It’s no secret college life is stressful.
“That’s just college,” we say. “Learn to swim in it or you’ll drown.” So when my pulse raced, my chest tightened, I was too exhausted to function and I found myself racing everywhere I went, I told myself to be a big girl and deal with it.
Three years after graduation, I know there were some things I could have done better and a few things I did that saved me from even more stress in those four years of college life.
1. Be smart
One early major shock for this straight-A student was that classes were actually hard. Advice like “stay organized” wasn’t going to cut it. Not only was the material more intense than I’d ever faced, it came relentlessly fast from every direction.
Most devastating was the stain on my previously untouched 4.0 in one of my best subjects. My minor field of study, for goodness sake.
Instead of the angsty existential questioning that went on in my head that semester, I should have asked for help sooner. I thought getting a tutor or meeting with a professor was a sign of weakness, a crutch for those who couldn’t cut it. My pride earned me a much lower grade than if I had just admitted I didn’t know as much as I thought I did.
2. Go clubbing
As if classes aren’t stressful enough, students are bombarded from the moment they step on campus with activities. Going Greek? Intramural sports? Service organization? Student government? It can be tempting to say yes to everything. (They have the perfect college student bait: free food.)
One of the best decisions I made was saying yes my first week on campus – to the one organization that I ended up leading for the next four years. While I could have rushed as an Alpha Delta Pi legacy, played intramural tennis or competed in Model UN, I committed to one club and rose within the leadership.
Since college doesn’t last forever (hopefully), and a career is in the game plan, I highly recommend checking out professional clubs. My journalism organization was full of networking opportunities, learning experiences, lasting relationships and leadership training… but the only reason it had any of those things is because my fellow students and I (with the guidance of a brave faculty advisor) decided to make them happen. Instead of sitting around stressing about a future career, we decided to shape our own destiny.
3. Work it
I also dove into my field early on. As a journalism major, most of my life was spent working on student publications — yearbook, magazine and newspaper. Any student editor can tell you, it’s not for the faint of heart. I wish I would have been more invested in building others up instead of stressed about competing with them. Real legacy is never about awards, but the people whose lives we impacted.
As stressful as that life was, it would have been infinitely worse to have not worked in college. Not only for the money, but having experience in my field on my resume was worth its weight in gold when applying for jobs and internships.
Having a well-sized portfolio, as well as genuine relationships with professors and mentors, proved to be the key to getting a job in a radically changing field within a month of graduation.
4. Shrink it
Of course, this list would be incomplete without my biggest regret: not recognizing my anxiety for what it was. I wasn’t against mental healthcare — I even knew our campus counselors from dorm events — I just didn’t realize I needed it at the time. I thought I was handling the pressures of college life fairly well… except I had been through intense friendship junk, displayed perfectionistic tendencies and carried a mountain of expectations and responsibilities on my back. Now that I have some perspective, I wish I had known how common — and treatable — college anxiety is.
I wish someone had told me back then: Yes, college is stressful, but you don’t have to drown in it. Ask for help. There is hope.
This post was originally written for and appeared at USA Today College about what I wish I would have known as a college student!
(I love the photo they chose because that’s pretty much what I looked like at my desk at the Lariat. ha!)