Column | College advice from a graduated senior


Lisa Chasanov

Altgeld Hall, a University building that is known for its distinct architectural style.

By Matt Troher, Staff Writer

Some notes at the time that I’m writing this: I handed in my last exam yesterday. I finished my last research paper two days ago. Graduation is three days away. I shudder a bit as I count on my fingers the days from today until graduation. I am done with college — all that’s left is to walk across the stage. 

I’ve been tasked with giving college advice to incoming students: to impart some words of wisdom to the next generation of Illini. To you, incoming students reading this edition who may — or may not — be eagerly waiting to set foot in this academic outpost of central Illinois, here are some tips.

By the time you’re reading this, I’ll be really, truly done. I’ll be moved out and the college apartment where I held my birthday party and cooked poorly constructed dinners on a worn-out stove will be packed away in little cardboard boxes. I’ll be what they consider a “real adult.” Champaign-Urbana will be in the past. 

But it won’t, really.

For any graduate, if they use their time at the University correctly, the place where they spent their collegiate years becomes a part of them. What they did and learned here should be important to them — Champaign-Urbana is not some sort of springboard to get to a point where they can eventually do the stuff that matters. I hesitate to get sentimental, but the same idea applies to the personal connections made while here, even if those connections don’t last all the way to graduation.

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    I think there’s a distinctly American conception of college as a buffer period between youth and fully fledged adulthood. In that buffer period, nothing seems to be really real. It’s not real because you did it for an assignment, or it’s not real because you’re only living there for a limited, graduation-bound period of time. However, while this certainly is a transition period and you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously, what you do here has all the significance that you ascribe to it, so why not treat it with importance?

    I was tempted to turn this piece into a rabid defense of the liberal arts model of college, loudly proclaiming education for education’s sake, but even in its most vocational iterations, college is not just a four-year job training program. You’re not sequestered from the outside world or stuck in some sort of semi-adult purgatory waiting to be deemed worthy of the privilege of being a full realized, real person — although it may feel like it. You’re in it, the part of the world around you. The things you do in college will matter: to the other people at this school, to the world around you and, most importantly, to yourself.

    Not to write the cliché “you-can-do-anything” type of advice column that’s all too popular for this kind of edition, but you kind of can do anything here. Resources are plentiful. Think of what you want to do, and odds are, you can do it. 

    Think of the person you want to be by the time you’re out of here and spend your days acting as that kind of person. No one else is going to give you permission to do what you want to do, so bestow it upon yourself.

    This sounds like the most obvious advice ever, but I can assure you that once you’re in school, there will come a time that the days start to pile up on top of each other and just getting through the day becomes your main task. On those days, it will take a concerted amount of effort to act as the person you want to be, to not just do the work you have to do, but to do the work you want to do. This can take whatever form you want it to —whether that’s conducting your own independent research project, putting together your own website, starting a YouTube channel or getting involved with local politics.

    I’m nearing the end of my editor-allotted space, so I feel like I owe you some practical advice after all this rambling. Quickly, here’s some rapid-fire pragmatic advice about college and college life here at the University:

    Do not take 20 credit hours in a semester. I speak from experience.

    The ARC and CRCE are free. No one cares if you don’t know exactly how to use the weights. This will be the last time in your life you have a free gym, so you should use it.

    Joe’s Brewery is underrated. They have the best outdoor seating and it’s never crowded because everyone thinks they’re too good for it. Fishbowl Friday is undefeated.

    Learn how to use the bus. 

    Google Calendar is a lifesaver.

    If you’re still using Snapchat as your primary mode of communication, why? Grow up. 

    You can get an insanely cheap cup of coffee in the Illini Union snack shop. Go in the Main Quad side doors on the left and the shop is right there. It’s not good, but it’s cheap. 

    Invest in a good set of Tupperware. 

    Greek life is fun, but it’s not for everybody. If that’s your thing, great. If not, don’t sweat it. 

    Illini Pantry has the best customer service. 

    If you’re going to get in a fight with your roommate, be prepared to spend a lot of money on eating out. 

    The University’s Center for Advanced Study has a recurring “Food for Thought” series where scholars give presentations on their research and attendees get free food. The food is way better than you’d expect, and you get to hear about the cool things professors are working on.

    That person you met at KAMS is not your soulmate, but it could be fun to figure out exactly why they aren’t.

    Veoride bikes are actually one of the best ways to get around campus. 

    They say you can’t take food from the dining halls, but no one will check your backpack. 

    Keep an eye out for live music on and around campus. I saw the best show of my life at the Channing Murray Foundation, a beautiful old Unitarian church just about The Red Herring in Urbana, just because I saw a poster.

    Venture off campus. There are plenty of great restaurants and bars in downtown Champaign and Urbana. If you don’t have a car, there are bus routes with great frequency that take you to each downtown.

    Finally, how you spend your days is how you spend your life. The same is true for college, so spend it deliberately.


    [email protected]