Of all stages in life, the college years arguably demand the greatest number of important decisions.
Through a child’s first 18 years, life is more or less dictated by parents and the federal government’s educational requirements. Then, after a student graduates and moves into the workforce, consistent routines begin to develop, more structure is created and long-term decisions become less frequent.
In college, on the other hand, students have to make decisions about majors, class schedules, extracurriculars and summer plans. And, of course, choosing what happens after graduation.
This year, I am a senior and I plan on graduating with a bachelor’s degree in May. I have had to make a lot of decisions regarding semester schedules and extracurriculars, but I’ve still yet to decide the looming “after graduation” question.
That’s okay though, at least for now. I have good reason to know that I won’t end up regretting my decision, so long as I follow the decision-making principle I’ve developed for determining how to spend my time throughout college.
When deciding how to spend your time, I suggest you ask yourself the question, “What opportunities do I have now that I will no longer have in the future?”
Certain internships and work opportunities will remain after graduation, but longer commitments — particularly those outside of Nebraska — will be far easier to manage before a full-time job and other familial responsibilities come into play.
I am usually prone to regrets, but thanks to this line of reasoning, I have none about my rather unconventional ways of spending my college summers or my extracurricular schedule that often causes people to question if I am doing too much.
The summer after my freshman year, I visited all 87 Runza locations in the Midwest. I spent summer 2021 in Neligh, Nebraska working in a county without a stoplight or a single person I knew within a hundred miles. This past summer, I spent seven weeks in East Africa and then took a series of domestic road trips.
Each of these experiences was based on the principle that I would have a much harder time taking these opportunities later on in life.
The Runza experience was especially tailored to 2020, a time when my initial summer internship was canceled, long-distance travel was restricted and working as a frontline employee was too risky for my family. Instead of focusing on the opportunities that weren’t there, I found a unique way of seeing the Midwest that would make no sense at any other time in my life. The opportunity cost was the lowest it would ever be and the gas prices were even lower.
My decision to work for Antelope County News Neligh was partly a way of helping me gain experience working for a quality weekly newspaper, but perhaps more importantly, I was able to experience a different culture within the state of Nebraska without having to leave behind any responsibilities in Lincoln.
There is also no way I would be able to request seven weeks off as an entry-level employee to travel to East Africa, let alone abandon a family or kids for such a span of time. In other words, these opportunities only make sense within a college summer context, and even though I could have been going after an internship to get me one step closer to landing my first full-time job, I would recommend the opportunity to go abroad instead nearly every time.
This same principle also applies to the way I select what extracurricular activities to do, and it’s the primary reason why I ended up at Nebraska in the first place.
In deciding between Northwestern University and Nebraska, I knew that Northwestern was the better option on paper. However, at Nebraska I would have the opportunity to run track and cross country, while Northwestern does not have a men's team in those sports.
I still have the opportunity to go to a prestigious graduate school if I want — though I’m not sure that’s the leading post-grad plan at the moment — but I can guarantee that I won’t have another chance to participate in college athletics later in life.
Of course, there are limits to this logic, and two primary obstacles keep me from promoting the idea of following your heart’s desires at any cost.
Burnout is real, and by never learning to say no it will be nearly impossible to enjoy the activities you are a part of. Having a busy schedule is not draining, provided that each activity is actually enjoyable. Joining the engineering club because “it’s not something I can do once I graduate” is a horrible idea if you don’t actually enjoy engineering or if joining the club will result in more stress than enjoyment.
Finances can also be a limitation, especially given the skyrocketing cost of college. Traveling abroad may not always be a viable option, but I know of people who have spent the summer in a random city working an unskilled job as a way to get to see a different part of the country. It may be unorthodox, but a summer painting houses in El Paso or flipping burgers in Syracuse — both among the 100 cheapest cities for renters — could make for a memorable experience.
I know I will likely never spend a summer visiting more than seven dozen fast food restaurants or spending seven weeks abroad again, but that’s okay because I know that I’ve made the most of my time.
I can’t promise this principle works for everyone, but I know that by doing what I can’t do again, I have been able to maximize my memories and minimize my regrets.
In these formative years, there’s not much more I could ask for.
Brian Beach is a senior journalism major. Reach him at email@example.com