During the spring semester of my sophomore year at Georgetown University, when the cherry blossoms were blooming in Washington D.C. and students were ditching the library for the front lawn, I was so nervous about choosing my major that I kept putting off the decision – even though the deadline was just over the horizon. I, like many students, found the decision nerve-wracking because I didn’t want to pick the “wrong” major. What if it took me until my senior year to realize that I wasn’t interested in my coursework – that my true passion lay elsewhere? What if the major I chose didn’t open doors for me in the future?
No matter how many lists I made of pro’s and con’s, I couldn’t arrive at a decision. It was only when I struck up a conversation with a senior who’d majored in the same field that I was leaning towards that I began to feel like I was actually grounding my thinking in practical and personal considerations, rather than chasing nebulous ideas. Here are five key reasons why you should befriend an older student to help mentor you through your college career:
1. Speak Up and Reach Out. It is important that you to talk about the decisions they’ve made in college. I don’t mean just asking someone in passing which professors to avoid, or which professors give easy A’s. I mean regularly getting coffee with an older student whom you respect – whether that person is your RA, or a member of a club you’ve joined, or even a TA in one of your classes – and asking them about the finer points of their college experience. Of course, you’ll be surrounded by many intelligent and helpful adults while in college, including your professors and your dean, and you should make every effort to speak with them about your decisions. At the same time, speaking with older students has one major advantage that speaking with university officials and professors doesn’t: the older students were recently in your shoes.
2. Get the Inside Scoop. When you speak to a junior or senior at your university, you’re speaking to someone who faced nearly the same decisions you’re now facing. So this older student will be able to give you extremely relevant and descriptive anecdotes and advice. For example, even after I had decided on a major in International Relations, I was unsure about what languages I should study while in college. I was torn between continuing to perfect my Spanish, which I’d been learning since high school, or beginning a new language. I remained undecided until I spoke with a senior who’d studied abroad in Brazil; her advice was to learn Portuguese, because the language was similar to Spanish, but would still present a new challenge for me. Also, she told me, the Portuguese classes at Georgetown were excellent, so my time would be well spent.
3. Build a Diverse Network. It still amazes me to this day that if I had never asked that senior for advice, the idea of learning Portuguese as a third language may never have even occurred to me. This is the second reason I recommend speaking with the older students about their college experience. While you are part of a college community, you have the opportunity to meet so many different people, perhaps more so than many other times in your life. Be sure to take full advantage of this situation by considering the experiences of the diverse people around you, because in doing so, you’ll encounter ideas you may never have come to on your own.
4. Make Lasting Connections. Once you begin seeking advice from older students, you’ll find that you have more questions than even you could have predicted. Which makes a lot of sense! In college, you’ll have to make decisions about landing internships, choosing clubs and extracurriculars, and networking, to name just a few. One of the wonderful things about being a part of a college community is that you can ask all of those questions; as I discovered, older students are more than happy to give advice. In fact, older students whom I reached out to helped me prepare for job interviews, find affordable housing after college, and are still my friends today. Sometimes, you can learn more from your fellow students than you can from your textbooks.
By Rita Pearson