Don't let your plans get in the way of life

Elementary school was fun. You took naps and had show and tell. Middle school was awkward, seeing everyone in braces and going through puberty. High school was an experiment, allowing you to test the waters without letting you get in over your head.

College? I'll let you decide that one for yourself.

As a rising junior (geez, has it really been that long?) at the University of Georgia, I have had my share of successes and failures in college.

Looking back on these first two years at UGA, here are my philosophies on how to make college the memorable four years that it is meant to be.

My first piece of advice? Find the free money.

Yeah, I know your parents and teachers have been pounding this into your head, and for good reason. College is expensive, but there is plenty of money out there if you know where to find it. Scholarships will take the huge financial load off your parents' backs, and I promise they will be eternally grateful.

Once you have all that free money, your first priority in college should be your classes. That's why you're there, right? But let's get serious. College is so much more than higher education. Lasting relationships and cherished memories will be the most important things you take away from these four years, not the degree. This is why my mantra has constantly been to work hard, play harder.

Make sure you make time for friends, old and new. We have so many ways of communicating these days, there is no excuse for losing touch with anyone.

Don't hesitate to make that drive to see your friends at other schools or invite them to stay with you. You won't regret it.

Once in a while, put down the books and just have fun. College can be stressful, but when you look back, what do you think you'll remember? That one pop quiz you blew, or the awesome night you had when you weren't studying? Some of the best times I've had in college have been spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment adventures that I'll never forget.

How can you fit those kinds of adventures into your busy collegiate schedule? Don't procrastinate. It just won't pay off. Do your work on time. And finally, try to go with the flow.

When I got to college, I had my life planned out. I wanted to major in film studies, move to Nashville to direct country music videos and marry a gorgeous country music star. While Nashville and the gorgeous country music star are still in my plans, I'm studying public relations now. Honestly, I didn't even know what "public relations" was before I came to UGA, but I love it.

That just goes to show how much college can (and will) change you and your aspirations. So let it. Your dream career could be something you've never even heard of.

If something interests you, check it out. Read up on the classes your school offers and take the ones that really sound interesting. Don't limit yourself and keep an open mind. Undergraduate course requirements allow for experimentation.

I am not an expert on making the most of your college experience. All I know is what I would have done differently in the beginning and how I plan to make the most of my last two years.

So congratulations, graduates. As one of my quirky high school teachers used to say before every test, "Good luck, Godspeed, and may the Force be with you."

Rachel Atcheson is a public relations major at the University of Georgia and a 2006 Parkview High School graduate.