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Hindsight

If I had known what I was doing, I could have graduated college in three years, and looking back on my time here, that’s an unnerving thought. It’s not that I want to spend any less time at school than I need to; I love it here. But it’s insane to see the disparity between different paths in life that presents itself at just the slightest variation in information.

I definitely should have met with my advisor more often. I groan saying this, because there were many meetings I had that were unhelpful and, even if they had all been enlightening, I probably still wouldn’t have wanted to go because I was very nervous and shy as a freshman (and a junior and a senior).

But I would have gotten so much more useful information if I had gone to see her, or even gone to see my advising dean more often to discuss the options for my path toward graduation. An advisor, whether it’s your official advisor or simply a faculty member you trust, can be an extremely valuable resource.

For example, I probably would have figured out sooner, if I’d met more often with my advisor to discuss my personal goals, that I did not want to be a psychology major. I would have nipped my disillusionment in the bud and spent more time focusing on the area I was actually passionate about.

I also could have used meetings with my advisor as a great networking opportunity. At the very least, contact with my advisor – whose department was the Performing and Media Arts department I would eventually call my academic home – would have provided a good networking opportunity with other faculty in the field.

But it also would have given me practice asking for help—asking the tough or difficult-to-articulate questions like how I can translate my college curriculum into a life’s purpose—and establishing mentor-mentee relationships, which are how you get ahead in many industries, film being no exception.

I also could have taken this lesson back in time with me to high school: ask for help whenever you need it; don’t just assume that you’ll stumble upon your purpose sometime in the future.

Life as you think you know it

I knew almost right from the start—maybe after my first semester when I saw how many credits I had left—that I wanted to graduate early. I figured that I could graduate a semester early because I’d transferred some AP credits and taken more than the average number of credits my first semester.

But I didn’t know that I’d taken more than the average; I didn’t really know what the average was. It’s not that I needed to compare myself to others, but if I’d done the math I’d have known that if I took about that many credits every semester, I could have been out in three years.

By no means is graduating in three years a necessary goal, for me or for anyone else, but it’s just shocking to me how little I thought to research or plan my college track, even starting from high school—I just took AP classes in high school to boost my GPA, without thinking particularly hard about how I could apply them for credit later on.

Another thing that I didn’t really think about was fulfilling the breadth and distribution courses that my college, like many other colleges, required. There were many classes I would later take for my major and minor that would also fulfill those requirements, but I didn’t think that far ahead.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and that’s even truer if you’re a poor planner like me. I like to fly by the seat of my pants and see what happens next in each moment just as it arises. But this might be too cavalier an approach to designing a college curriculum.

Looking back now, I can count at least six courses—that’s roughly 20 credits—that I literally did not need to take. They might have counted as a “historical breadth” or “cultural analysis” requirement, but I later took classes for my major that would have also fulfilled those requirements.

Twenty credits is more than an average semester’s worth of classes. Even as it stands, I only have half a semester’s worth of classes to complete in my final semester in college. I could have graduated in three years easily if I’d known that was something I wanted to do, or if I’d known it was possible and how to do it.

So the most important thing I learned, looking back—and this is going to sound cliché—is that you should go through college (and high school, and maybe life) assuming anything is possible. Because if you assume it’s possible, you don’t have to wait around to learn that it’s possible, and you can start right into learning how it’s possible.

Possibilities

If you assume anything is possible you search for the possible everywhere instead of waiting for it to come to you. I came upon the possibility of graduating early by accident, when I was reviewing how far I’d gotten in the completion of my requirements.

What if I had come up with the idea on my own and one out and looked for the information? That’s what I mean about assuming anything is possible. You assume you can do it, and the automatic first step is figuring out how.

Otherwise, you don’t know what’s possible, and you’re taken a full step backward to the step of being shown what’s possible, then taking what’s now step two and figuring out how. Waiting for opportunities to come to you wastes precious time you may not have.

But college, fortunately, gives you plenty of time in comparison to other areas of your life. I had the time to make plenty of mistakes and perform plenty of redundancies and still get out ahead of schedule. That’s when I realized just how much I’d packed into my college experience.

Time stops for those four years (or three, or five), even though it seems like it’s flying by faster than ever. When you look back on the experience you’ll learn that you experienced probably a decade’s worth of lessons and laughs in less than half the time.

Some of the memories are bittersweet; I remember meaning to go to a Science Fiction Writer’s Club meeting every week for two whole semesters, and eventually I stopped pretending I was ever going to go. There are a lot of almost-stories like that.

Then there are the clubs I joined in which I came so far but only realize it when I stop and think about it. I remember rushing my national honor fraternity as a nervous freshman in the spring semester, and somehow I’m on the EBoard now. I hardly remember what happened in between.

I regretted not joining band my freshman year more than I’d regretted almost anything in my life thus far (cushy life, huh?), but I got the chance to join as a sophomore and it was the best decision I ever made. It showed me that there is a group of people or a passion or a pursuit out there waiting for everyone, and it is never too late to get involved in it.

I thought this—that it’s never too late—when an older gentleman who worked as a dishwasher at the dining hall with me joined my computer science class. I said, “It’s never too late,” to second-semester juniors who were rushing my fraternity and worried they didn’t have enough time.

Whether you graduate in three years, four years, five years, or any amount of time at all, this will be true. It’s never too late. You can always finagle your way in or out of any sticky situation if you’re honest with yourself about what you want.

But just because it’s never too late doesn’t mean you should delay. If you’re in high school, don’t hesitate to put yourself out there, both to rack up a resume for potential colleges and to illuminate for yourself what does and doesn’t make your heart beat.

Lessons learned

More than anything, the college experience is malleable. It is not one-size-fits-all, and you shouldn’t have to feel like it is. Go to college for what you want. Spend your time there the way you want to, and spend however many semesters you need there.

College is great practice for cultivating a life and lifestyle that excites you and continues to make you more of who you are every day. Whatever that involves, move unapologetically toward it and you will be happy, however long it takes you to get there.

Sarah Chandler

Sarah Chandler is a junior at Cornell University studying Performing and Media Arts and Psychology.As much as she loves writing for CollegeVine, she'd rather be astral projecting or watching The Office. She has too much fun writing bios like these for her own good.