Advice to High School Seniors from a College Senior

By: 
Olivia Hess
Class of: 
2018

I took a deep breath and looked left, then right. This was a sight I hadn’t seen since December 2016. On one side, campus. The back of the library, the chapel steeple, the gray cobblestone entrance to Sykes, and the flagpole just outside it. On the other, a row of colored houses, blue, green, and red. I remembered the very first time I ever saw Park Street, four years earlier, when I came to visit my cousin and attend an Open House event. Making a right-hand turn, I eased the gas when I finally saw it: home. I pulled into the drive of my theme house, and began the tedious task of unpacking my car.

Four years earlier, I would have laughed if you had told me I would get chills and a lump in my throat over seeing a college campus. I thought I had it all figured out: I was going to go to a big city school, work in a big-ticket industry like finance or government, and study and live abroad in another big city. Considering the fact that I go to a small liberal arts college, am majoring in performance & communication arts along with business in the liberal arts, and studied abroad in a fairly small city, it’s safe to say that my plans changed somewhere along the way.

1. You will not die if you don’t get into your top choice school.

Chances are, most of your classmates didn’t get into theirs, either. Or they got in, but they can’t attend for a variety of reasons. Or, they went back to visit again, and they realized they didn’t like it as much as they thought they did. The thing is, a lot of students don't attend their top choice. It is so easy to arbitrarily label a school “number one,” but the decision is so much more subjective than that. Remember that you’re not only choosing where to study and attend classes for the next four years, but also where you’ll live and breathe and make friends and simply exist for the next four years of your life. If you can’t call that place home, what’s the point?

2. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Coming from a small town, I had gone to school with some of the same people since I was four. To say that I was nervous about leaving is an understatement. But whether it’s evident or not, there are endless opportunities that come along with going to college. They may be small, like joining a club you didn’t have in high school, or large, like studying abroad. I would be nowhere near as independent as I am today if I had not gone out of my comfort zone during the first week of school, and applied to be in student government (something I was not involved in at all in high school). Since that first week, I have attended Board of Trustees meetings, become an Admissions Ambassador, and studied abroad in Vienna, Austria. Although these things may seem completely unrelated on the surface, they all pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me grow in different ways.

3. STUDY ABROAD

One of the things I looked for in all of the universities I visited was a good study abroad program. I know some of you might think it’s premature to start planning to study abroad when you haven’t even decided on a college yet, but having the ability to plan your classes before going abroad is imperative. You do not want to miss out on such an incredible opportunity because you didn’t plan ahead. If you ask any person above the age of 30 what their biggest regret about college is, I can almost guarantee a majority of them will say it's not studying abroad. Having recently returned from my semester abroad, I might be a little biased, but studying abroad is one of the unique opportunities that disappears for most people after you graduate. When else do you have the chance to live in a different country for four months, with only classes to worry about? Studying abroad changed my entire worldview, and made me a more independent person. I got comfortable communicating in a different language, learned how to travel on my own, and figured out how to plan ahead and budget my money, all while enjoying incredible food, art, and music.

4. It’s okay to make mistakes

Nobody’s perfect. Making mistakes is a part of the human experience, and when you don’t have your parents to guide you, it’s significantly easier to do stupid things. The important part of this is to learn from your mistakes, and be better in the future. I’m not perfect either. I’ve messed up as many times as the next person, but some of the best lessons I’ve learned throughout my time in college have come out of those mistakes.

5. Call your parents and keep in touch with your high school friends

This seems like the type of thing that should go without saying. But after a few weeks at school, it gets harder and harder to keep the promise you and your best friend made. This is okay, because your friends are probably just as busy as you are. Remember to check in with them every so often in order to maintain that friendship. It can be as small as sending them a Buzzfeed article about “16 Things All Band Students Know to be True,” because the two of you suffered through four years of concert band together. The most important thing is to let them know you still care about them and you’ll always be there for them.

The same goes for your parents. When you’re in high school, your parents might seem like your greatest nemesis because they set your curfew and they Will. Not. Budge. But, there comes a point when you begin to realize just how cool your parents are (this is how you know you’re getting old). Remember that these people raised you for 18 years and poured their hearts into making you the best person you could be. It’s only fair that you check in with them every so often to let them know how you are and what you’re up to, now that they don’t have you around anymore.

Your next four years will be filled with laughter, excitement, and adventures. I would not trade my St. Lawrence experience for anything in this world. Once, as I lamented the fact that I’m a senior and will be leaving SLU in seven short months, a friend told me, “But isn’t it such an incredible thing that you have a place that make you feel this way?” And I realized that although graduating may be sad, I’ll always be able to look back at the time I spent here and remember all of these beautiful experiences. I will always feel at home driving up Park Street because that’s what St. Lawrence is—home.