Advice To High School Graduates

It’s that time of year, when people feel the irrepressible urge to dispense their sage advice to those young ones who have recently graduated or will be soon graduating from high school. Your favorite blogger (i.e. me) is no exception.

One thing that does make me sad about being all wise and full of advice is I know a lot of people won’t listen. I know this because I wouldn’t have listened to any of this when I was eighteen. I was astoundingly foolish when I was eighteen. I didn’t know anything back then and I am certain the vast majority of other eighteen-year-olds are the same way. But since I enjoy giving advice so much, I’m going to post this anyway.

So, without further ado, here’s some advice for you recent high school graduates out there.

In college, find a fun hobby you can pursue over the course of your lifetime.

Okay, this might sound weird, so I’ll illustrate it with an example.

I was fortunate enough to have a cool hobby when I started college: playing violin. I loved it and it helped me get into different schools (hey, you have to have something to talk about on those college applications). Nevertheless, I decided to try something else, so I signed up for a Russian class. I had already taken six years of Spanish and five years of French (not at the same time, luckily) and been very unsuccessful learning foreign languages. In fact, I was not entirely sure I was capable of learning a foreign language.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that taking Russian completely changed my life. Even if I never use Russian for my job, it was not a waste of time for me to learn it and I have no regrets about signing up for it. I plan to continue learning and speaking Russian in the foreseeable future because it is something I truly enjoy.

That’s what I mean by finding something to pursue over the course of your lifetime. It could be a foreign language, a musical instrument, a sport, or something else I haven’t thought of. College is the perfect time to explore like this.

Internal motivation matters more than external motivation.

Basically, don’t study what your parents want you to. If you are studying a subject and planning on a career based solely on someone else’s idea (external motivation), you won’t like it. Of course, you shouldn’t do a completely useless degree that has no practical application at all—but you do need to like what you’re studying.

Make an effort in your classes.

I never could understand the people who used to show up to calculus, so hung over from the weekend that they could not even pay attention. I eavesdropped on a conversation between two fellow calculus students once. A guy asked a girl, “Why did you drink so much?” and she just laughed and said, “The more you drink, the more fun it is.” That may have been true of the frat party she attended, but it certainly didn’t make her coursework any more fun or easier.

If you’re not going to actually exert effort in your classes, there is no point to being at college, period. You’re wasting money and time being there. (The money is obvious; by time I mean both in the sense that you won’t be getting anything out of the class and that your idiotic questions that you ask because you’re too tired to pay attention are worse than annoying to fellow classmates who didn’t spend the weekend getting smashed.)

Talk to everyone and eat dinner with lots of different people.

Look, just because I think people should pay attention in class doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have fun at all. During my first week, I met everyone on my floor and would often go to dinner with them. I also met random people around campus and got their phone numbers. In fact, that’s how I met two of my best friends in college, R. and B. At my school, dinner was a big opportunity to socialize (probably because we all went to a school full of nerds who spent a lot of the day studying) and I had lots of fun eating with different people during the week.

Study abroad, if you can afford it.

I don’t think your life is irrevocably ruined if you can’t manage to do a study abroad program. That being said, if you can afford it, you should definitely do a study abroad program if you have the funds available. There was a ridiculous idea at my university that premed and science students couldn’t study abroad during the academic year due to scheduling constraints. I looked through the course listings and determined this was utter nonsense. To this day, I still think this myth was perpetuated solely so the study abroad office could say that students studied abroad every semester, including summers. Science students, stop whining and plan out your course schedules better. Trust me, it can be done. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Oh, and you want to start thinking about study abroad as soon as possible, since there might be foreign language requirements. I know people who could not go on their dream study abroad program because they did not realize two years of the foreign language spoken in that country was a prerequisite.

Don’t go into debt.

Whatever you do, do not incur a huge amount of debt to attend college. By “huge,” I mean greater than $30,000 or so. $30,000 of debt isn’t fun to have, but it can be paid off. $130,000 can be life-ruining.

In my experience, colleges are notoriously tight with their financial aid. My parents are financially responsible and that counted against us. (Long story.) If you received a scholarship, great; if not, you really need to reconsider signing that loan paperwork. Even if you think you’re guaranteed a high-paying job—like as a doctor—you still need to reconsider. (What if you decide not to be a doctor? What if you just can’t get into medical school when the time comes?)

If you’re wondering where to go where you won’t get into a huge amount of debt: community colleges can be great. Seriously, I took two classes at my local community college and I learned a ton. State schools can be decent, too, though you’ll have to put more effort into planning your schedule. Classes can fill up quickly and the quality of the instruction is more variable.

A final word…

Congratulations on your (impending) graduation! You survived four not-so-great years and your life will only improve from now on. (If you’re one of those people whose best years in life are the high school years, my condolences.)