Since way back, maybe even since before you started high school, you’ve been hearing the question:

“Where do you want to go to college?”

The inquiry came from all corners. Parents, teachers. Friends. US News & World Report. Some people may have just been curious. Others might have acted like it was a choice that would (cue ominous drumbeat) determine…your…future.

Googling the phrase “how to pick the right college?” yields 313 million results. (Go ahead, try it!) Now try the words “what do I do when I get to college?” 90% fewer hits! Sort of weird, right? 

In all those times of wondering where you’d go to college, did you forget to consider what you’d do when you got there?

We’re here to help. At Catharsis, we’ve got a few college experiences under our belt. And since we talk to college students all over the country every day, those memories are never too far from our minds. We’ve assembled a little guide for How to Do College Right. Because now that you’re here, the journey’s not over. It’s actually just starting! (This is a good thing.)

Your Alma Mater Doesn’t Define You. Let’s start with trying to adopt a productive mentality when you roll out of your back-breaking twin bed each morning. For better or worse, where you are right now will NOT define you for your entire adult life. Got in to the school of your dreams? Fantastic, but I hope you still plan on hitting the books, because five years after you graduate, it won’t come up in conversation anymore. Stuck at your safety school or a place you never saw yourself attending? That’s OK — this is a step on a longer journey, and it’s awfully hard to hold back a person with ambition and smarts. Do some universities open more doors than others? Yeah, probably. But I graduated 10 years ago, and I don’t remember the last time it mattered where I went to school.

Be Present. That doesn’t just mean go to class. Although mostly, yeah — go to class. But really…just be present wherever you are. You know that person at a party who’s always checking their phone to see if something cooler is happening somewhere else? Don’t be that person. If you are, you cheat yourself out of a really unique experience. If you’re in class: be in class. If you’re at a party: be at that party. If you’re studying: study. If you need a break: enjoy and take that break. Just really focus on being wherever you are. You’ll enjoy it a lot more than if you’re waiting for the next party to start.

Explore. Don’t settle in. Discover new things. New ways of people. New things you like. New things you don’t like. Build a habit. Do something different. Talk to the kind of person you’ve never talked to before. Stay up later than normal. Wake up earlier than normal. Take one class you are totally convinced you’ll hate. Invent a new way of being. And if you don’t like it, junk it. Don’t go to the bar everyone goes to all the time. Look under a mossy rock and find a cool experience. The world is a giant sea and you are Magellan. It’s not like this forever. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Use Your Voice. If you don’t like something, say something. Universities, in general, are some of the most dissent-friendly places in the country. You may feel like you’re bucking a trend, or stepping on toes, or pissing people off – but you know what? You’re in college. Practice using your voice. If you don’t like how someone’s treating someone else at a party, say something. If your administration isn’t handling a situation appropriately, speak up. You won’t be expelled for disagreeing. Stretch those vocal chords and try to make positive change.

Be An Ally. You may be hoping the years of cliques, status and social pressures are over. (Sad trumpet sound). The good news is, its easier to push back against all that yucky stuff now that high school is over. It’s easier to find the girl who is an outcast and see if she wants to hang out. It’s easier to stay up all night talking to the guy who’s going through a traumatic experience and help him through it. The most rewarding feeling you’ll have in college is pushing yourself outside the limits of your own experience and trying to help someone. That, and tailgating. But, mostly, being an ally when someone needs you.

Relax. Breathe. It’ll be OK. It’s a step, not the whole race. Work hard, but cut yourself a break. Explore, but give yourself time to recharge. You don’t have to do everything, be everything, learn everything. You just have to be yourself.

Readers, what are your tips on how to do college right? Leave ‘em in the comments.

The opinions expressed in this article represent those of the author, and not necessarily Catharsis Productions. Our blog may occasionally host content that does not directly reflect the sentiments of the company because the dialogue it generates may have value to our readers.

Brian Golden

Brian Golden is a freelance playwright and essayist living in Chicago. His work can be viewed at www.briankgolden.com.