College. Think about that word and what that means to you. The odds are, everyone has a different image of what college is or what the typical college experience may be. Images of long study nights, dorm or frat parties, new friends, classes, club activities, etc. are probably some of those in mind. However, there are valuable lessons we learn in college or as recent graduates that aren’t always tangible things or memories.
College is most certainly a time for learning and cementing who we are as people. This is my list of 10 lessons I learned from college life.
1. You don’t know everything
Okay, to be fair, you probably already knew this, or just really didn’t give it too much thought. The next thing you know, you’re walking into your first college classroom and realizing you know no one, you know nothing about what you want to do for the rest of your life, how to navigate the campus, or even what major you want, and those are just the beginning of your thoughts. This is likely the first time most of us learn about debt and financial responsibility, mostly paying the price the hard way.
2. Learning is forever
Being forced to go to school can be really frustrating and can lead to rebellion and angst during growing pain periods where we all want nothing more than to hang out with our friends, play or write music, or do other things we consider fun. We finish high school thinking it is all over, but it is really the beginning. Sure, we will all go to college. Eventually, that, too will end, but we will never stop learning about relationships, each other, and we regularly rediscover ourselves. We start realizing that in college through our group work, the awkwardness that is trying to make new friends, and learning how to move on.
3. Worrying about what people think about you is a waste of time
You could be the best person in the world, and someone still won’t like you and will find plenty to criticize. Sometimes, someone will just find looking at you annoying. Yes, there are people out there who will simply look at you, think “I don’t like that person”, and from that point on, you’ll be on their bad side. The fact of the matter is, are those people really trying to impress or waste your time over? Do you really want to worry over people who are devoted to misunderstanding and undervaluing you? If someone doesn’t have an honest critique of you or is talking about you to everyone else except you, don’t worry about it. What they do says more about you than it does about them. You start realizing these things in college, as going gives you exposure to all kinds of people you perhaps wouldn’t normally meet or associate with. College is a definitely a time where you learn to develop a thicker skin.
4. You can’t have everything
And that’s okay. You don’t need everything. Living in a dorm or at home with Mom and Dad while pursuing your education is evidence of that. Long study nights on the laptop you still use from 2008 and endless ramen noodle cups will likely become a staple in your dorm, if you aren’t living at home. If you are living home, expect no rules to change on the account you’re slightly older and in college. This is an important lesson, though, because life is all about making choices and priorities. You will learn about what is important to you and your values based on the choices that you make.
5. Relationships can be complicated
Entering college can sometimes mean losing all of your former friends from high school, etc. Earning new friends can be difficult, and romantic relationships are no different. Dating is complex. Sometimes you’ll know you’re dating someone, but you won’t talk about it. You won’t use the title of boyfriend or girlfriend. There may not be many conversations about the relationship. Don’t expect your college relationships to make much sense or be concrete. Everyone is trying to figure themselves out, and that involves learning how to communicate, express desire, and figure out what and who they exactly want for the future. I don’t encourage anyone in college to take dating seriously, but although we leave college, relationships never end up less complicated. They may become simpler, better defined, less insecure, but will take work and dedication.
6. College is a big bubble
You’ll learn a lot in college, but it isn’t exactly the real world. Unless you’re a working student while going to school, something I recommend every student becomes and does, you’re going to live in a big, college bubble. If you have loans, you won’t have to worry about them, until you graduate. Much like how you had to exert yourself to make new friends in college, you’ll have to learn how to live without many of those friends upon graduation. The cycle starts all over again, and before you know it, you’ll have a 9 to 5 every day. You may get married and have a family, or go travel the world. I, for instance, teach English in South Korea now, and it is amazing! I am slowly learning a new language, new customs, how to live on my own and support myself, etc. Sometimes I stumble and fall, and other times, I surprise even myself with the resolve I see myself have sometimes. There is a whole world outside of college. Explore it.
7. Things don’t always work out the way we hope for them to
We could all always use just a little bit more money, a little bit more time, or a little bit more of something else. We’ll make plans that will fall through, we’ll change majors 3 or 4 times, we’ll learn to live without that person we thought we could never live without. It happens that on occasion things seem to not go our way, but that feeling isn’t permanent. There is always something else to discover and to strive for.
8. People change and so will you
Your dress style, who your attracted to, your values, and what ideas you support and activities you deem important will change in your new environment. This is where you start becoming and realizing who you are. You have to sculpt that person, and that begins in college. No one is there to hold your hand and walk you through doing your essay. No one is there reminding you to check your daily agenda for anything you may have missed.
9. Trying to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life isn’t so simple
My honest opinion is choosing one path in life for a permanent career is extremely limiting and dangerous to the human mind and spirit. We need to be stimulated, creative, excited, and always dreaming, so don’t limit yourself. Yes, trying to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life isn’t so simple, and maybe it’s something you shouldn’t be doing. Like I said before, desires change and people change, they grow and they evolve. Limiting yourself in terms of friendships, relationships, and career paths doesn’t benefit you. In college, there will be a lot of pressure to pick that one major and do something in that field. I say study what you like, and use all the tools you learned to promote yourself the way you want to in the industry you want to. You can have a chemical engineering degree and be a brilliant writer. You can have an English degree, and be an incredible inventor.
10. Always have a back-up plan
College is not for everyone, despite the push for everyone to go to college. Some students go in and excel, others have a hard time affording it or aren’t having their unique gifts catered to. Other students don’t find the material they are learning applicable to the lives they think they want to lead, and therefore, they drop out. It is important to always have a back-up plan. Maybe you know college isn’t for you, but how about a paralegal certificate from a community college or through online learning? How about vocational school? In college, you will be told about the reality of your degrees and your employment prospects. You will have the resources to build an impressive resume, consult a career center, and other valuable options. You will learn that despite having your degree, you will need additional experiences and ideas moving forward. Whether you’re dealing with an unpleasant roommate, soaring tuition costs, or other ideas, having a backup plan is invaluable.
That’s it for the top 10 list. I hope you enjoyed it. Let me know if you agree or disagree with the points I mentioned here. For those of you needing a back-up plan or have questions about your degree path, don’t hesitate to reach out. Happy learning!
Featured photo credit: Diego Grez-Cañete via commons.wikimedia.org