Be prepared to be wrong

By Ben Lash

To any students in their second year of college or beyond, or any alum that could be reading this article right now, I want you to think back to freshman year. Or, rather, the very beginning of freshman year and the couple of weeks leading up to the first days of classes.

Maybe you had done some work over the summer preparing for classes coming up. Maybe you had already met up with other students during summer activities. Or maybe besides applications, orientation and registration, you’d have little to no encounters with the University or University life.

So the question I’m curious about is this: what were you expecting?

Seriously. It’s likely that many students enrolled today at the University had plenty of exposure to things like BuzzFeed articles and other goofy things on social media that were telling you “that special thing” or the “secrets” to really hitting the ground running for your freshman year.

These get updated every year with a new secret or new life hacks, which, let’s be honest, no student or human being should reference too heavily for student life or life in general.

But all of those could be superficial. What were you really thinking about? What were you obsessing about? What were you excited for, or terrified about? To you, what did you think the “college experience” really was about?

Now, to the freshmen, I don’t have a question — I instead have advice. Advice that is of course based very much on my own personal experience in college, which I’m sure is as unique as everyone else’s.

And that advice is: be prepared to be wrong.

No, I’m not trying to sound intimidating to anyone, though I might be stating it a bit too dramatically. The gist of it is that you should be ready to be surprised about anything, maybe even everything.

Here you are, entering a university, which is well-known around the entire world for the achievements of students and alumni in dozens of different academic disciplines. And on the other hand, in case you haven’t heard already, the University of Illinois has recently been ranked at the top of the Princeton Review’s list of party schools in the nation.

Seriously. Think of another school you’ve heard stories of. We beat them this year. Let that sink in.

So what are you expecting? What are you preparing yourself for? Are you preparing yourself to focus heavily on your studies, while socializing and friends will be secondary and on the side? Or perhaps the Princeton Review’s recent ranking thrills you, and you’re already making plans in that regard?

Regardless, the other bit of advice I have for you is to not worry. There will be things in college that you will have to balance, and you might not be able to set that balance the way that you would always prefer.

But just as college is not made for students to party 24 hours a day and maybe get to have time to study, it’s also not made for students to study 24 hours a day and maybe get to have time to socialize and enjoy the campus.

This University is known for both its student life and culture alongside its academic standing for a reason. No matter what, you will have some choice in wherever the balance rests in your college experience.

But whatever your plans are, whatever you’re expecting, whatever you’re worried about and whatever you’re sure about, I feel that it’s important to be told “don’t be so sure.” Probably the simpler and less dramatic way of saying this is be open, and be ready to be surprised about anything and everything.

The college experience is quite likely to be something you wouldn’t expect, yet it’s just as likely to be all the more amazing and memorable for that. 

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