It has been my observation that most undergraduate programs are similar. The engineering path at Texahoma State is very much like the one at Michissippi Tech. Most schools seem to follow this pattern, but for a few differences. The foremost, in my mind, is the culture of the school. For instance, my institution was rated the second unhappiest college by the Princeton Review. In these situations, it is easy to point fingers at unfair grades, tricky classes, or the gender ratio, but I learned that I am ultimately responsible for my own happiness. With this in mind, I have gathered a small compilation of ways to avoid unhappiness at college. Quite a bit of it is common sense, though it is the kind that slips from your mind when you need it the most. Given the chance, I would have sat myself down before my first year of school and delivered this advice in a kind, fatherly fashion. Unfortunately, I am not my own father and hindsight is clearer than foresight.
Get out of your room.
- Campus Organizations
Your campus has more organizations than it knows what to do with. You've been mobbed on many occasions by representatives from the sailing club or the IEEE, while the walls of campus buildings are papered with fliers and advertisements for organization events. Contrary to these troubling signs, most campus organizations are not evil. Chances are, if a hobby or obsession strikes your fancy, your campus has an organization for it (or at least mildly related to it).
If you are still stumped, seek out a list of organizations from your institution or talk to others who share your interests. Schools have a variety of organizations for every inclination including politics, outdoor recreation, game-playing, campus government, religion (or lack thereof), operating systems, religion, professional organizations, film and media, religion, service organizations, religion and religion.
Do not be afraid to try out a few different organizations for ones you like. Most are fairly informal and congenial groups. Often, organizations are free (outside of tuition costs) or cost a small sum each term. Informality usually extends to fee collection too, so you should be able to attend meetings several times before making a commitment.
- Off-campus Organizations
Off-campus organizations exist in the nether realm of the Real World and have the added benefit of an indigenous population and the ability to operate unhindered by campus politics. This is your chance to congregate with a variety of people outside the age range and social atmosphere of university. You may also meet professionals or those who are very talented at what they do.
- The Arts
Most schools have full scale music departments and programs. Sometimes schools with a more technological orientation will lump their music or art programs with other, more technical, departments (e.g. architecture). Your school might even have a marching band, jazz band, or symphony. If you love playing traditional instruments, look into these groups. Be aware, though, that they might involve a considerable time investment which includes numerous practices and performances.
Most campuses have a campus rag or literary magazines which are constantly looking for students to write, photograph, edit, maintain, or just read. These periodicals provide great opportunities to meet notable people or discover gems among amateur literature.
Since college campuses seem to be fertile ground for the creation of bands, you may be able to find congregations of the spikey-haired musically inclined or just people who like listening. Universities and university towns are also good places for popular (or just plain underground) music to stop by, so keep an eye out for concerts or festivals. Check out local venues and find people that share your music tastes. Sample new music, even if you think you might not like it. Try your dorm; you might be surprised.
Along with music venues, your locale likely contains some fine history and arts museums as well as a local theater. Try new things and do not necessarily avoid the unpopular ones. A word of advice: see your campus theatre group perform at least once.
Universities are ever the home of numerous intramural and club sport teams. Remember that there exists varsity sports for the talented, while intramurals are safe for those of us with lesser skill. Club teams, on the other hand, are somewhere in between, offering a more rigorous and competitive environment. Popular intramural and club sports include baseball, flag football, ultimate frisbee, soccer, and basketball.
Sometimes you just need to get away from the responsibilities and madness
of school. For wasting time beneficially, you can find parks, cafes, clubs or bars in most places, especially in college towns.
Think about your future.
- Course of Study
The declaration of your major is not a commitment which you must carve into stone. Your path through higher education is a personal choice. Do not limit yourself with decisions that make you unhappy. Changes of major are common, much more common than you may think. Serious consideration is never wasted on your future in school and in the job market. Keep in mind that money does not necessarily equal happiness and industry booms will end (the bursting of the technology bubble, for instance). Be aware that some majors have many different branches of study. Computer science, to take one example, includes not just programming, but also cognitive science, artificial intelligence, human-computer interfaces and theory. It is easy to discount a major without first exploring all it has to offer.
- Your Department
You will be living with your department for a matter of years. It pays to understand its culture and people. Get to know others in your major, especially those in cohorts ahead of you. These people are great sources of information about classes, professors, and departmental policies. Also, get to know some people in lower cohorts, because they may still be there when you get closer to graduation. Professors and others who work in your department will come in handy for references and will also have information about other oppurtunities. Most professors are happy to find students enthusiastic about the same things they are.
One day you will have to leave the warm ponds of undergraduate education. When that times comes, you will not want to venture out unprepared. Luckily, there are a few ways to get ready. Many schools offer a co-op program or are willing to help set you up with an internship position in your field. Along with the experience and resume fodder garnered by such a posting, you will be able to sample some of what your education will get you in later life. If you plan to go to graduate school, then perhaps you should look into becoming an undergraduate research assistant. The benefits here are twofold. First, you will get some idea of how academic-type research works and secondly, you will get to know professors and graduate students.
Even steadfast loners will have to meet people in college. I once joked that I faced more introductions in the first few weeks of school than I had in my entire life. I'm still not entirely sure this is untrue. Many of the points above involve meeting people and for good reason. New and interesting people are treasures troves of information, experiences, and emotional comfort. Seek out others who share your interests and people that you find intriguing. Learn to relax in the presence of strangers through practice. Do not be discouraged by loneliness or cruelty. The tribulations of socialization will be repayed many times over.
A Few Parting Thoughts...
This is advice that I would find useful, so it comes with no garauntees of applicability. I do not recommend trying it all at once, because succeeding in college involves using time wisely. I am not an expert, but I've gone astray enough to know some common pitfalls. If you feel unhappy, depressed, lonely, or like The Man is just keeping you down, you can do something about it.