Career, Wellness

5 Truths No One Tells You That Can Make Or Break Your College Experience

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Going to college is a rite of passage for so many of us. However, like many others, there are a handful of things I wish I’d been told before I took the plunge. It’s not that I regret my decision to attend; in fact, I think it was one of the best decisions of my life thus far. However, it wasn’t for the reasons that I had initially anticipated. I wish that I had been better prepared, that’s all.

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Going to college straight out of high school is actually a huge commitment both financially (depending on where you live in the world), mentally, and spiritually. But it can also be one of the best experiences of your life–if you let it.

First of all, I have to put it out there that I don’t think college is for everyone. And it certainly isn’t for everyone straight out of school at the tender age of 18. Students with a few extra years of life experience are often far more committed and hardworking than younger students because they’ve had the opportunity to explore different options, perhaps do some traveling and made the bold choice to return to academia because it’s what they truly want, not because it seemed like the easy choice based on what everyone else was doing. I want you to know that it’s OK if you don’t feel college is the right choice for you. Trust your gut instinct.

Unfortunately, there is this general idea in our society that in order to make something of yourself, you absolutely must attend college. I think that’s really detrimental to the mental health of the young and confused. Perhaps taking a gap year is actually the best decision for you personally, rather than diving straight in. There are lots of reasons why they prove invaluable. But when the time comes – and perhaps for you, it is straight out of high school – here are some words of wisdom that I wish someone had told me before I started college. I hope they’ll help you on your journey.

1. Attending college is, first and foremost, about educating yourself – not preparation for getting a “decent” job. Learning is a joyful experience. It forces time to slow down. But more than that – educating yourself opens the doors to all kinds of thinking, interests, and passions that you didn’t know you had. In what I consider a mentality of generations past, there is this idea that you go to college, study hard in the subject(s) you’ve chosen, and then seek a job in a related field, where you’ll spend the rest of your working life climbing up the ladder in the hope of reaching a senior position. I believe students should approach college with a different mindset. They should approach with an open mind, being ready and willing to let their studies and experiences transform them – perhaps even send them in a completely different direction than the one they anticipated. When we learn, we grow, and when we grow, we become an upgraded version of ourselves. It’s OK to allow yourself to be carried in a different direction. You do a kindness to yourself by allowing that trust and freedom.

2. That being said, any opportunity you have to gain real work experience should be seized. This will prove invaluable later down the line. When you get out of school and into the real world, you soon realize that employers are far more interested in your experience than your grades. Provided you’ve passed with the minimum requirements that they deem necessary, they want to know how hard-working you are, how you’ve dealt difficult real life scenarios, and how you work in a team. If you have an opportunity to gain work experience whether alongside your studies or by opting to do a year in industry between academic years, you won’t regret it.

3. Don’t blow your friends off for a guy/girl. If the relationship doesn’t work out, you may regret it. Now, don’t get me wrong; college is a great time to put yourself out there and meet new people. Some of these may well lead down the road to romance. However, do your best to maintain a sense of balance. Take it from someone who made this mistake first-hand. I got myself into a toxic relationship with a guy who really shouldn’t have been at college. He didn’t have any interest in studying and wasn’t getting the help he needed for his mental health struggles. After several months of feeling the overwhelming need to be there for him, I’d isolated myself from lots of my peers. When the relationship eventually disintegrated after graduation, I deeply regretted the friendships that I hadn’t put enough time or effort into. Remember this: any partner worth your time will encourage you to be yourself. With them, you should feel free and relaxed. If you feel a tugging or suffocating feeling, give the relationship another think.

4. Make the most of your free time. Rarely do people have that luxury again in their lives. This won’t apply to all students and all degrees, but generally speaking, students have a lot of free time. Do yourself a favor and use this time to get involved in as many things as possible. These can be academic, extracurricular or local to the community, but whatever they are – get exploring. Consider things like volunteering to help a post-doc on current research. Or maybe join a sports club or society. There are so many ways to enrich your college experience in addition to the degree you are studying for. In my experience, having that sense of variety in your week keeps things fresh and allows you to focus. Also, these extra activities are what build memories, expand your horizons and help you decide on your path once you graduate.

5. Get to grips with your finances. For some of us with a strong work ethic, this is a no-brainer. But for others, college is a time when we spend more than we can afford on unnecessary items that we later regret. Do yourself a favor by setting a budget and sticking to it. It’s much harder trying to undo bad habits once you’ve graduated and people are unwilling to cut you as much slack. The better your budgeting skills throughout college, the sooner you can be off traveling the world, buying that house, or whatever other financial commitment you want to make.

Have you been to college? What advice would you give to new students?

Also by Kat: How To Make A Difference For Your Cause Without Turning Your Life Upside Down

Related: 8 Surprising Lessons I’ve Learned After College

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Kat Kennedy
Kat Kennedy is an explorative writer and advocate for sustainable living. She's a proud 'third culture kid' who is passionate about houseplants, vegan baking and outdoor adventures. You can read more of her articles on her blog, Sphynx Kennedy, or keep up with her on Instagram @sphynxkennedy.
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