The 3 Things You’d Change About Your College Experience If You Had a Time Machine

Knowing what you know now about the real world and college and yourself, what are three things you would do differently if you could redo your undergraduate years of college?

My three:

  1. I would take only the classes that really interested me. I’m glad I went to Wash U. It’s a great school, the quality of education is better than most universities, and it looks good on my resume. I’m not as glad that I went with a business degree. Although I love entrepreneurship and elements of organizational behavior and marketing, I trudged through tons of other business classes that were of no interest to me simply because I thought I wanted to go into business. I much rather would have enjoyed the majority of my classes than kept my eyes open for calculus, accounting, and finance. Oh, and I’d have taken Spanish in addition to Japanese. I think languages are some of the best things you can study in college, as a complement to going abroad. I also wish I had studied graphic design and programming, things that I could teach myself at this point, but it would have been great to have a professor to guide me.
  2. I would seek internships at every opportunity. I’ve learned so much while working in the real world, and I could have started to learn some of those life lessons during college and every summer. Now, I don’t think I necessarily wasted my summers–there was a period where I wanted to open a restaurant after college, so I worked as a waiter for two summers to see if that’s something I really wanted (it turned out that it wasn’t). But I could have made so many connections and learned so much through internships.
  3. I would loosen up a lot quicker. I don’t mean that I would have started drinking sooner or gone around hooking up with every cute girl I saw. But I carried a lot of stereotypes and stigmas into college that I wish I had let go of a lot sooner. Perhaps the slow process of learning was what I needed, but I also think I could have learned things first hand (and probably made some mistakes) up front and been the better for it.

Limiting this to the top three things was tough. There are plenty of little things I’d change, but these are the big three. Overall, I had a great college experience, particularly my year abroad. But sometimes I look back and reflect upon the experience (lately this was prompted by this article and some of the links…I kind of wish I could try it all again.

What are your three?

21 thoughts on “The 3 Things You’d Change About Your College Experience If You Had a Time Machine”

  1. 1. Picking the final college and major the first time and staying there. At first I was in Genetic Engineering, switched to English because I’m not so hot at Math. Switched from English to Graphic Design and went to Meramec Community College because my parents were getting fed up that I was switching and wasting their money at Maryville University. Did Graphic Design for about a year, went back to Maryville and got accepted to Webster, didn’t make it to Webster because they required more Math and that’s not my thing. Left Maryville because I got kicked out so back to Meramec my parents sent me because they were pretty upset at the money I had used at this point. I stayed at Meramec and was dual enrolled at University of Missouri(UMSL). Scholarships and grants allowed me to fully transfer to UMSL under the Graphic Design major. I was 2 courses short from completing my Bachelors for it when I got into into it with the teacher who controlled whether or not I would pass these 2 classes. Since the teacher had failed me the past 2 times I was enrolled in the courses, it killed my love of Graphic Design and prompted a new major. UMSL was nervous about me being in their college now and I had to get letters of recommendation/character from several people. I was on Academic Probation as well since I had an obscene number of credits. I picked Early Childhood Education and excelled at it, finishing up my time at UMSL with a Bachelors, 2 Associate degrees, and 3 Certifications from the state of Missouri which are valid in 33 other states as well. I love my job, I just wish I would have figured out my “calling” sooner.
    2. The Freshmen 20. I know everyone supposedly gains weight when they enter into college. I could have sworn it was 20 pounds, but when I did it, it was about 60. Looking back now, I should have kept better tabs on it and used the free time that I had to work on it so it wouldn’t be such a problem now. I still need those 60 to move. Too bad I can’t go back and tell my 17 year old self to knock it off with the junk, that french fries, chips and candy bars are NOT a good lunch, dinner, snack, or any other mealtime I decided to make up.
    3. Been more social. I should have gone on more dates, hung out with friends when they asked, attended more social gatherings. I was so caught up with projects for Graphic Design that I would spend hours doing them when I didn’t need to. I should have allowed myself to accept a date with whatever guy who saw me in the lunch room doodling ideas, I should have given my number to the comedian of my introductory teaching class who asked me out for weeks. I should have gone to Cancun on Spring Break with 10 girls from my Advanced Assessment class. I love who I am, truly, but sometimes I feel so deprived of things that most people experienced in college and here I am out of college and haven’t experienced any of those things. I did make friends and I still have them, but I should have made more of an effort. I missed out on knowing some great people and I can’t get that back.

    Nice post Jamey dear, I can’t believe you still have more though.

    • 1. I wonder how you could have figured out your calling earlier. Trevor touches upon this subject as well–maybe if a high school guidance counselor had better explained what the various degrees meant in the real world, it would have helped you.

      2. I think colleges have moved towards much healthier meal plans recently.

      3. Good point. A lot of the fun of college is that social experience.

  2. 1. Some type of understanding of what majors were out there and what careers are available. I had no idea whatsoever. I didn’t know what an engineer actually did until 2 years ago, when I was 28. I can’t believe we had a career center in high school, which I frequently visited to apply for scholarships, and that not one guidance counselor ever offered to explain career options, talk about how many years of school you’d need to enter certain fields, or discuss the benefits of a graduate degree.
    2. I agree with your #1–take the classes that interest me (or are at least useful to me). I wasted so much time in courses that are completely irrelevant to me. It makes me kind of angry to think about that sometimes.
    3. Care less about GPA. Companies do not care if you have a 4.0, but I did. I spent countless nights pouring over class materials while others had fun. I could have gotten a 3.0 without trying, but instead, I busted my ass for fractions of a point. I kick myself for this all the time.

    I’m going to add a #4 because I don’t play by the rules. I wish I’d thought more globally and explored/applied to schools outside of Virginia. I also wish I’d studied abroad.

    • 1. That’s a great point about high school guidance counselors. The career college counselors could have helped too. (Which reminds me of another big regret for me–I wish I had gotten to know more professors. I got to know a few on a personal level, but I think I had the perception that I’d be a suck-up if I often went to office hours. And yet they were amazing resources that I just didn’t try to connect with as I should have.)

      2. I’m with you there.

      3. Well said about GPA. Like I said, companies care much more about what school you went to than how you did there.

      4. Is there a university outside of Virginia that you wish you would have attended? Where do you wish you had studied abroad? Now that you say that–and knowing how much you like to travel–I’m kind of amazed you didn’t.

      • For #4, it’s not so much that I necessarily would have chosen a different college, but I wish I’d been more open to exploring them. I didn’t realize my passion for traveling until college, when I really got to do things on my own. During high school I was under the delusion that I’d live in Richmond, VA together, which just wasn’t in the cards for me. I wish I’d at least visited places like Stanford, Brown, and Sanford-Brown.

        As for doing a semester abroad, at the time I felt like I’d miss out a lot on my Leadership Studies curriculum. There really wasn’t an easy way to translate other courses into my school for equivalencies, so not many of my classmates did a study abroad program. In retrospect, I should have just thrown caution to the wind.

            • This is a very interesting topic: what are the features which make a particular locale good for studying abroad?
              Local language – full immersion learning verse being able to take interesting classes while you are there.
              Number of other american students at that location – ie Granada verses Barcelona
              Exotic factor – ie the Caribbean or Australia verses London
              Other ideas?

              • Well, I know that my study abroad experience was awesome. A few reasons why:

                1. I had to learn and use another language.

                2. The culture was very different than American culture, but not so foreign that I was completely confused.

                3. I had been there before. I’m not sure how that factors into the equation, but it helped that I already had a certain level of comfort in Japan.

                I know people who have had very positive experiences in places like London, which isn’t all that foreign from the US and English is prevalently spoken there…although I’ve never heard anyone speak as fondly of their London experience as I have of Japan. Not sure why.

  3. There is not stopping you from going back to college. Go get a second bachelors, die those gray hairs brown an nobody will know you are not another 18 year old trying to be cool. Do it all over again.

    • Can I really just go back to being an undergrad? I don’t know if I could pull it off–college freshmen these days look really, really young.

  4. I would not change anything about my time at Hopkins. Sure, I wasn’t gloriously happy for all 4 years – but it was an incredible time in my life and I think the mistakes I made were an important part of growing up. Interestingly the changes mentioned in other comments are all things I did: take the classes I wanted, start with the major that is what I still do, study a language, not care about my GPA, look into internships (in my field that means do research in a lab). Maybe I could have loosened up more – but I was pretty tight in high school so I think relaxing any faster might have led to instability.

    Despite my nostalgia for MY undergraduate experience, I would also never go back. I look at the undergrads on the washU campus and they look so young and clueless. I’m too jaded now to enjoy it.

    Do you think undergraduates appreciate how uniquely special those four years can be?

    • Ha ha…so basically, you lived my ideal college experience? Well done 🙂

      I definitely don’t think undergrads appreciate how uniquely special those four years can be. What advice would you give to them (aside from the above info)?

  5. I have to agree with Ariel – there is not one thing I would change about college. (Went to Bradley in Peoria) I look back and appreciate how much I learned about life in general during college….those experiences are more meaningful to me now than my actual degree sometimes.

    I was fine with being a B student -(Days of Our Lives was at the same time as my Psych class – that was a no brainer! ha!!) I made up for it in Grad school and got mostly A’s…a few B’s so I don’t feel like a total slacker. 🙂

    I did multiple internships and actually had three at one time – I like putting myself under undo stress. 🙂

    And – we partied like rock stars – I think most weeks Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays were the only nights we WEREN’T out. There was even one time my friend Brandy and I were the last ones to have a final while everyone else was partying so we stopped by and took a gin and tonic for the road and in to the final!! (It was World Religions – piece of cake!)

    We (the Bradley crew) always talk about going back and we all say there is one day we wish we could go back to – the first warm day of spring when we broke out the baby pool and sat in the front yard of one of the off campus houses – we would all skip class, listen to music, drink and just enjoy the day. That was the best!!

    • Another one with no regrets! It sounds like skipping class was a big part of your college experience. 🙂 I think a lot of people share that experience, and I wonder why that is. Would college actually be better with less classes so skipping wouldn’t be necessary for the fun?

      • I actually didn’t skip class too often….just that class!! Which is odd because I love psych classes.

        I was just telling my brother that I have a recurring nightmare where I am back in college and go to one of my classes for the first day but then forget that I have it and don’t go back until I am looking at my schedule for finals week. It is terrifying when I realize I never went to the class!! I run around campus trying to find the professor and never find her….

        I wake up in a panic every time!

  6. 1. In High School, spend at least a full week looking at different jobs, and their associated majors. THEN decide on a college based on something other than geography. I don’t think I knew what it would mean to have to go out and get work in my field, even as I was taking the classes. Granted, I enjoyed 90% of my classes, but they didn’t necessarily get me to the goal of working.
    2. Be more social. As I went to school in the same town I was from, I was not forced to meet new people. So I spent most of the first three years hanging out with people I knew who were still in STL, or having friends who went to school elsewhere visit me when they came home.
    2-a. Date more. Bcause I hung out with a lot of the same people, I did not take advantage of the many women I was around. I don’t mean a new woman each week, but having come from an all guys school, be willing to venture out and hit on more women. AND I DO MEAN HIT ON THEM. Believe me, I have more than my share of female friends. I feel like it’s a lesson I’m still learning.
    3. Understand what I was spending! This is going to sound spoiled, but when I decided where to go, I had no idea what anything cost. Every year, I aparently signed papers saying that I’d pay back $XX,XXX in loans, and hadn’t a clue. My senior year, when the email came out to all seniors that said “If you have loans, you have to go to this seminar before you can graduate” I had to ask my mom if I had loans.

    • Hey John, thanks for sharing. The “date more” one is the most interesting one for me to read. It sounds like you often find yourself in the friend zone due to some habits you may have picked up back in college.

  7. 1. Not changed my major. I began Virginia Tech as a geological sciences major with a geophysics concentration. I struggled through vector geometry and engineering/science calculus so when it was time to go to multivariable calculus I didn’t think I could do it and switched to an easy major. I regret this every single day. VT has a stellar geological sciences department and a good math/science-based degree could have opened so many doors. I wish I had switched to the geology track instead if I couldn’t handle it–but I wish I had tried. Coinciding with Trevor’s #3, I wanted the good grades and I knew I wouldn’t be getting As in multivariable calculus, linear algebra and differential equations. I wish someone had really stressed to me that, especially in geology, the GPA doesn’t matter. The obtaining of the degree is the only thing that matters. Additionally, if I had failed a math course or two, that would have meant I was required to re-take them, thus resulting in me being able to stay at VT even longer. I’m still a complete earth science nerd (seriously, a total rock, volcano and weather geek) and I have to say that this is one of my biggest regrets–I wasted an extraordinary chance to study something I love at a school that’s known nationally for it.

    2. Not had boyfriends. I had a serious boyfriend freshman year and senior year–arguably your two most important years as a college student–and it limited what I did socially, particularly freshman year. I missed out on meeting a lot of new people and doing new things freshman year b/c I was worried my boyfriend back home would be upset with me. When we ended our relationship at the end of sophomore year, I had the best summer I had ever had and it’s safe to say I haven’t had a summer that awesome since. My junior year was amazing from start to finish. My senior year, when I was supposed to be living it up for my final year, I was going home every other weekend. I would have remained broken up with boyfriend #1 when we briefly ended our relationship just before the end of first semester freshman year, and I would have delayed beginning the relationship with boyfriend #2 until after I graduated.

    3. I would have gone out of my way to meet more people, particularly girls in my residence hall. So many people meet best friends, future wedding attendants and spouses in college and I don’t think I allowed myself to do that. So many people from my high school went to VT that I naturally went to those people I already knew.

    • Thanks for the really well-thought out answer. I think what you said about relationships rings particularly true. Especially relationships in college where you’re not going to the same school as your significant other. I literally don’t think I’ve met a single person who was in a lasting long-distance relationship in college and didn’t look back on all that time they spent in their dorm room on the phone and regret it.


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