Finding yourself in college

Rebecca graduated from Loyola University Chicago in 2012 with bachelors degrees in journalism and history. She interned for the U.S. House of Representatives, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois, and the Southtown Star newspaper while in college.
She currently lives in Chicago and writes and edits for three community newspapers: the Frankfort Station, the Mokena Messenger and the New Lenox Patriot.
When not writing, Rebecca likes reading nonfiction, debating with equally chatty friends and playing tennis. She also loves movies and dabbles in screenwriting.

Whether you’re a current college student or a high school senior waiting to walk through your campus’s gates, you probably remember the path you took to get to college.
You might have asked yourself one question in particular as you worked on piles of applications or studied for the ACT: why am I doing this? Why is it worth putting my time into college, or my money into student loans?
The most practical answer is to be able to get a good-paying job, but college is about much more than that. No matter what field you enter after college, it will take you a long time to reach the highest levels of success and independence. Whether you’re an actor who will play minor roles before hitting it big or a stockbroker wannabe climbing the ladder to Wall Street, your job will most likely be repetitive and task-oriented in some form until you’re older.
College is the one time in your life when you can really challenge who you thought you were, and open yourself to new experiences and ideas that your job in “the real world” won’t always allow. College truly is about discovering who you are as an individual, and hopefully you spent your time and money applying to learn that.
Starting that process of self-discovery in college is much simpler than it may sound. Here are four tips to get you started, and they all have one thing in common: you will get out of them exactly as much as you put into them.

4. Say yes to anything you’ve “always wanted” to try, even if it doesn’t seem like it will directly benefit your future
Many of us come into college with an idea of something we’d like to try, whether it’s go to that first college party or sign up for that skiing class you saw advertised. (Yes, some colleges offer that.)
As a high school senior, I wanted to do an internship in Washington D.C. in college, since I always liked politics and wanted to see how our government worked from the inside. I don’t work for the government today and I don’t plan on going into politics, but I wouldn’t trade my internship experience for anything in the world.
I made many friends from the program who I still keep in touch with — one of them currently works as a congressional aide — and I learned how to question my own beliefs until I gathered as much information as possible and examined an issue from all sides. This has helped me not only in my current line of work, but in social situations outside of the office.
If there’s something you’ve always wanted to try in college that may not be directly related to your major or your future plans, go for it anyway. It still has a lesson for you, positive or negative, that will help form you as a person.

3. Have fun, but remember that college is not a party
A healthy social life in college will open you to new experiences, new people and teach you more personal things about yourself. It’s good for your overall well-being, and honing social skills will serve you well in a job culture where networking and relationships are essential to getting ahead.
On the other hand, movies that revolve around the antics of frat boys or college parties gone awry convey an idea about college that many students imitate. Craig Brandon’s “The Five Year Party” says that 40-50 percent of students have “totally disengaged” from the education process, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking.
A schedule jam-packed with parties and bar-hops does not only harm your grades and your liver. Such a life might cause you to wake up one morning after you graduated and realizing you limited yourself to an idea of what your college experience should be.
Only by following your own path and making your own decisions beyond the bar will help you discover more about yourself, and who you ultimately want to be. Enjoy your college experience and have fun, but achieve a balance if you want to grow as a person.

2. Open yourself up to new experiences, both in and out of the classroom
When I was a junior in college, I had to take a “France in WWI” class as a requirement for my history major. I had never been interested in WWI before, and walked into my first class with an eye roll.
When the last day of class came, I didn’t want to leave. The topic proved much more interesting than I thought, and it also broadened my understanding of my major. Just because you didn’t like something in high school doesn’t mean you’ll hate it in college, or that it won’t benefit you in the future.
The same goes for clubs and extracurricular activities. If you see a club that sounds even a little interesting, why not go to a meeting and give it a try? Even if you don’t stick with them — I attended meetings of many clubs I never stayed with — at least know you’ll know what you don’t care for.
Keep an open mind, and you’ll be surprised at what you learn about yourself and others in the process.

1. Accept any challenges that come your way, then master them
College expects much more out of you than high school. Whether you’ll need to work and go to school at the same time to pay back loans, or put more time and energy into your classes than you had to before, you’ll be taking on extra work.
It doesn’t sound like fun, but unfortunately for you, this never stops. Life after college will only involve more things for you to do. Fearing or balking at new challenges now will only hinder you in the future — and prevent you from learning more about yourself and your abilities.
When you take what’s thrown at you in college, you’ll find out what you most want to devote your time to. You’ll gain more confidence in your abilities that will last throughout college and beyond, and leadership skills that will make you instantly stand above the rest.
So do that assignment or project you “don’t feel like doing,” and test your limits. You’ll learn about how much you really are capable of accomplishing, and even surprise yourself at how awesome you can be.

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