I’ve only just finished graduate school, and boy, does it ever feel weird to see other students start their school year while I’ve finished mine.
I feel like my own opinions about university have evolved over this past year in graduate studies, and I wish I knew the things that I know now (because no one’s heard that one before). In my undergrad I started with a major in Neuroscience and then switched to Linguistics, which was good for me, but it also challenged my own perceptions of what I thought university would be, how long it would be (I needed to extend my four-year degree into five), and my future goals.
And so I tried a writing exercise by writing a letter to myself. In it are some things that aren’t necessarily concrete pieces of advice, like “exercise more” or “avoid this certain bathroom” (although there are some), but rather making myself have a different mindset which I think is just as important.
So here goes.
Hi Sarah. This is me, or rather, you, from the future. Already this is getting weird, I know, but just hear me out. You are 17, and I’m 23, and I know that you’re about to start your university program in Neuroscience. You are young and excited, eager, and a little bit scared for the journey that awaits you. You want to be the best future scientist there is. You want to get a degree that will bring you a good income, make your family and friends proud, and in your own way, change the world. There is more inside you than what you give credit for.
Throughout high school you’ve created your identity as a budding scientist. And in some ways, your core ways, you are. You like to experiment, discover, create, and theorize. You like to figure out what makes things tick; what things are composed of. Don’t let your identity be governed by your degree nor the mark you receive in class. You will fail courses, and when you do, remind yourself that road blocks don’t always stop traffic; they also re-direct it.
Don’t think that you’ll “never” have a certain type of career; you may surprise yourself. There is a difference between what you think you like because it sounds impressive – and what you like because it keeps your heart burning. You will notice that people don’t make negative judgements about you if you’re in a STEM program, but will bring doubt if you’re in Humanities. Ignore the doubters and do what brings your heart peace.
About living at home:
I know a small part of you still wants to move away and live on residence, because that’s what you saw in the movies when people go to university. But don’t focus on that. Focus on the fact that your family loves you enough to want you to stay home, and that at this point in your life, you’re not ready to be on your own anyway. I know you think you are, you strong-headed girl. But you will get your time. Be thankful for your short commute. You will be soon, but I wish I was more thankful earlier. That starts with you.
Also think of the money you’re saving! Phew. You’ll thank your parents later. Thank them now, though.
Some practical advice:
Use the agenda your school gives you – they’re free. You work best when you set small goals for yourself and accomplish them. It’ll do you well to know that now. Instead of writing “finish paper” – start small and write “finish intro paragraph”. It works, trust me.
Read fantasy literature again. I did that in my last year of my undergraduate degree, and I wish I had earlier. Let yourself dream, even if it’s just in the books you read. Let your thirst for adventure be quenched with leisure reading. Your mind will thank you for it, and your peers might think you’re well-read (because you are). Write more. Write poetry, stories; let your creativity breathe.
Prepare your lunch beforehand instead of buying at school. I know it takes extra time; but you will thank me later. You will save a lot more money.
Meeting other people:
You will meet people who will change you. Be wary of those who appear to be what they’re not. Make better character judgements based on how they treat other people. Ask yourself, How do they talk about people who slight them? Never think that you will be the exception. Never compromise your beliefs or actions for someone else. There’s no one more important than Jesus. Do not think that you can, or should, change people. That is not your job.
That being said, don’t be afraid to say hi first. Everyone is just as nervous as you are starting university. Remember that your professors are people too. Be kind and courteous, but know that being polite doesn’t mean you don’t ask questions. You’re only hurting yourself if you pretend to understand the lecture material. Don’t be afraid to speak up, and don’t be afraid to bring up your faith. You will be afraid. But you will be okay, I promise.
Enjoy your years as an undergrad. You may feel like the program will never end, and you may have to adjust your plans, but you will finish. This chapter will end, even if it feels like you’ll be a student forever. But you know better than anyone that the best part of your favourite chapter ending is being able to start what could be your new favourite chapter. So keep reading and flip the page.
What would you tell yourself before you started university/college? Would it be similar or different to the letter above? Feel free to comment below.