Thirteen Thoughts for High School Graduates Heading to College

It's graduation season, and this year we've got a high school graduate in the house. It's been a big celebration with lots of excitement about new beginnings and anticipating attending the University of Utah in the fall. Of course we want her to be as prepared as possible, so we've been looking for resources to help her on her way.

What's one piece of advice you'd give to a young adult heading to college?

At a recent meeting, I asked the question of the Camarillo Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors, a group of outgoing, seasoned business people, who shared some excellent ideas for soon to be college Freshmen:

1. Try new things. When you go to college, you are presented with opportunities to take classes with people who are experts in their fields. Yes, you'll get specialized in your major, but make sure you get a chance to study something new and interesting that expands your horizons: Astronomy, Robotics, Anatomy, Comparative Religion, Art History, even Statistics!! Or look for classes like these at your school for some really thought-provoking coursework.

Of course this suggestion to "try new things" got a laugh from the group, since college students try all kinds of new things. So when you do, and we know you will, be responsible and sensible. You know what's right and wrong.  15 people partying on a small balcony is never a good idea. Nor is drinking until you pass out or throw up.  By all means, go out, experiment and have fun, but consider the consequences of all your actions.

So let me climb off my soapbox and paraphrase Mark Twain,

"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do....Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch winds in your sails. Explore Dream."

2. Just show up. When you go to college, you'll have freedoms you've never imagined. No one calls home to tell your parents you missed class, so it can be tempting to blow it off, read the book, borrow a friend's notes and hope for the best. You might pass, but you're missing out on the richness of the college experience, learning from an expert in the field and interactions with others. Just do it!

3. Keep an open mind. You just graduated, and you already have some pretty set beliefs about politics, the environment, religion, music. You have friends with different beliefs, but  you'll encounter an even wider range of perspectives in college. Keep your mind open to possibilities.


4. Embrace the next chapter of your life with positivity. Attitude is everything, and a positive attitude will get you far. Follow your dreams!!

5. Get involved and get to know people. It's never too early to start building your network (you already have begun), so join some different groups, expand your social circles, get to know your professors (use those office hours!!), your RAs and TAs and that kid down the hall with the big hair. And don't forget to set up your LinkedIn profile.

6. Always have a Plan A and Plan B. You may dream of being a prima ballerina with the American Ballet Theatre, and it's awesome to follow your dreams in a single-minded way. However, you've probably already noticed that life doesn't always end up how you expect. Keep doing what you love while considering different options for how to apply it (business manager of a dance company, dance teacher, marketing director for a theatre). You never know where you'll end up.

7. Don't worry. If you take Psych 101, you'll learn there's an optimal level of anxiety that helps you work at your best (aka the Yerkes-Dodson Law). But constant worrying doesn't fall in the zone. Be grateful for every experience and let go of anxiety and worry (you may learn more about how to do that in Psych 201...). Take advantage of the gym, deep breathing and meditation for stress relief.

8. Question popular culture. I hope you already know that just because everyone else is doing it, you don't have to. Question the trends to see what's right for you.

9. Keep volunteering. For the last 4 years (hopefully more), you've been counting up your volunteer hours so you can fill in the blanks on your college apps and show the admissions folks that you're a community service maven. Nice work! You know that giving back feels great, so why stop now? No one's counting any more, but that doesn't mean your efforts don't matter. Find places and causes that are important to you and keep giving of your time and talents, which are treasures. The world needs you.

10. Be true to yourself, especially when your values are challenged. You're still growing and evolving and finding out who you are (that never stops, by the way, it just changes). But you also have a pretty good sense of what's important to you. Your values will be challenged. Question and decide on what's right for you.

11. Take advantage of internship opportunities. While you're learning, meeting new people and growing, you'll want a place to apply those skills. Getting an internship, either between semesters or while you're in school, can be an excellent way to get experience in your field, see what it's like to work in an environment that interests you, and keep building your professional network.

12. Use your strengths. You know those things that you're really good at and love to do?  Those are your strengths, and hopefully your major reflects them. But even in courses and experiences not in your major, make sure to use your strengths.  Are you analytical? Empathic? Strategic? Responsible? Pay attention to the activities, information and relationships that get you most excited. That's a clue to where you'll shine.

13. Ask for help. As the years go by, you have become more and more independent. But that doesn't mean you have to go it alone. Reach out to others, use the resources available to you on campus and off, and run things by your trusted friends and advisers to get input from other sources.

Heard the expression "Two heads are better than one?" Well, it's true for 2, 4 or even 10. That's how I wrote this blog post after all....

One more quote to inspire you:

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined." -Henry David Thoreau

Do you have any advice to add? Share in the comments below.

And here's our high school graduate!

Graduate and Proud Parents


gloria-miele-head-shotGloria M. Miele, Ph.D. is a trainer, speaker and executive coach who uses a strengths-based approach to help individuals, groups and organizations achieve their goals and realize their greatest success. Sign up for more resources and updates by entering your email above and receive a free strengths-based goal setting e-workbook. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter for even more motivating and inspiring resources to become a stronger, more confident leader.