05/02/2012 10:21 am ET Updated Jul 02, 2012

College Counseling

Even if I can't wrap my head around it, I'm a graduating senior. Only two weeks and some change separate me from my release into the cold reality of taxes, overtime and possibly some demons -- at least that's what I imagine the world after college looks like. Last week, at the final lecture of my collegiate career, my professor asked all graduating seniors to stand up and share a piece of advice with the underclassmen present. Since listening to my peers' thoughtful advice, I have been stockpiling a list of the things that I wish I had known before coming to college -- things a little more substantial than my older brother's advice to bring an extension cord.

Full disclosure: I'm not valedictorian, nor am I the campus socialite. I'm not the girl involved in every campus activity, and I'm not even the campus recluse. Instead, mine is the advice of an average person who has been through the collegiate trenches. I've seen a little of everything (co-ed bathrooms?) and managed to make it to the other side. Here are a few things that could have made the trip a whole lot easier:

1) Take classes you enjoy: Despite the rumors, the academic portion of your college career does not have to be something you loathe with a flaming passion. Try to find time in your schedule to take classes that interest you rather than fill your requirements. You'll never regret signing up for a class on the History of Jazz, even if you only do it to make your Chem lab more tolerable.

2) Join things: Suddenly when you enter college, being too cool for school is no longer... well... cool. Instead, students are doing interesting things all the time, from community service, to forming interest groups, to playing sports. Join the things that interest you and see what sticks -- you never know, you could meet your best friend in film club or find your passion participating in student government.

3) ... But not too many things: My junior year, I took 16 credits, worked at a student-run coffee shop nine hours a week, interned at a local magazine 12 hours a week, and volunteered at my college writing center six hours a week. My junior year, I did not have enough time to devote to any of these activities. My junior year, I spent a lot of time in the library that I wished I could spend with friends. Don't make my junior year mistake. Only bite off as much as you can chew -- otherwise you'll choke.

4) Leave every once and a while: There are hundreds of things happening on campus any given weekend, from drum circles to ultimate Frisbee to semi-formal dances. It's okay to leave and miss a few of them. Go home. Visit some of your friends at different schools. When you graduate, you will have no recollection of the memories you missed.

5) Sleep: The library can feel like a competition of who has the most to do and the least time to do it in. Everywhere you turn, people are telling you that they didn't go to bed last night, or they only got two hours of sleep, or they were up until five in the morning. Here's a secret: no one runs on three hours of sleep for four years. It's just not possible. So go to bed.

6) Talk to people: No matter how homogenous your school's student body, it's filled with interesting people who are nothing like you at all. So talk to some of them -- you may not become friends, but you might learn something.

7) Ask for help: I don't know how many hours of hair pulling I could have saved by just asking my professors what a paper prompt really meant. But I know that getting the hours back would have been worth the inconvenience of asking.

8) Find opportunities off-campus: I have learned at least as much at my internships off-campus as I have in my college classes. I've learned about the things that I do (and don't) want to do with my life, and befriended some people who have trod the path before me. As amazing as college is, it cannot teach you much about what life will be like after you graduate. Volunteering or interning during a semester or over the summer can help fill in that gap in the college curriculum.

9) Have adventures: You're never too old, or too cool, to watch all eight Harry Potter movies in a weekend. Or build a pillow fort in your dorm room. Or arrange a campus-wide game of hide and seek. Or rent a karaoke machine. You only have this much free time once in your life -- use it to do the weird things you would do if you thought every one else would join in.

10) Don't check out early: College is an expensive, once in a lifetime chance to expand your base of knowledge. Don't stop just because it's senior spring.