So you’ve done it. You’re in college now. Many of you probably feel nervously excited, anxious, or perhaps gleeful about your newfound independence. A lot stands ahead in the next few years.
Even as a recent McDaniel graduate, I have realized that the world, McDaniel, and I have all changed to a surprising extent since my first move-in day. Looking back, there is a lot I wish I could have told myself and understood – so I would like to offer current students, first-years, and even upperclassmen some advice about how to make the most of college.
As a McDaniel student, you have a special opportunity to shine at a smaller school. Here, your efforts will be more easily noticed, you’ll be able to see more familiar faces—for better or for worse—and you’ll be closely connected to opportunities within the college community.
However, it is challenging starting out at a new place, especially if you’re like me and arrived here knowing no one. In this situation, a good first step is to get involved in extracurricular activities. It’s important to find one that feels natural, as many can feel forced. This process can take time – finding a calling and social group isn’t easy. For example, I initially joined the Free Press and didn’t intend to stay, but it eventually became a source of opportunity, how I met many friends, and a major source of pride.
As you settle in, remember to keep challenging yourself. Ultimately, one of the major goals of a liberal arts education is to cultivate the self and develop deep thinking skills. It helps tremendously when you go above and beyond just passing your classes.
If you have difficulty deciding what to study and pursue professionally, don’t force this either. Allow for some academic exploration—perhaps by taking classes in new disciplines for McDaniel Plan credits—and see what excites you or peaks your interest. Campus involvement can also do this – I picked up a journalism minor due to my activity with the Free Press, even when I was already majoring in history and minoring in Spanish.
As you begin to find your calling (and even if it’s not coming easily), it can be helpful to begin engaging in forms of professional development. Overt self-promotion during my studies didn’t come easily, but anyone can benefit from familiarity with this process – this definitely would have helped me in the weeks after graduation. Carefully monitor the internet for opportunities you might be interested in and start getting yourself out there. Remember that summer and winter breaks are great times to pursue special opportunities.
Essentially anything you do while in college can be to your immediate and future benefit. Volunteering can be a quick way to build up experience and further explore where you’d like to go in life. Part-time jobs you hold while a student can also have this effect. Again, go out of your comfort zone and pursue opportunities, even if they make you nervous at first or you doubt your ability to succeed. It gets easier with practice.
Of course, in the midst of this you still need to study hard. A considerable degree of your growth will be the direct result of what you learn through coursework. From my experience, sometimes your dorm room is the place you can be most productive, but it’s worth trying the library, empty classrooms, or even random tables around campus – focused environments never hurt.
One last thing: please get enough sleep. When busy, the easiest part of your routine to chip away at is sleep. Sometimes this becomes necessary, but don’t make a habit of it – by my junior year, this contributed to some health problems. I regret not realizing this sooner, but I urge you to save yourself the trouble and get enough sleep.
Overall, it is much more satisfying to leave a campus community you made major contributions to. Even if you only made minor contributions to various organizations throughout your college career, you will still have the satisfaction that you did a great job and can begin to assemble a future from that experience.
Best of luck for a great college experience!
Kyle Parks ’18