8 Things I Wish Somebody Had Told Me Before I Went Off To College

Photo by Lee Scott

Photo by Lee Scott

  1. You will learn things that you won’t have much use for

I remember trying my hardest to memorize so many dates for my history class. I remember knowing them by heart the night before my exam, but I remember remembering nothing the very next day. I hated the fact that I was being asked to memorize so many details – details I knew that I didn’t have much use for, if not none at all.

So here’s the thing: when you find yourself starting to complain about having to study such tiny, trivial details, take a step back. Most likely, you’ve already missed the point. Because there are instances where the whole purpose of learning is not just for you to know the specifics by heart, but to instead go through a process that can allow you to grow – to form certain habits and learn certain values. Let these moments teach you valuable implicit learnings like prioritization, time management, discipline, social responsibility, appreciation, et cetera. The key is to be sensitive to pick out a learning from every single experience you go through.

  1. It’s not about the grades

Contrary to what everyone else around you seems to think, it’s not. Your goal every single time that you study, sit in class, and do course work must be for you to learn and not just to pass the exams. The difference is tremendously huge. So read as much as you can, research as much as you can, ask as much as you can. Go beyond the four walls of your classroom, go beyond what is expected of you. Doing so will pave the way for greater retention of information and out-of-the-box thinking.

  1. Your convictions will be tested

College life has so many monumental moments that will shape the way that you see the world and the way that you see yourself. You will be faced with a lot of dilemmas that may involve friendships, relationships, your integrity, even school politics. Sometimes what matters most is not the decision that you arrive at, but one, the process that you went through to arrive at it, and two, your ability to stand by your decision regardless of the consequences.

You must allow the process of decision-making to let you discover the value set that you uniquely possess, and weigh which of your values are the non-negotiables for you. This means that every decision that you make, regardless of whatever it’s about, must be well-discerned and of your very own choosing. Now, here’s where it gets a little tricky. Not everything in this life is purely black and white. The hardest decisions aren’t a matter of right or wrong but a matter of personal conviction. And you will get a taste of that in college. So go ahead and make that decision, even if it’s the unpopular choice. Just be ready to stand up for it.

  1. You can actually shift out of your course if you want to

Just when before I went off for college my cousin told me that there are only two big decisions that I will make in my entire life: the course I will take in college, and the person I will marry. Talk about pressure. When I applied for college I was so afraid that I was going to choose the wrong course.

In retrospect, sure, there was some truth to it – those two are actually, yes, big decisions, but they are not of equal footing. I don’t believe they’re comparable. The context behind these two decisions are very, very different. Ergo, it wouldn’t be fair to approach these two decisions in the same way.

You’d be surprised at the amount of people who didn’t know much about the course they wrote down on their college application forms. Plus, you can’t discount the fact that you’re making such a monumental decision at age what, 16? Maybe 18 at the latest. That’s actually very young. So if you think the course you’re in isn’t really for you, you can actually shift out. Doing so does not make you irresponsible, indecisive, or uncommitted.

Of course don’t use this as an excuse to just jump from one course to another. There is some wisdom needed in this too. A good guide in helping you decide on what course to pursue is what Greg McKeown terms as your Highest Point of Contribution, which is the point where passion, talent, and market all overlap. But at least, knowing that choosing a course for college isn’t a touch-move sort of thing, that you’re not forever stuck with your first choice, should lift off a lot of pressure in deciding.

  1. It’s a good training ground for you to be financially responsible

When you eventually go out into the real world, you’d soon realize that when it comes to finances, it’s not so much about stability but responsibility. So even if you’re getting only a meager amount of allowance, whether it’s from your parents, your student stipend, or your part-time job, start training yourself to be a good steward of money. Work around a weekly budget, and be sure to consistently set aside an amount for your own savings.

  1. Most of what you do in college will form your habits

College gives you a bit more independence compared to when you’re in high school. This time you have the freedom to choose your own schedule, and you can even opt to not attend certain classes. But as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, with freedom comes responsibility. You probably won’t notice it until you’ve already graduated and started working, but the things that you will do during your college life will cause you to form habits that will have a huge impact on your professional life.

Just a few tips: One, be responsible enough to prepare well for your exams and course work – do not procrastinate. If you do, you will end up having a hard time keeping up with deadlines once you already start working. Two, have the due diligence to arrive on time in all of your classes, meetings, and activities. If you get so used to arriving late all the time, you will have to learn the hard way that a person without any sense of time is wasting his life. In the real world, unpunctuality will lose you money, people, and a myriad of good opportunities. Three, work hard. If you simply wing it, you will unduly overestimate your capabilities, and you will eventually cause yourself to slack off in almost all of your endeavors and produce only shoddy and mediocre work.

  1. You can’t be friends with everyone

It’s true – and this is actually a scientifically proven fact. There is only a specific number of people, called Dunbar’s number, that humans are capable of maintaining effective and successful relationships with. This limit to our “social channel capacity”, as Malcolm Gladwell had put it, gives us all the more both the liberty and responsibility to choose the relationships that we keep.

So whatever happens, don’t ever isolate yourself, but be sure to choose your friends well. Stick with people who can make you grow as an individual and as a future professional. And, although everyone has that natural affinity for kindred souls, it’s also good to seek out people who don’t always share the same perspectives as you do – it’s from them that you can actually learn a lot.

  1. It is what you make of it

You will have bad days, you will fail, and you will make mistakes. Everyone else did, but they survived – you will too. It’s all part of the experience. It’s exactly the same way in life anyway – we all still have bad days, we still fail, we still make mistakes. It’s just that in the real world, the consequences of such things can be a little bit more detrimental. So think of college as Life on training wheels, or a big dress rehearsal for The Real World Show.

The important thing to remember here is that your whole college life will only be as good as you will allow it to be. So bask in it. Savor every moment. Do not be afraid to take chances, do not be afraid to seize the day. But of course, make sure that each choice is wise and informed. So go meet people. Go join organizations that will help you hone your skills and serve as a breath of fresh air from all the acad work.

Maximize the learning, maximize the growth. It will only happen once.

Published as 8 Things About College That Would’ve Been Helpful To Know Before Freshman Year in Thought Catalogue.

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