A little secret about me, I secretly love school. Everything about it. Lectures. Supplies. Tests. Even the homework. I love it. If I could make a living being a full-time student, I would. There’s something about the halls of a university. Perhaps I’m a bit of a romantic, but it’s an opportunity that should never ever be wasted.

My experience at university was what one would consider, “non-traditional”. I returned to school at age 24 with two young children under the age of five in tow. For me to be in class took a fair amount of juggling. Often times, I would show up for class, with a small child in tow—simply because I didn’t have another option. I think the thing that was the most real was how much I wanted to be there. I looked at school as a gateway to a different kind of life for me, for my kids, for my future. And when I graduated, my girls were there—front and center cheering me on. They had a front-row seat to the struggle, they grew up in the halls of the university, and they knew this was a thing we did. My experience in college was less of the parties and more of a reckoning with who I was as a young woman, a mother, and a professional.

When I talk to women today about college, the one thing I want them to understand is that this is an opportunity, so don’t waste it. Shape it, show up, and demand from the experience every single thing you need from it to get you to the next place in your life. Sure, take the experiences, push the boundaries, find yourself—but in the meantime, keep your head on straight, take on each class as a challenge and bring your best to table. It is a valuable start moving forward.

  1. Sit on the Front Row. And for heaven’s sake, wear real clothes. Not PJ’s. I know it sounds simple, but where you sit in class is correlated to how successful you are. I have no real science to back it up, but putting yourself in the front row forces you to pay attention and take notes. There’s zero goofing around when you’re at the front. It communicates to the professor a commitment and seriousness that is valuable. So snag a seat in the front.
  1. Talk to your Professor. They want you to do well. Really, they do. They often have 1,000’s of students and might be a little hard to talk to, but use their office hours. Ask questions. Look for opportunities. Email them. Do not sit around and wait for them to come to you — it won’t happen. The reason you want to seek out your professor is not only for support understanding their class materials, but they can provide wisdom on areas of growth within the university system AND they can make strong connections. These people are your sources of referrals as you begin to step out in the real world. Get to know them.
  1. Find Research Labs & Internships. I lived in the lab. I sought out internships like they were candy. And when they weren’t offered readily I emailed the company asked for one. Be bold about your extracurriculars they can turn into full-time roles or even land you in a job in higher-level position than what you would have landed without it. And once you get your lab position or internship role: DO NOT TAKE IT LIGHTLY. Show up on time. Hustle. Ask questions. Do the extra work. I’ve fired volunteers before, simply because they didn’t come ready to do the work. Don’t be that person.
  1. Book the 8am Class. Again, I’m sure I sound like a mom here, but, seriously. That 8am class is golden. It helps you manage your schedule the night before (you have to get to bed early) and helps you balance your day (you’re done before noon). The 8am class is my favorite.
  1. Try Out the Real World. Accept those opportunities to step out of the college setting and go try on a real job. Use your status as a college student to connect with local businesses to learn, intern, shadow, or work part-time. Try your hand at the things you think you want to do. That’s the single fastest way for you to find out what you should be focusing on. It’s also how I learned that medical school was not a fit for me.

There’s so much of college that is trial-and-error. You’re busy learning who you are in a new phase of your life. You’re busy challenging yourself in so many ways. Balance is key, making wise choices with your time is important. I wish you the best of luck in your college adventures, try new things, talk to new people who think differently than you, and challenge yourself to grow.