Whew! The first thirteen years of formal education are officially over. Proud parents and their giddy graduates mark the end of this phase with excitement and bittersweet loss.

Independence is inevitable and desirable, but as actor Dustin Hoffman once said in an interview, “Who likes to look at empty bedrooms in their house?” Ride the emotional wave gracefully; the future is full of exciting possibilities.

For graduates, this is the time to try new things, meet new people and take a few detours along the way. While taking risks is sometimes scary, learning from mistakes can often lead to new experiences, knowledge and creativity. Giving back to the community to make a difference can be rewarding. When making new friends, remember to carve out time for existing relationships.

College bound students should embrace and make the most of the college experience. Going to college is a privilege, considering that only 7% of the world’s population has a college degree, according to a 2010 Harvard University and ADB study.

When I contacted Syracuse University admissions officer Jonathan Hoster and asked him what advice he might have, he said: “There’s so much to explore and so many opportunities to have…be yourself and get involved in campus life during the first semester. Join a club or two, volunteer for the homecoming committee and go out of your way to meet the people in your residence hall.”

“Visit your professors during their office hours so you can get to know them, and they can get to know you. Attend a career fair (yes, as a freshman) and join your college’s LinkedIn group to start connecting with students, faculty and alumni near and far.”
When it comes to choosing majors, indecision and uncertainty are normal. Fully explore your options. Recognize that choosing a major earlier helps students focus and finish within four years. Take advantage of your college’s career center.

Elspeth Rossetti, director of Santa Clara University’s career services, offers freshmen the following advice: “Your career center can help you make an informed choice of a major to find the right fit and to align it with your values, skills and interests, as well as passions, rather than making a random selection from a list or from the well-intentioned suggestions of friends and family.”

Broaden your horizons by taking by taking advantage of your international opportunities. Marjorie Smith, associate dean at the University of Denver, points out that “our world is increasingly interconnected, whether it’s through social media, movies, music, business or politics. In college, take the opportunity to be friends with students from other countries.”

She continued, “Do it. Embrace it. Introduce them to your favorite activities, restaurants and music, and then learn about theirs. Remember, they are also probably living away from, home for the first time, too, but their adjustment is even harder than yours. You might not be the only one who is feeling homesick. Make an effort to say hello to a new international student.”

Study-abroad programs give students the opportunity to experience different cultures and help prepare them for the global economy. If this is important to you, speak to your advisor about study-abroad options so you can plan accordingly.

You have worked hard to get into college. Exciting experiences and new opportunities await you. Push yourself and them push yourself some more. Your journey is just beginning.