College is hard. No matter which way you look at it, if you’re currently enrolled in a junior college or four year university, you are, at this moment, experiencing some kind of pain. It could be the pain of staying up all night cramming for an exam, or the stress-induced pain of not knowing how to manage your schedule, social commitments, homework and finances.
This is not to say that college is not enjoyable. It’s an amazing opportunity to grow intellectually and spiritually, and I think most would agree that it’s a blast from start to finish. However, students are faced with daily challenges and decisions that could have long-lasting effects if handled improperly. It’s intimidating, to say the least.
So in light of our upcoming college retreat DISRUPT, here are 5 things I learned in college that had nothing at all to do with my major – lessons about life that stuck with me to this day.
1. College prepares you for life, not necessarily a job
Like me, many kids enter their freshmen year thinking they need to figure out their career path as soon as possible. While figuring out your career is indeed the reason we get degrees, it’s important to understand that a diploma is not the only thing you get out of college, and it’s not the only thing employers are looking for when determining who to hire. They’ll want to see that you learned how to discipline your life and complete a goal on your own initiative.
But the noble make noble plans,
and by noble deeds they stand.
College presents an amazing opportunity for you to learn how to develop real life skills, without real life pressure. It’s like bowling with bumpers on. You’ll start paying bills, but may have loans or parent support providing a safety net. You’ll learn to wake up and get out the door on time without anyone pushing you. You’ll learn how to follow through and deliver on something when you really don’t want to, and that’s a quality that’s both helpful for you and attractive to prospective employers.
2. It’s easy to meet people, but hard to make real friends
When you start college, and especially if you’re starting in the dorms, everyone is coming in with the same mindset. Everyone is insecure, scared, excited, nervous and clueless all at the same time. And more than anything, everyone is looking for who they can latch on to before winding up the odd one out. There’s a level of social pressure you feel when starting college that makes you feel like you need to do whatever it takes to make as many friends as possible, before it’s too late.
Friends come and friends go,
but a true friend sticks by you like family.
Proverbs 18:24 (MSG)
The truth is that while you will indeed meet many people during your college years, the number of actual long lasting relationships you build will be a lot less. This shouldn’t be a depressing fact, but rather, something that allows you to calm down and enjoy the ride.
3. The importance of personal accountability
When I heard my professor at my first lecture tell me that he wasn’t keeping tabs on who showed up to class, my 18 year old brain nearly short circuited. After spending years in K-12 schools being shuffled unwillingly from class to class, the idea that I didn’t need to show up if I didn’t want to was music to my ears. I took full advantage of that leniency and, as you can probably imagine, I was setting myself up for a rough lesson in integrity (hint: I ended up taking that class twice, and not because I enjoyed it).
There’s a universal value that classes provide in college, in addition to the subject matter of the class in question. I had to learn to hold myself accountable, without needing a parent or teacher forcing me to do things. I had to learn to love office hours over extra free time, sleep over excess late night entertainment, and sticking to a schedule instead of living by emotions. All of these are things you’ll need to have mastered as you make that rough transition into the post-college period (also known as Real Life).
4. It’s important (nay, critical) to try new things
College is probably the best (and easiest) time in life to try something new. This is especially true once you make it to a four-year university, where there are typically more resources available. You’ll never have another time in life with so few commitments and demands; you’ll likely end up with regret if you don’t make the most of the opportunity. And, more importantly, you never know what plans God has up his sleeve:
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.
In my first year I was exposed to so many different people and places just by participating in various things offered at my university. I learned valuable writing tips from writing for the university’s newspaper, which helped me eventually graduate when I needed to change majors to Sociology late in the game. By landing an on campus job, I made a friend that would later become a roommate, and much later a groomsman in my wedding.
Sometimes in life we get stuck in a routine. Same people that we talk to, same food places that we eat at, and so on. Try something new, and see what comes of it.
5. You don’t need to rush into dating
The movies paint college to be one long, extended party in which everyone finds true love before the credits roll. I remember feeling a deep pressure to rush into a dating relationship, and that something was wrong with me because I couldn’t find the right person. As each quarter went by, I saw myself getting closer and closer to being forever alone. By the time my freshmen year ended, I was convinced my fate was sealed.
As the years passed by in college I realized over time that most people found people to cling on to out of sheer loneliness or confusion, neither of which are good foundations for a relationship. I saw a lot of friends experience a lot of regret, due to the fact that they were so attached to their S.O. that they bled them dry emotionally.
If you’re able to find someone, more power to you. For the rest of you, I’d encourage you to brush up on your dating skills and learn how to build relationships in a healthy way, and steer clear of the regret.