As the school year comes to an end, and high school seniors start receiving their letters of acceptance to their top-pick colleges and universities, here is a list of the ten most valuable lessons I learned in college. (Hint: You won’t find anything about how to write the best term paper or how to excel at your beer pong game on the list.)
1. Time management: Nothing forces you to learn how to manage your time wisely more than your college student schedule. At no other point in your life will you be working a job (or an internship, professor’s assistant, etc) to pay expenses, taking full time course hours, and trying to fit in as many community outreach/volunteer hours/ etc. as you can into that schedule (not to mention all the parties). I spent my college years working obscene hours, getting very little sleep, and oftentimes feeling overwhelmed. However, once I graduated and moved into the so-called ‘real world’ I learned how to use the time management skills I adopted in college to successfully accomplish things in my day-to-day life.
2. Your major does not define your future: For some reason we are all led to believe that what we choose to get a degree in is the path that we have chosen for the rest of our lives. Frankly, it’s a total lie. If I could figure out who or what is dictating that thought onto high school graduates, I’d punch them in the face. College is more than just what you choose to study. I spent 2 ½ years of my 3 ½ years of undergraduate school a theatre major. Yes, theatre. Now, don’t get me wrong, I learned some amazing lessons because of theatre: lessons about communication, culture, and collaboration that I wish more people in this world could grasp. However, after two years I realized theatre was not what I truly wanted to pursue my degree in, and switched my focus to my other passion, politics. Within a year and a half I was able to fit in all the political science credits I needed to graduate with a degree in Political Science (so much for needing four years of classes). However, has anyone in a job interview since actually ever asked me what I studied in college? Or seemed to care? No, because college is more than merely a degree. College is a buffer for young adults to learn life lessons, to grow, and to establish themselves as an adult.
3. Cherish your friends: You’ve all heard the phrase “friends are the family you choose”. Well, never is this truer than when you and your friends are battling the trials of college life together. When you go off to college, you’re leaving your family for the first time, and even though most kids won’t admit it, that’s hard. The friends you make in college become your family when you need someone to bring you soup when you’re sick, your support system when you are down, and your confidants when you do something stupid. Even if you don’t stay in contact with your college friends as much as you want to after you graduate, I guarantee you will always be there for each other in times of need.
4. Ego check: If you were anything like I was in high school, when you went off to college, you thought you owned the world. While in high school you were the best at some sport, the best at your instrument in the band/orchestra, in the top of your class, the star of all the school plays, etc. Well, little do you realize until you start that first day of college courses, so was everybody else. College deflates your young high school ego and teaches you that everyone was the best at something in high school, but in the long run, it’s who you are now and what you will accomplish in the future that matters.
5. Internships are important: If someone were to ask me what the most important thing I did for my future career in college was, without hesitation, I would say my internship. My junior year, I was very lucky to obtain a paid internship that allowed me to move out of my small college town for six months to the largest city in the state, get my own apartment, and learn what it takes to have a job in my desired field. Not only did the internship help me know what career path I wanted to pursue, the people I met and the connections I made while working there have given me a plethora of opportunities since I graduated. I recommend anyone try to get an internship before they graduate from college in their desired field. Even if it only helps you realize you hate what you are studying and need to change it, you will never regret it.
6. Networking and keeping in contact are key: I know we as young adults all hate hearing this, and we’ve heard it a million times, but the reason for that is because it actually is really important. The more people you meet and keep in contact with while you are still in college who have connections in your desired field (whether it be professors, mentors, coworkers), the better chance you have finding a career-starting position when you graduate.
7. You’ve got to let it go: Oh how I wish Frozen had come out when I was in college. During my college tenure, I spent a lot of time stressing about every choice I made. Always looking to the future and discerning whether what I was doing that very moment would be beneficial to my postgraduate life. I’m here to tell you now, don’t do that. Sure, many decisions and choices you make in college will help you in the future, but not every single one. Enjoy the time you have, and live in the moment. If not, graduation will come, and you will regret spending too much time worrying about what happens after and not enjoying all the opportunities and freedom being in college provides.
8. Loyalty is a two way street: In college you will be forced to do about a million group projects, and you’ll constantly wonder why. Well, here’s why: you have to learn how to depend on others and let others depend on you. In a group project there will always be those who do a half-ass job, those who cover for them, and those who just slide by doing their share. In life, it’s the same way. You generally get what you give, and your loyalty to those partners/coworkers/friends/family goes both ways.
9. Sometimes you need a nap: During college, I spent many of day in bed sick because I didn’t allow myself to sleep enough. Luckily in college you have a little more leeway to take sick days. Post graduation, sick days are numbered. Listen to your body, and when it says you need more sleep, find time to give it.
10. You are always growing/learning: When you graduate from college, you tend to feel like you have learned everything you can and are now expected to know how to live in the real world. However, don’t worry if you don’t feel ready, because you never will be. Think about it, when you are a little kid, you oftentimes fall and hurt yourself because you tried something silly, and you learn not to do whatever you did again. The same is true for the rest of your life. You will constantly approach new things and take those (metaphoric) falls, and you have to learn to either not do what you did again, or do it in a way that will be successful. No one is ever truly ready for what tomorrow will bring.
So, you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed high school graduates about to embark on your first days of your college career, or even you current, run-down, hardworking college students: remember, the valuable knowledge you gain from your college years is not merely from classes and books, it is from the experiences you have in the college environment.
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