Words by Matthew Romano
Illustration by Katie Herchenroeder
The day was September 19, 2016. I was sitting on the radiators outside of the student cafeteria packed like a sold-out MSG concert or the 4 train at 161st on Opening Day thinking about the things I had learned in my first 3 weeks of college at CCNY. But it was not anything about what I had learned in classer; rather, it was everything I had learned outside of classes. I took to Facebook to record what I had learned, headlining it “Things I wish someone had told me before I started College.” I will start by sharing just a few of the funnier ones that I had posted below.
- Lunch is eaten on radiators outside of the packed student lunchroom
- There is a certain beauty, but also a madness, in long breaks between classes
- You will have to physically “RUN” to class: across streets, up and down escalators and stairs, and down long confusing hallways around floods of people.
I had intended to do a series of installments on this very topic but, as I came to learn happens often, responsibilities soon took dominion over my mind and schedule and I ended up with only 3 posts. Now, writing for The Campus has given my fellow colleagues and I an outlet to voice things we learned the hard way through our college careers. What follows are a list of 5 things that myself and some other CCNY students say we wish we were told before entering this spectacularly insane 4+ year whirlwind that we call ‘college.’
Nicole Budzinski is currently a junior here at City College, having started in 2016, and is majoring in biology on the Pre-Med track. When asked for one thing that she wishes someone had told her before she entered college, she replied with the self-described ‘basic’ answer of “How to read a textbook.” If you have ever been assigned one of those 1,000 page and what feels like 1,000 lb. textbooks, then you know exactly what she means by this. If you have had the good fortune of never doing so, she explains, “How to actually not read the entire thing and how to highlight and outline it well because in High School, you don’t learn that stuff.”
As a person who is studying to become a High School English teacher, I thought, “Wow, that’s so true.” In High School, there is certainly an emphasis on reading, but not so much smart and active reading; however, in college, there is this pervading sense that, more than anything else, the notes you have will either make or break you. As Nicole puts it, “you need to know what you don’t need to know” and those who have taken a final just to find it littered with all the things that weren’t in your notes, you know all too well what she means. For most college freshmen, there is that moment where you start to realize that the habits that got you through the toughest AP’s in High School won’t work in your introductory college courses.
It was this moment that Nicole knew the straight facts she spit in our interview, facts that could have come in handy if someone had told her before August came around 3 years ago. Now a junior, successfully moving through upper level bio classes, Nicole serves as that voice for those who are facing or will face these situations. She tells, “I suggest talking to people you know in the class about what they are studying.”
The next person to weigh in on the titular question of this article was Eric Bilach, a junior studying English and literature. In our interview, Eric shared that there were so many ways he could go with this question, ultimately deciding on one lesson he learned and wished he had been told – one that many college students hear, but with an important and lesser recognized caveat.
In his words, “When they tell you that ‘in college no one’s going to hold your hand,’ it’s true, but I think there’s a difference between getting your hand held and getting proper guidance in spots where you just shouldn’t know certain things because you’re just 17-18 years old.” He went on to list some of the administrative and financial matters that college students find themselves, often unexpectedly, having to deal with in college. He gets it right when he says that students should not be expected to have all these answers. Many students’ first-semester fears and future college woes have to do with financial matters, whether it is the money they spend on books, tuition reimbursements, or financial aid and scholarship matters that they are left to navigate alone. Freshmen should not have to bear the brunt these ailments. His advice for students that may be dealing with the financial politics of college is contrary to people who “drive the idea that college is really hard” and the mindset of many that “it’s evil, it’s really difficult and that you’re going to be stressed out all the time.” He urges people to take not only the bad, but the good that comes with knowing, “In college, you are working for yourself really.”
Britanya Hall is a sophomore double majoring in economics and childhood education. Britanya, in words blunter than how I am going to describe it, expressed her frustration with advising meetings she’s had where she felt unsupported or misled. In support of her strong stance, she cites this instance: “I took a class I didn’t need, Spanish class, because I didn’t know that doing more than 2 years of a language [in High School], I wouldn’t need one.” It is important to note that Britanya came to City College after spending her whole life and high school career in Jamaica and the advising that she got in City College during her freshman year was even more vital than other’s as she didn’t have the privileged knowledge of the college system, rules, policies, etc. that many of us enjoy and take for granted.
She, led completely by what advisors told her, ended up being ushered in the wrong direction. She says that although she felt “dropped somewhere” during her first semester, “Honestly, college was easier than I expected,” in comparison to the loads of work and responsibilities she experienced in High School. The advice Britanya provides for students facing similar situations, especially those who came in feeling similarly lost, is “Find someone who can help, like a club. I feel like the Teachers of Tomorrow club helped me.” As Vice President of the Teachers of Tomorrow, I was glad to hear that the advice we give to students is valued and has been, at least in small part, instrumental to someone’s success. As an interviewer, I was struck the commonality between the advice she and Nicole shared, to seek help through other students who can end up being your biggest support systems.
Finally, Antara Chowdhury, a student majoring in childhood education, shared some of her insights in contradiction to what many High School students are told. She holds that you can figure out your interests or what you want to do as you go through college.
Antara, who went on to share her experience being a straight A student of immigrant parents who did not “made a plan for herself,” as she suggests for others. Antara entered as a Pre-Med student at NYU and learned, a little too late for comfort, that she did not enjoy what she was doing. Her advice on the subject? “You have to find a balance of what do you have passion for and also what kind of path you can be on to explore that passion while making a living.” I then shared with her that although I was lucky enough to discover and stick with what I had a passion for, teaching English, during my first year, I know so many others like her that had to switch trajectories completely – sometimes realizing even that it was too late to do so without compromising the timeline and goals they had set for themselves.
All in all, it can be seen through the testimonies of these students that not everything you’re told about college is true and there are bound to be some things you wish you were told. If you thought to yourself, “Damn, that hits home,” consider taking some of the advice to heart. I’ll end on this note: If you have your own examples and stories and want to give them a voice, I encourage you to be that voice as there are bound to be people around you that will appreciate, whether now or later, being told these things beforehand and how to deal with them.