Four years is the goal, right? But in those four years there is so much to do.
Kiyoko Simmons used to give a notorious warning to incoming freshman every year. “Look to your right,” she’d say. “Now look to your left. Here, you’re average.”
These words, simple and true, were terrifying to incoming students who had always been the top of their class, lauded for extraordinary achievement. This status that had always been a given in a 200 (or even 2,000) person high school was suddenly taken from us. We couldn’t skim by anymore on our intelligence alone and expect to stand out. We had to do more.
Now that I’m graduating, there’s a lot I wish I had done to set myself up for success after college, and not all of it will fit on a “5 Things…” list. Still, here are:
the top five things I would have told freshman Christine to do day one.
1. Get involved with things you love.
Whether it’s the Health Sciences Center Orchestra or the UNM Hobbit Society, start going to meetings. So many people join or finally get involved with clubs senior year, and that’s great, but it’s so much more rewarding to be active in a group for multiple years in a row. And, practically speaking, employers want to see that you have interests. Being a good student is great, but they want to see that you’re a real person. Plus, you never know what opportunities will come from joining later on.
2. Start volunteering!
Okay, this is where I really wish freshman Christine could listen. Being published is important, speaking at conferences is important, but scholarship is not the only thing you need to keep up with in college. Once you graduate from high school, virtually everything you did in high school gets tossed off your resume, which means—I know, it’s rough—you have to keep being an active citizen your whole life long. It doesn’t have to be miserable. Volunteer at an animal shelter feeding puppies. Visit nursing homes and just chat with people. But be active outside of this small UNM world.
3. Get used to putting humility aside.
The most challenging part of applying for jobs and scholarships is having to praise yourself. When asked, “Why do you deserve this award?” You can’t stumble over a humble “well, I don’t, really” because the only way they’ll know you deserve an award is if you tell them you do. To practice, try to apply for a couple scholarships every year where you have to write a cover letter. Let a friend check it over to make sure it walks the line between wimpy and arrogant.
4. Learn to love Albuquerque.
Whether you’ve lived here since birth or you moved here in August, it seems like everyone has a love-hate relationship with “the biggest small town in America.” Still, you probably won’t be here forever, so don’t forget to soak in all the things you’ll miss. Did you know that north of Colorado chili cheese fries are fries with bean chili on them? Chile cheese fries don’t exist outside of the Southwest. New Mexico is weird. Enjoy it while you can.
5. Get some sleep tonight. Life will get harder.
Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying your life isn’t hard right now. You’re away from home or taking eighteen credit hours or struggling with geometry or battling depression, and that is all difficult stuff. I’m just saying, no matter how full your life is, you can always add just one more thing and struggle just a little bit more—until you can’t. Sleep deprivation is not impressive or commendable. Before you hit the point where you can’t juggle everything anymore, take a nap. Prioritize your health. There’s plenty of time to pull all-nighters senior year.