Ryan is a freelance writer in Chicago. He earned degrees in English and Spanish and a certificate in European Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has covered everything from breaking news to blog posts to interviews with NFL players. His works have been published in the Huffington Post, FanSided, HomeAway Vacation Rentals and many more.
American author H. Jackson Brown Jr. once said, “When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.” In my experience, this is especially true in lives of college graduates. On the scale balancing “should-haves” and “shouldn’t-haves,” the former tends to greatly outweigh the latter.
Once the golden days of college are a mere flicker of memory in your vaults, it becomes easier to assess your college career. And in the wake of my four-year campaign, I’ve heard a number of remarks from my friends, families and co-workers expressing what they wished they would’ve done back in school.
Take a look at the most common regrets:
1. Not studying abroad
“I wish I would’ve studied abroad” is the most prevalent collegiate regret. These former students missed out on tasting bizarre food, butchering foreign languages, and making international friends. My study abroad experience in Spain was my most fulfilling semester–capped by spring festivals in Seville and a police-involved dip in the Arno River in Florence, Italy. To put it simply, I wouldn’t trade it for a million-dollar job offer from Donald Trump.
My earnestness is rooted in several reasons.
First, you can branch out and be exactly who you want to be when you’re living in another country. Leave the labels and tags of your friend group behind, and shed the inhibitions your mother raised you with. Similar to freshman year in college, this is a chance to start anew, though you’ll be much wiser this time around.
Second, travel is mind-expanding. Learning new cultures and new languages opens up a whole new realm of appreciation, throwing light on larger understanding of the world, and in turn, on how you fit inside it. My trip undoubtedly reshaped my belief systems and perspective on American way of life. Just like how picking up a new instrument makes you a better musician, immersing yourself in a new culture makes you a better world citizen.
For those who lack the money to travel outside the country, there are loopholes. Try applying for scholarships. I’ve had a number of friends chip off a big portion of their abroad bill by getting accepted to various scholarships.
Whatever you have to do to make it work – whether it’s adjusting your class credits, taking a break from a girlfriend, enrolling in summer school—I would recommend taking advantage of study abroad! When’s the next time you’ll get to skinny dip in the Canary Islands one weekend and see the Louvre the next?
2. Not branching out of your high school friend group
The majority of students attend an in-state university, so odds are at least a handful of your buddies from high school are going to same college as you. While having a safety net is certainly comforting, that net can also double as a trap.
Don’t get me wrong, my high school friends are some of my best lifelong friends, but people often rue the times they shied away from opportunities to meet new faces. A metaphor for it: A rock doesn’t have to flow in the entire length of a river to make a ripple, it just has to be in the water for a second. Even if the people you meet on your freshman dorm floor won’t be at your wedding, they can leave a lasting impression. Plus, networking is a key part of job hunting after college (“it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”), and you might just run into one of those people later in life.
Sometimes taking the path of more resistance makes you a stronger individual.
3. Believing that a major will dictate your future job
I’ve heard of med school students who majored in English and sales CEOs who majored in philosophy. Restaurant servers who finished with mathematics and Spanish majors who are working in real estate. We are taught to believe that whichever field is printed on our diploma will determine our career. But in all reality, a major is a stepping stone to a broader definition of learning that will ultimately benefit your work ethic, people skills and on-site know-how.
There are, of course, exceptions. Those entering a very specialized field such as nursing, accounting or biological engineering might follow a more clear-cut trajectory. Other than that, the best advice is to choose a major that gets you out of bed in the morning—that’s what one of my English professors told me freshman year, and I’m glad I listened.
4. Not getting involved on campus
The best to way to meet people is through extracurricular clubs and student organizations. These places foster a shared interest where breaking the ice with strangers seems totally normal, whether it’s rock climbing, hip-hop dancing or Super Smash Bros. club.
I joined a number of student orgs, including a break-dancing class. Could I spin on my head or contort myself into geometrical shapes planted off my elbow? No I couldn’t. But it was a unique experience that I doubt I’ll be able to find in later stages of life. Try as many clubs as you can!
5. Not learning how to manage finances and student loans
While Uncle Sam is lending a financial hand for millions of Americans, most students don’t know how manage their finances once they graduate. Time recently reported that the No. 1 regret of college grads is not planning how to pay off student loans. Student loans are a grim reality, and the first step to understanding how to pull the reins on them is to communicate with your parents and advisors. Make a plan how to pay them off, one month at a time.
Credit is another thing I barely heard a whisper about until I graduated. I’m fortunate enough to have a father who understands the importance of good credit, and he instilled similar principles. Still, I never took a finance class and it left a hole in my understanding of moving month to month and paying rent, going out, heading to concerts, etc. In other words, balancing income with expenses.
Curiously, many of my friends with loftier incomes—15K more than me—say they’re saving only as much as me. They spend their extra capital while depositing a smaller check average. Simply put, they could be putting away a lot more for things like travel, vacations and other big investments.
Yes, finances sound like a drone to talk about. But they make for a conversation that’s largely lacking in our society where so many students are digging themselves out of debt years after graduation hats sail in the air.