4 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting College
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Everyone always told me college is a hard and ruthless place where you won't get any sleep and you'll work yourself to the bone because your professors give you so much work to do.
Well, they're right to an extent — but they leave out some parts I wish I knew, like how to deal with mental health concerns, the benefits of communicating with professors, and the importance of saving as much money as possible. Stuff I wish I knew about sooner so I could have gotten the support and guidance I needed.
Here are four things I wish I knew before starting college — and that you should know, too.
1. Your College May Not Offer Great Mental Health Support
One of the first lessons I learned was that some colleges aren't great with mental health. In that case, you'll have to try to look for mental health treatment on your own.
In my first year of college, I had to ride the disgusting New York trains for an hour and a half each morning to get to my university. Riding the trains was confusing for me — I felt so anxious about things like getting off at the wrong stop and getting attacked after hearing about stabbings on New York trains.
I didn't know how to deal with it all. As a result, I ended up not going to one of my classes.
When I skipped that class, I told my professor what had happened and she advised me to go to the school's mental health center.
When I went, they couldn't take anyone for a while, so I had to wait an hour — only for them to say they couldn't help me. They recommended me to someone else and moved on.
My mother ultimately helped me find a therapist off campus. I started seeing a therapist every Friday to talk about how I felt about college and why I was feeling the way I was feeling. Sometimes I simply talked about my day. Seeing a therapist made me feel so much better about college and traveling in the city.
My anxiety is still here, but now I have the proper tools to deal with it.
2. Communicating With Professors Is Key to Doing Well
The next lesson I learned is that talking to your professors is key to passing your classes.
Everyone talks about professors as though they're the final bosses in a video game. You'll hear high school teachers say things like, "In college, this won't be acceptable." Or, "You think that'll slide in college?"
But I don't think these statements are completely true. I learned fast that once you go to a professor's office hours and actually talk to them, the semester will be easier for you. Even the professors themselves tell us on the first day of classes to talk to them privately if you need anything or if you're concerned about your grades.
Professors are some of the only people in college who want to help you pass your classes, so talking to them about what's going on in your life matters a lot. Even if all you do is send an email, they'll listen to what you have to say.
3. Don't Overlook Discounts and Cheaper Alternatives
College revolves around money. You have to pay for everything, and when you find something free, you need to grab it as tight as you can and never let it go.
I was lucky enough to earn a scholarship from my university. My scholarship lowered my total cost of attendance from $28,000 per semester to around $15,000 per semester. Despite this, I still fight with my mother about the bill every time she has to pay it.
Then there are food and living expenses. When you're in college, you'll probably develop a bigger appetite. Especially when you're studying — you'll likely want to snack on something.
But the food and snacks sold on campus are often overpriced. You might find that a small bag of chips costs $2, a small bag of cookies costs $2.75, a sandwich costs $10, and five pieces of sushi with extra crab cost $15.
Your best option is to go off campus to fast food chains like Burger King and Shake Shack for cheap, easy meals, and places like Rite Aid and CVS for smaller snacks like chips and candy.
But with the way prices are increasing these days, there's a secret weapon many college students can use to get even cheaper bites to eat: student discounts. Yes, that's right: Asking places whether they offer a student discount can save you money. Although not all businesses offer student discounts, when they do, it is so worth it because you'll save money.
Recently, I learned that even clothing stores like JCPenney and Hot Topic often offer student discounts. All you have to do is show your school ID.
Even though college is expensive, we'll never stop shopping, whether it be for food or clothes. So ask whether a store has a student discount. You might be surprised!
4. Be Prepared to Deal With Naysayers
The final thing I wish I knew before starting college is how to deal with people who don't believe in you or don't approve of what you're studying.
As an environmental science major, I love doing field research. I enjoy posing scientific questions and trying to solve them in different ways.
When I first started working toward my major, I was so happy and loved what I studied. My family saw how much I enjoyed being out in the field when I'd tell them about the experiments and research I was conducting.
But there was one aunt who didn't believe in me, only because she had no idea what my major entailed. I remember her asking me why I didn't switch to a more reasonable field like nursing since all of her children were doing that and it paid well, regardless of whether they actually enjoyed what they did.
When she said this, I second-guessed myself and thought: Maybe my major isn't good enough and I'm wasting my time.
But when I told my mother what had happened and how I felt, she got mad at my aunt. I remember her telling me that day, "If I didn't believe in you, I would've stopped you a long time ago." My mother believes I will and can make a difference in the world with my major.
This experience taught me an important lesson: Yes, there will be people who get you down — but there will be even more people who raise you up.
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There are a lot of things I wish I knew before college — things like looking out for your mental health because your college may not offer adequate support for students. Or how important it is to communicate with your professors so they can help you succeed.
How useful it is to save money by taking advantage of cheaper alternatives and student discounts whenever possible.
And finally, how to find the right people in your life — people who will support you, believe in you, and be by your side throughout your college experience.
College is tough, I'm not going to lie. But with this advice, I hope I've made it a little easier for you.
Meet the Author
Nadia Samaroo is a fourth-year environmental science major at Pace University in Manhattan, New York. She works for the Wildlife Conservation Society, a nongovernmental organization whose main goal is to preserve biodiversity of all animal species around the world. You can contact Nadia on LinkedIn.