4 Ways I Wish I’d Done College Differently

I loved college. I went to two big schools — Michigan State University and University of Florida — and living on a large campus after growing up in a small town felt a bit like being able to fully breathe for the first time. I treated it as an opportunity to find myself — really discover what was left when I stripped away all the things that everyone who’d known me since elementary school took as indisputable fact. I had a more warped and goofy sense of humor than I’d realized, for example, and I strongly preferred small groups to big, loud parties.

Now, there were a few things I’d always known to be true. I liked words — books, writing, language — and I did not gravitate toward math or science. I was great at learning theories and overall concepts — I struggled to memorize dates and numbers. And so, I focused my studies on things I wanted to pursue — namely writing and literature. Worked out pretty well, right? After all, I do write for a living. And my real job, as an online business owner/influencer/blogger, didn’t actually exist when I was in school, so it’s not like I could’ve really planned for it.

So, I went to college. Loved it. Took classes I enjoyed. And now, I’m in a career I adore and, I’d go so far as to say that I’m reasonably successful at it.

But if I were to go to college all over again, I’d change a few things — and not just the “should’ve taken advantage of more programs and travel abroad, etc.” that I think everyone would change. Nope, I have a few things I would’ve done differently that I think would be good for other creative types to keep in mind as they select their courses.

4 Tips From a Creative-Type on How to Make the Most of College

Think about how you’ll actually make money (at least a little). I am not saying that you should only take classes to get ahead in a highly lucrative industry. I sure didn’t. But, I was hyperfocused on taking writing, language and lit courses, without ever really thinking about the logistics of the work I was hoping to do. As a freelance writer or novelist, I would need to learn to manage finances — and you know where you can learn a lot about that? COLLEGE. And — this will go for all the other tips, too — taking these classes in college, while you’re still in college, is way more accessible than trying to fit it all in outside of your day job as an adult. Trust me on this.

Consider what might complement your chosen field. I didn’t think I was terribly artsy, so I took no artsy courses — not even graphic design. I was never going to make a career as a graphic designer, but when you’re working in the creative realm, filling in the blanks around your exact concentration is never gonna hurt. Those other classes might also be creative, or they might not, but make sure you’re looking at the bigger picture.

Envision where your career might take you. Is it possible that you’ll be responsible for promoting your own work? Might you own a business? (Never say never — I’m the proof that you really might not know what your dream will entail when you’re 20 years old.) If so, dipping your toe into some marketing or business courses might be a super smart move. Accounting, economics (because hi, investing is a thing you’ll need to do and understand) — it might sound hella scary and/or boring, but as I said above, now is a great time to take advantage of the opportunity to learn about it.

Look at the industry in general and consider other gigs. I know relatively little about coding (and what I know has been largely self-taught, on the job, in a trial-by-fire type of situation, which I don’t recommend) — but I am certain that learning how to code 15 or 20 years ago could’ve given me a really helpful skill set as an adult. If I’d been more open to what making a living as a writer was beginning to look like at that time, maybe I would’ve seen how important this kind of skill would be. Just be open minded. You honestly might be surprised at how much you enjoy something you assumed you’d loathe. (Once again, I am proof.)

Does that mean I think you should bail on the liberal arts electives you’re all fired up to take? Hell no. One of the most eye-opening classes I took was in my junior or senior year. It was an English lit class that, on the surface, had very little description, but it met a need in my schedule. I showed up on Day 1 and learned it was a Latino literature course — which was not a specific area I was necessarily looking to study. I wasn’t the only one who was surprised on that first day, but boy, did we have some deep discussions that went far beyond literature and into culture identity, racism and more. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.

But as a creative, it can be a little hard to remain grounded — especially so when The Man might be telling you how important it is that you do something real and solid with your education. There are a lot of ways to be real and solid, for the record, and there are also a lot of ways to use your creativity. Be sure to look around and see if there are ways to make the most of your time in school. Some of those technical classes might just allow you to live the creative life you know you’ll love.

Got questions? Disagree with my advice? Wanna share your own experience? Lay it on me. —Kristen

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