. Now 13 years out, in a busy 60 hour a week job, wife, and 3 kids, time is precious. As I look back at my time at Wake, I am jealous for the freedom to have that time– all that to say – seize every moment you can – whether it’s for pick up Frisbee on the quad, a random road trip, to stay up way too late talking with friends, etc.
Again, so excited for you.