Five Pathways

kōhai (後輩) - Japanese word for protégé or junior
senpai (先輩) - Japanese word for mentor or senior

Dear kohais from high school,

As the temperature starts dropping and the day seems to get shorter, we are well into fall, and soon it will be the winter holidays. I hope you have been enjoying the first month of your post-secondary education. I was in your shoes exactly a year ago and I can assure you that the time will defy all laws of Physics and pass quicker as you advance further into your college career. I am confident that all of you have started a fantastic 4 year journey and have been exploring (or already found) your own niche. As your fellow senpai, please allow me to share a few words of encouragement and humble advice, which hopefully you will find helpful.

Freedom is given to you in college to an extensive degree. There is no curfew for your dorms, you may skip lectures, you may eat whatever you want, you may spend your day wherever you want. It all sounds like a dream - the life you pondered during high school, but college may not be as idealistic as you think. At first, I was not sure how to divide my time in the most efficient manner. I stayed up all night for no reason and got no work done on Saturdays. Time management is the key to survival and success. Before anything, eat well, sleep enough, and make true friends. As you nail down these basic necessities of life, try to also understand what you really love by talking to many people, taking interesting classes, and joining clubs. There is no deadline for when you have to be certain about your true interests, but just remember that by sophomore year, students have formed social groups that are likely to last until graduation. Finding that circle should be one of your top priorities this year. Make sure to enjoy this process.

There is also a need to frankly discuss the dark dimension of college. For high schoolers, the word “college” seems to convey the idea of this idealistic learning environment where you build your entire schedule, study wherever you want, and eventually find a career in your most passionate field of study that require skills gathered during the 4 years. Be aware that by the beginning of sophomore year, this idealism may start turning into slight pessimism. My institution, just like many other institutions, has five main pathways that probably 95% of students are on: pre-law, pre-health, engineering, business/finance, and technology. Even though there are countless other pathways you may take, the university has too many students to consider each student’s case and guide them towards the pathway that fits the student. Some of you may experience solitude and uncertainty, and almost all of you will reach the conclusion that post-college options are more limited than expected. Nevertheless, read your gut feelings. Know what your true callings are. More than 50% of adults have work that is completely unrelated to their undergraduate degree which means 10 required classes for your major will not change your life. Do not tailor yourself to one of the five main paths, simply because they seem to be the only options. At least for your first two years in college, pick classes based on your interests and the professor teaching them, rather than for difficulty. Search for how you are able to apply the skills you have learned in the classes in real life. Even if the application does not take place at a law school, medical school, business school, or engineering or technology firm, allow yourself to take a deep breath and follow your passion. Keeping an idealistic mindset and staying happy and finding unique success in life are not mutually exclusive. Remember that you are free to define happiness.

On the other hand, for some of you, this limit may serve you well. Having realistic, seemingly fewer options can help set practical goals in short-term as well as in long-term. In case you feel that you need to learn more to decide your exact path, there is always the option of studying and researching your field of interest in further depth in graduate school. Yes, college will not be as romantic as you may expect in the sense that “everyone is doing their own unique thing.” Many of you will be taking the exact same classes and trying to work for the same companies. If you feel passionate about something else, as mentioned above, you also have all the right to not consider the main paths. Keep your mindset positive enough to enjoy each semester and always be open to new ideas from different people.

I wish I could provide more specific pro-tips for each of your respective schools. Regardless of your institution and grades, be happy with yourself and have self-esteem, which is first and foremost the most important factor living alone in a challenging environment. Your peers will try to present themselves as elegantly as possible and perhaps even want others to have a more impressive image of themselves than their true self. Do not lose your self-confidence. Do not let others make you feel down. You are placed into your school because you are capable. Be true to yourself and all will be fine.

Best of luck and miss you all.