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.

    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.

    • Experience
    • 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.

    Meet people.

    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.