jacobNEWAs my brother settled in for his first year at Santa Clara a few weeks ago, I got a text from my dad: “If you could tell your first-year college self six things, what would they be?”

My mind immediately went to friendships. Talk to all of the guys on your floor, not just your roommates, I thought. Get to know the upperclassmen early on, because they’ll be gone before you know it. Sleep is important, but the nights you stay up late talking to people are the ones you’ll remember most fondly.

It took a conscious effort to think of some study habits and lifestyle tips to add that didn’t involve building relationships with people. And thinking back to freshman year of high school, my thoughts are similar. It’s the friendships I formed there that are more meaningful than anything else now.

If I could give that younger version of myself advice, I’d say to form friendships earlier and work to make the good ones stronger. In part, that’s where my mind goes because I had a countless number of people telling me practical, goal-oriented advice from when I was very young all the way through college.

I was taught to get work done on time, to avoid spending too much time with technology, to participate in extracurricular activities. It all became nearly second nature, thanks to the clear trail created by teachers and parents.

This kind of focus makes sense. It pushes kids toward college, a career and an economically secure life – some of the primary objectives of the educational system.

In many ways, the social aspect of education gets overlooked. Students not only learn how to do long division or create an electric circuit in class; they also discover how to interact with peers. They learn empathy and conversation, how to comfort someone, how to disagree. And they form bonds and memories with each other they could have for decades – long after they forget trigonometry.

Perhaps my advice to myself to strengthen friendships wouldn’t work very well. I don’t know if 14-year-old me would change his life after being told to “cherish your time with friends” or “put yourself out there a little more for the people around you.” But I do look back with gratefulness on all the times my parents urged me to participate in some kind of social event. Every bit helps.

People ask me about my major, my classes and my career plans. As important as those things are, the widespread obsession with the next step in the academic process can overshadow the other pieces of a student’s life.

“Which of your friends do you want in your life in five years?” is as difficult a question as “What job do you want to have in five years?” but it’s just as important and useful to think about. And just as I can rattle off the five classes I’m taking this semester, I should be able to tell someone five people that I had important conversations with during the week.

So, advice to a high school freshman, college freshman or any student from someone far from being an expert: keep friends high on your priority list.

Follow the other advice. Be responsible. Take care of yourself. But maintain a constant search to find those people you really connect with and pursue them, because it’s the memories you make with them that you’ll hold onto most tightly.

(Jacob, a senior at the University of Notre Dame, is the eldest of the four Scobey-Polacheck children.)