I have two days until I graduate and I am blogging until the very end. Before I go, I simply must offer my advice to the students who will replace me next year. I have had so many experiences in college, and if this blog post can help one person have a smoother time in college than I did, I would consider that a very successful blog post. In no specific order, here are five of the most important tips I can give to a current or incoming student.
Take ExCos early on.
I am a firm believer that ExCos are one of the most special things Oberlin has to offer, and I wish I had taken advantage of them sooner. The first ExCo I took was in the spring of my sophomore year, and then I didn’t take another one until the spring of my fourth year— as a brief summary, I have taken ExCos on tumbling, juggling, ukulele, the Percy Jackson book series, and cult classic films. Depending on the ExCo, it’s a great way to meet people and get comfortable talking in class. I made friends in the ExCos I took this semester, which just makes me wish I’d taken the class sooner and had these friends for longer before I left. Take an ExCo, teach an ExCo, do it all.
Explore different departments early on and wait to declare your major.
If I could go back to the start, I think I might be a Musical Studies/musicology and Sociology double major with a dance minor, but things worked out a touch differently. There’s nothing wrong with the English department, and there’s nothing wrong with the English major, I just found out a little too late that there are other subjects I would have been more interested in studying for four years. As soon as I got to Oberlin, I was paranoid that I would fall behind on my many double-degree requirements and have to graduate late, which was never likely to happen. In doing so, I missed out on exploring all of the things I could have studied the past five years. Please wait as long as possible to declare a major, and if you find yourself in the midst of a major that doesn’t bring you joy, change it if there’s time.
Take advantage of campus resources.
I have engaged with Oberlin’s very fine Career Center and Professional Development Center regularly since my first semester. They do great work! I have met with many research librarians for help on papers I’ve written. All four libraries on campus are wonderful and open to all students. Go to the Writing Center! Go to the gym if you want— it’s not just for athletes! All tutoring services are included in tuition— you can get a tutor for every class you take, every semester. There is so much support available to students, although it can be a bit intimidating to navigate all of the different campus offices. Ask for help if you want it, and someone will be able to point you in the right direction.
Keep an open mind.
My first year, I auditioned for an improv group. I didn’t get in, because I’ve never done improv before and I’m not funny like that, but heck, I tried something new. I suggest you do the same. In my last semester, I auditioned for a dance group, and it’s one of my favorite things I’ve done in college. You never know what weekly commitment is going to change your entire college experience— just try stuff. The worst thing that will happen is you lose an hour or two of your day and you never have to do it again. There are lots of fun student groups and neat events that happen on campus all the time, so if a friend asks you to go to something with them, I definitely think you should give it a try.
Ask your peers for advice.
This is perhaps the most crucial tip, and certainly the most complicated. Oberlin has a lot of different individuals and offices where you can go to get advising, but I think that no one knows more about this school, the curriculum, and navigating campus than the students who go through it all. Double-degree students especially know all of the best tips and loopholes. For example, everyone needs a certain amount of college credits to graduate. Eight of those credits can be co-curricular, which includes practicums and ExCos. In place of two full college classes, I took ExCos and Practicum in Journalism (which is sort of just contributing to campus publications), which helped alleviate my workload for a few semesters and try new fun things!
However, this is tricky because everyone will tell you something different. I didn’t really enjoy my first-year seminar — I would recommend taking an introductory course in a specific department instead — but I know people who list it on their cover letters as the reason they’re going into a certain field. I didn’t really like living in a first-year dorm — I would recommend living in a co-op or genuinely anywhere that is not a first-year dorm instead — but I know people who are still best friends with the people they met on their first day in Oberlin, and other people who lived in traditional housing and feel like they missed out on a valuable social opportunity. Your choices and your lessons learned are your own, so take this advice if you choose. Have fun in college!