October second. It looms. It’s hanging there like an unwanted relative staying at your house too long, reminding you why you don’t live with them in the first place. It’s that annoying dog that won’t stop barking and saying, “Look! I’m here! Look! Look!” And unfortunately, it’s your pleasant neighborhood reminder that no matter how long you try to avoid making your summer end, it inevitably does. All of your overpriced books will be here soon enough, and with them a whole new courseload to memorize in just 10 weeks. In spite of all this, the start of yet another school year brings along its own set of pleasantries and opportunities to immerse yourself in and take advantage of.
It’s enough to make some students think their life is spiralling out of control. First off, realize that you are in pretty much total control of your destiny. You are at a research university with opportunities aplenty to make strides in your chosen major or interest. Go talk to almost any professor, even if you just happen to have a passing interest in a subject, just to test the waters. This isn’t high school — professors aren’t the towering authoritarian figures you may make them out to be. In fact, most of them are happy to talk to you in class or during office hours. The professors are here to research and teach, and for most, talking about their favorite subject could even get them talking for hours. You could strike up an unexpected friendship. And of course, building friendship and camaraderie with a professor is also very useful when applying to grad schools and you’re in need of a letter of recommendation.
But however interesting and enlightening the academic stuff is, we know you want to hear about the fun stuff too. How about this: Along with that total freedom being put toward academics, you can gain new experiences and meet new people by exploring all of the different social opportunities at UCR and in the surrounding community.
If you’re new to the school — and honestly, even if you’re not — try out any and every club you can go to. You don’t have to join every single one (that would be statistically impossible), but attend meetings, talk to members and try one out until you find the one that sticks. Not only will you find a community that accepts you and that you feel a part of and share interests with, but you will have received a glimpse into the many other UCR communities along the way. And you can hone a skill or talent along the way, whether it’s acting, playing chess, fencing or even organizing a protest.
For off-campus alternatives, of course, there’s plenty to do downtown. Places like the Blood Orange Info Shop present another option for an alternative community that you can dive into and feel a part of. There’s also Back to the Grind, a great spot not only for studying, but for open mic nights every Tuesday. Sporadic shows by local bands also provide a great way to see up and coming music in the area. Molinos, the Coffee Bean and the other coffee shops and small restaurants are great places to meet up with others and get to know your newfound friends a little better.
Part of the point of saying all this is this: Most of us now are legal (or at least soon-to-be legal) adults, and this is your time to find out who you are, and what you really want. As cliche as it may sometimes sound, you can’t replace experience. Whether it’s pulling an all-nighter before a final or losing or gaining friendships, or any one of a plethora of other things, you won’t understand it till you’ve done it. You won’t know all the feelings and trials and tribulations that come with something unless you experience all the highs and lows that come with it.
And why not now? If not now, when? In a couple of years, when you’re settled into a job, and can’t take a risk? Or when you have other responsibilities you have to take care of? Obviously, you have some responsibilities now — your education being at the forefront of those, and many of us have some sort of job — but now is the time where you can take the most risks and try new things for the heck of it without as many repercussions. There are some nights where we all like to sit in and binge-watch Netflix, but one of these next nights, instead of “accidentally” ignoring that text or message from a friend to go do some kind of adventure, just go do it. Don’t think too hard about, just go and have some fun and make memories.
College can often be portrayed as, and even seen as, an over-romanticized thing of freedom and joyous experiences by movies and TV shows. And while some of this over-idealization is indeed just that, many people look back at college fondly for a reason. It’s a place where they found their own identity, and tested the waters to see how it worked. So push all your boundaries in all directions — academically, socially and whatever else you can think of. Life obviously isn’t over after college. In fact, it’s really just the beginning. But this is a great way to get a head start. You’ve got four years (or less), so time to get started. And there’s no better time than the present.