03/14/2014 12:24 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

7 Things You Absolutely Have to Do Before You Finish College

If there's one rule that applies to nearly every college experience, it's this: Time flies. Before you know it, you'll be rocking that mortarboard, framing that diploma, and asking yourself through the haze of your very last dorm room hangover: "It's over?"

Enter real life. Your friends have dispersed all over the country. Medical care isn't free. The endless supply of clubs, interesting classes, top-notch facilities, sports teams, professors...gone! Then, if you're like most people, you're faced with the crushing reality that you totally took college for granted and it ain't coming back. Woops.

Grim--but believe it or not, avoidable! Well, somewhat. You can never do everything, but there are many things big and small that you probably didn't think of that could maximize your (or your college-bound friend or relative's) college years. Sure, you're supposed to study hard and you've seen enough 80s movies to know that keg stands and hookup gaffes can be a way of life. But, college is also an opportunity academically, socially, mentally, and culturally. You're sort of in between adolescence and adulthood, which makes for the perfect time to try new things, gain some independence, take advantage of the stuff around you, and shed the BS in your life.

My new book 77 Things You Absolutely Have to Do Before You Finish College covers, you guessed it, 77 of these ideas and how to implement them on any budget. Here are 7 of them.

student talking to professor

1. Have a real conversation with your favorite professor.
Most students visit their professors to negotiate grades or deadlines. But that amazing professor who you really admire? He/she could be a lifelong contact. Head to his or her office hours and talk about your passion for their field of study, or about a homework assignment or lecture that inspired you. This can seem intimidating at first, but remember: After college, it will be much harder to stay in touch with them. (Read: I really, really wish I did this while I was in college!) Unless the professor is extra crotchety, he/she will probably welcome the opportunity to talk about something other than an extension.

2. Take an elective that has nothing to do with your major.
Blacksmithing? Turkish Cinema? Improv 101? Did you even know your school offered such awesome stuff? Sometimes it's easy to get coursework tunnel vision and only enroll in required classes. But if you've got some credits to spare, sign up for something interesting, weird, or both, so long as it breaks your routine a little. These learning opportunities are harder to come by after college, and besides, 10 years from now you'll probably remember Cuban Ethnomusicology far more vividly than that required English Lit class. (Warning: Fun classes are still work, though.)

house plant

3. Keep a houseplant.
Yes, it seems small but... not only is a houseplant a really easy way to liven up your bleak linoleum/fluorescent dorm room, it's also fun practice for bigger responsibilities. Chances are, your surroundings in high school were pretty closely aligned with your parents' choices, and you probably didn't get to pick the furniture in your new dorm. But with a plant, you have something that you specifically chose from a nursery; it's all yours, and you're responsible for its very existence. Plus, if it dies, whatevs. It's not a dog. When you're a post-grad living on your own and have to choose everything, you'll remember that plant you had in college and all the lessons it taught you... even if it's: "Screw plants!"

political campaign

4. Join a political campaign.
College is a great time to get involved in politics, be they local, congressional, or Presidential. Campaigns give you off-campus volunteer experience (yes, they look good on resumes), and they can teach you all about the workings -- and often, failings -- of our government. Plus, you're contributing to a cause you (hopefully) believe in. Depending on the campaign, you can typically choose your commitment level, and you'll make some friends and professional contacts along the way. Sure, you could join a campaign after college, but it is much harder to focus on political passions when you're looking for, you know, jobs.

5. Sever toxic relationships.
This is just good life advice, but college is the perfect place to start. Chances are you didn't have a ton of choice in your high school friends. You got what you got, for better or for worse. Well, college is different. You do get to choose, and one of the best decisions you can ever make is to NOT deal with bullshit people who bring you down. You know the ones: They're clingy, they're controlling, they're fair-weather, they're on a life path you don't agree with, or sometimes, they're outright abusive. Whether they're friends or significant others, it's time to cut ties and breathe a little easier. Plenty of fish in the sea!

perfect meal

6. Learn to prepare one meal perfectly.
Just one! You can do it! Think of a dish you really like that you thought you could only eat at home or in a restaurant, then find a doable recipe online. Shop for the ingredients and kitchen supplies (or borrow some), then practice! You might burn the crap out of that stir-fry the first time, but don't ever tell yourself you "can't cook," or else you won't learn. Remember, there are no stupid questions, either. The internet has seen it all, from "How do I make spaghetti?" to "Is this thing rotten?" -- so don't be afraid to ask. Keep at it, and you and your tuna casserole (or whatever) could become the hottest things on campus. And guys: Chicks love a guy who cooks.

7. See a therapist.
Let's face it, everyone goes through emotional hardships in college, whether they're small academic anxieties, confidence issues, or all-out crises. You're not alone. No matter what ails you, talking to a therapist can be an amazing, helpful, educational experience. In college, mental health services are often FREE (!!) with the cost of tuition, and the campus doctors are a stone's throw away from your dorms. After college, therapy can get really expensive, not to mention inconvenient. Take advantage while you can. You're worth it! (And did I mention it's FREE? Might as well see what the fuss is about!)