Advice in a letter to my college self

letter college selfAmanda,

This is it. You’re officially an adult now. I know, it was sudden. And it won’t be easy at first. But, you’ll be just fine. In fact, you’ll be better than fine. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about.

Since I’m so wise, I want to offer you a little advice here. I know you won’t believe some of what I have to say. And that’s okay. I don’t expect you to, but just hear me out. Here is what I’d like you to know…

To my college self

You have choices. Nothing in life is black and white. When you don’t know what to do, don’t assume you have to take the same course everyone else does. And you don’t have to take the path that everyone tells you that you “should” take.

Sometimes taking a different route in life is uncomfortable. But, you know what? That’s when you should really pay attention. Sometimes doing those things that are uncomfortable is exactly what you need to learn and grow.

Don’t be closed off to new relationships. I know you are serious about getting your degree and maintaining a high GPA. But, knowing you, you won’t let the grades suffer, no matter what.

You are going into college adamant not to let anything interfere with all of this. In fact, you’ve went so far as to make a pact with yourself not to get distracted by anything, including relationships.

Don’t let that mindset dictate your path. You will meet so many great people and it’s okay to let them into your life. Yes, some will disappoint you, but many of them will be there for you through thick and thin.

One of them, in particular, will stick with you for life. Even though you didn’t go into college with any intention of having a relationship, it’s going to happen. Don’t let your fear stop you from following your heart. Trust me when I say, he’s the real thing and you will never regret it.

Continue working. Sometimes that work-study job is thankless. It’s hard to get up at 7 am and go to work after a late night. It’s tough to never even lay eyes on a paycheck you earned.

But you will thank yourself later for continuing to work throughout college. Yes, all of the money you earn goes directly to your tuition, but that will allow you to graduate with much less debt. Even though it doesn’t seem like much now, it all adds up to thousands saved.

Don’t be afraid to take risks. As much as you may deny it, you are very conservative with the risks you are willing to take. But, here’s the thing…life is full of risks. And most things you consider risky aren’t really that risky at all.

When something makes you uncomfortable and you are willing to go to extremes to avoid it, stop for a moment. Try this: Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” And, no, death isn’t likely. Be realistic. I can almost guarantee you, most of the time you’ll be super happy you took those risks. Doing those uncomfortable things will change your life in ways you never knew possible.

Think long and hard before attending grad school. Don’t be afraid of adulting. College can become this protective barrier between you and the real world. I understand you love to learn and your earning potential may be higher with a grad degree. But you can’t be a career student, even if you’d like to.

Maybe you could try working for a year to see what you really want to do. Take your time. One or two years out of college to work may be just the thing to help you make this decision. At that point, if you do decide to go back to grad school, you will be better able to handle the financial impacts. You will have earned income and more time to look for scholarships to lower or refinance student loan debt. Heck, you could even work and go to college part-time to hedge the costs. Remember, you have choices.

Don’t let important relationships be forgotten. You’ll make some really great friends. Don’t let them just slip into your past. Keep in touch, even after life has changed.

Your mentor will become an important part of your life. He’ll become a friend, a father figure, and a trusted confidant that always has your best interests at heart. You will come to rely on him and you will miss him dearly when you grow apart. And this is okay. In fact, it’s normal. But he touched your life in an indescribable way – the best way to thank him is to say “hello” now and then.

Continue to live like a student, even when you have a steady income. It will be really weird to receive a paycheck on a regular basis. It’s tempting to take that new freedom and enjoy it to the max. Be careful. This will get you into debt and that debt can affect your future freedom.

Keep lifestyle inflation in check. If you have to drive an older, used car, that’s okay. A new car doesn’t mean you’ve “made it”, it simply means you have to work longer and harder to make the payment.

There is no reason to buy a house right away. A house is not a good investment at this point in your life. Continue to rent until you know where you want to live and can actually afford a down payment.

I know you won’t follow all of my advice. And I know you’ll make mistakes. And that’s okay. No regrets. Mistakes are the best teachers. Your mistakes will help you learn and grow in wonderful ways. Trust me when I tell you your life is going to be amazing!

What’s the best piece of advice you would give your college self?

This post was inspired by Kalie’s post over on Pretend to Be Poor

47 thoughts on “Advice in a letter to my college self

  1. This is good advice Amanda. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we could all go back and deliver these letters to our younger selves? We’d all be wiser and probably a little wealthier too.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Jon! The letter really made me think. Hopefully I would have listened to at least some of the advice. I’d definitely be wiser and wealthier if I knew then what I know now!

  2. I’d love to give my younger self some advice….to try some different things (accounting classes, following car maintenance schedules, more career planning beyond just going to grad school), to trying to get a job at the library, to just maintaining relationships better. Oh, and managing credit cards better, too.

    I just hope that when it’s my turn to offer advice to my own kid, I can see as clearly what to tell her as I see what I’d love to tell younger me.

    1. My kids are 14 and 16 – I share my advice all the time (they would say too much). It seems like they aren’t really listening at the time, but I do think some of it gets through! At times, I’ve heard them repeat it back to me in their own words (so I know they hear me!). I try to tell them stories about lessons I’ve learned in life whenever I can – and hope they learn from them.

  3. Great list and great advice! Don’t be in a rush is my favorite reminder and most needed to this day. It’s really easy to wish your life away by focusing on what you “should” be doing. And your point about continuing to live like a student is important in so many ways. Young adults have great resiliency and tenacity, I feel, and I think that’s something to continue to foster throughout life.

    1. Thanks, Penny! I still have to remind myself to slow it down. I’ve gotten better with the “shoulds” as I’ve gotten older, but they still creep in. On living like a student – back then I didn’t think twice about saying, “I’m broke – I can’t ____(go out, buy those shoes, buy a car, etc.)”.

  4. I remember always wishing for some kind of guarantee. I thought that I could make it through anything if I knew that eventually everything would turn out okay, that I’d have a happy family and be financially secure.
    Of course there are no guarantees (though I could write that letter now with a happy ending), but I wonder what the harm would have been in believing in one. I would have still worked hard to do what needed to be done, but hopefully with a little more peace.

    1. This! I think that’s what I was looking for -a guarantee that everything would be fine. I was so conservative and afraid of making the “wrong” choices. If I only knew then what I know now…

  5. I really like the advice about building relationships/networking. It certainly a lot easy to do it today (social media) than when I was in college, but believe its a great opportunity for graduates to build a great professional network. To help and leverage as they all go out into the world.

    I wish I would have done a better job at that, and living below my means one I began making a f/t salary.

    1. Social media does make it much easier to network and make connections, which is invaluable for students and graduates. Personally, I still prefer meeting people IRL, as it gives the interactions more context (though in this day and age, it’s not always realistic to do so).

      1. I agree, they should take the real life connections they make in college and as the move back home or go off to jobs keep in touch and leverage those relationships. That could be very valuable over the years.

  6. This is such good advice! Even though I am generally happy with where I am now, I definitely wish that I could go back and do some things differently in college. I wish I had pursued a more challenging major–something in engineering. I had the ability, but was intimidated by the competitive nature of the department.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Eva! I think we probably all have something we would change. I know I do. But, then I have to wonder how that would change my life today – I’m grateful for the life I have. That said, if I had known these things, life may have been easier back then.

  7. I’m wary of wanting to change anything about my past self – I like where I am right now, and you know what they say about the flap of a butterfly’s wing. I do (weirdly perhaps) have conversations with my future self, especially when life is tough. I know that most things pass with time, and I use conversations with my future self who is well past my current crisis to be oddly comforting. The good news is that I am aware that these are imaginary conversations, so don’t be calling around for men in white coats just yet.

    1. Completely agree. I love my life today. And, knowing some of these things may have made life easier back then – but I guess that’s how we learn and grow. I LOVE the idea of talking your future self through tough times. Though I don’t really call them conversations (you know, to prevent someone calling in the men in white coats), I do the same. It helps to remind myself of 10,000 joys, 10,000 sorrows when life throws curve balls.

  8. So much good advice here. If I were to write a similar letter it could very well be titled: Ty, Listen to Mom and Dad. 😉

    For me, the most impactful piece of advice here is “Continue to live like a student, even when you have a steady income.” Lifestyle inflation is killer and it keeps sooooo many of us chained to that paycheck.

    1. Thanks, Ty! Yes, listen to mom and dad. I’d like to give this to my kids and have them actually read it. I haven’t tried that yet, but it’s worth a shot.

      Lifestyle inflation put us years behind where we could have been. But at least we learned the lessons sooner, rather than later!

  9. I would double down on “Continue to live like a student, even when you have a steady income.” Eventually I caught on, but a bit of lifestyle inflation early in my career was costly. Luckily you can always turn things around, but the earlier you start saving, the easier it is 🙂

    1. Agreed! I don’t think it’s never too late to turn things around, but it’s so much easier when you start earlier.

  10. Stop buying beer with student loan money……….

    I would tell myself that a high paying job doesn’t land in your lap after graduation like I was conditioned to think

    1. Great advice, AE! You need a side hustle to pay for that beer.

      I knew I would never make a ton of money in my field of study, but thought it would be much better than it was after grad school. I think many grads learn this lesson the hard way.

  11. Hi Amanda,

    Great piece and great advice. Not just to your younger self, but for younger people in general.

    A piece of advice that I would give my younger self is to be more diligent and dig deeper to investigate different career opportunities. Be more out going and network more.

    1. Thanks, Leo! “Be more out going and network more” is great advice! I was more introverted in college than I am now and wish I would have stepped out of my comfort zone more than I did.

  12. i will definitely be stressing to my kids to continue to live like a college student. For myself it would be to be willing to take more risks. I’m by my nature fairly risk adverse, but I missed some off ramps in the past due to conservative decisions. I’m more accepting of risk these days, I wish I’d been more accepting earlier. I.e. Take a year off, move for a job, etc.

    1. Yes, I plan to stress the importance of living like a student too. In fact, I’ve been talking about this quite a bit to my 16 year old son. Hopefully he is listening! 🙂 I’m with you on the risks – I’m getting better, but still pretty conservative.

  13. If I could go back I would tell myself to invest a LOT more time, energy, and effort towards building a website and audience. I would give myself a few tips of what could be in store for me if I really focused on this for the four years I’m in school – potentially skipping corporate altogether and selling products/services full-time!

    1. That’s really a fascinating piece of advice, DC! And, I admit, I am curious what tips you would give yourself!? Thanks for the comment!

  14. Inspiring letter, Amanda! I also went to college with no intention of getting into a serious relationship, but I met my husband the second day of school! You just never know what life will throw at you. And it sounds like for us, relationships might be more challenging than coursework.

    1. Thanks, Kalie! Same situation with my husband and I – we met before classes even started. I’m grateful he was patient with me!

      “And it sounds like for us, relationships might be more challenging than coursework.” This is so true! 🙂

  15. This was a really fun article to read. It really got me thinking and I think for myself I would have said “Go on a semester abroad.” I didn’t find out how much I enjoy traveling and seeing different cultures until my early 30s. By then I had a small pang of regret that I hadn’t tried to see the world while I was still young and care free.

    1. Thanks, MSM! I don’t think I would have even considered a semester abroad at that point – great advice. I took a few trips (in the US) during college, but wish I would have done more camping/backpacking.

  16. Great post! I would have a lot of advice for myself as well. I think I would tell myself to develop better relationships with professors. Most of mine were great people, but I only kept in touch with 2 (maybe 3) of them post graduation and even then it’s probably an email or two a year.

    The other thing I’d tell myself is just try to have fun more. All of the fears you have in college are typically overblown. Don’t sweat it too much.

    1. It’s great to keep in touch with professors. I still occasionally talk to my mentor, 18 years after graduation. Yes, I’m that old. 🙂

      Fun is important! I wish I would have done more traveling – tent camping across the US is something I would have loved.

  17. … What’s the worst that could happen?” And, no, death isn’t likely. Be realistic. …

    I like that part! I sometimes wish I could back and tell myself the same thing. More often than not, when I put myself out there to take a chance and do something differently, usually I’m pleasantly surprised by the results.

    1. Thanks, DJ! I can’t think of a time I’ve regretted taking chances. Sure, I’ve made mistakes sometimes, but those mistakes have actually helped me, so it’s never a loss.

  18. This is a fantastic letter. 🙂 Oh boy, would that I could go back and give myself advice. I’ve only been out of school for three years, so granted, I have a lot of life to live before I can get a good handle on some advice.

    But I would definitely tell my past self to have more fun. I shut myself up in my dorm room studying and working and I missed out on so much. College really was a last hurrah before going into the adult world, and I do regret being too serious about it all. On the other hand, I’d encourage myself to graduate even faster. I graduated a semester early, but in hindsight I could have graduated a year early. That would have diminished my hefty student loans and gotten me into the workforce more quickly.

    1. Thanks, Mrs. Picky Pincher! I spent a ton of time studying too. Particularly in grad school. I spent the first two years of marriage studying…

      Graduating early is great, especially if it will save you a ton of money! But, hindsight is always better, right!? At least you are working on those loans now. I didn’t even attempt to start paying more than the minimum for several years after graduation.

  19. Great advice! I wish I knew back then what I do now. It’s definitely important to continue to live like a college student. I know many people who go on a spending spree because they probably earn more than they did when they were a student and they also assume being “adult” means buying stuff like a car/house, clothes, new phone, etc, etc. Fortunately, I didn’t go too crazy after college but I do wish that I was more willing to take risks. I was young and didn’t have a family to support…that was the best time to take risks career wise and/or to start my own side hustle/business. I had a lot more free time and failure wouldn’t be a big deal.

    1. Thanks for sharing what you wish you had done, Andrew! While I didn’t go too crazy after college either, we did buy/finance two different cars while I was in grad school and bought a house as soon as I graduated. Nothing fancy or outlandish, but it was still debt besides the student loans.

  20. Love this Amanda! I have let some great college relationships go and I really regret that. Those were four of the most amazing years of my life. We didn’t have texting and Facebook – and keeping those relationships required a lot more work. But I should have put the work in.

    1. Thanks, Vicki! You’re right – no texting, no Facebook meant it took more time to make and keep those connections. Though I occasionally still keep up with a few relationships, most of them I have lost – I wish I would have spent more time trying to maintain them too.

  21. Oh man, I was so wrong about about a lot of thing’s I thought in college. You’re so right that mistakes are our best teachers, because the only reason I am right about a lot of things in life now is because I failed so many times during and after my college years. College should be approached as a time for testing your limits. Not striving for perfection. You can only start striving for perection, once you have failed enough and started learned from mistakes anyway. Learning from mistakes and failure, I think, is the secret valley where true wealth is hidden. Thanks Amanda.

    1. “Learning from mistakes and failure, I think, is the secret valley where true wealth is hidden.” Love this statement! Well said, Bill. 🙂 I was afraid to make more mistakes than I did. No more! I make them more than ever now. The key is not to dwell on them, but take that lesson and keep moving forward with the new knowledge.

  22. Don’t you wish we really could go back and give ourselves this advice! Though I try not to overthink all the things I probably should have done differently. My education was so incredibly expensive and I did not make use of it. I went into an easy, unsatisfying and not particularly lucrative career because I worked in PR as an intern all throughout college. The transition from student to professional happened almost without my notice. But I met my husband, the love of my life in college, which altered the course of my life. I am the proud owner of a quite useless English degree. But looking back, that was really what I enjoyed. If I could go back to college for fun, those are still the classes I would want to take! And yet what does this have to do with my ultimate career. Which really leads me to think there may be some fundamental issues with how we approach college. Between the cost, the ROI (for many people, though not all), and the idea of college as the ultimate means to an end, I think we may not be doing it right

    1. This! I can relate everything above, Linda! Obviously, I wasn’t in the workforce too long, plus the grad degree didn’t change anything related to my career (it did add about $18,000 to the debt, though). That said, I wouldn’t ever take it back. I learned so much and meeting Alan was the best thing that ever happened to me. Agreed – I do think we need to approach college differently. The standard operating procedure doesn’t work for many.

  23. Great advice, Amanda. I like the “what’s the worst that can happen” approach to risk. It’s good to learn early in life that if the bottom falls out, you don’t have very far to drop.

    1. Thanks, Mrs. Groovy! I use “What’s the worst that can happen?” now, but I wish I would have learned to use it earlier in life. It really helps put things in perspective.

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