There are many things about college that any upper classman can (and probably will) tell you: don’t buy your books from the campus bookstore, avoid certain professors, use your time wisely (which is often espoused but rarely practiced) . . . etc. But besides the same old advice that incoming freshman are getting as they begin the year, what else should you know about college?
1. You Will Change
No matter how much you loved or hated high school, college is a completely different ballpark. You learn more, you learn to think differently, and you begin to interact with people differently based on how your perceptions are changing. It may happen so gradually you won’t even notice the changes until you graduate, but you will change. For better or worse, no one leaves the college experience unmarked. Just be vigilant to ensure the changes you’re going through are the changes you want.
2. The People at Home Will Not Change
When you go home, it will be apparent how much you’ve changed and how much everyone else hasn’t. Your parents will still want to treat you the same way they did when you were still living at home. When you go to church, they’ll still treat you as though you’re incapable of crossing the street without someone holding your hand. The people you knew in high school won’t really care or understand about your experiences in college, and you won’t be able to relate to their new job at the convenience store and their new baby at home. It will be easy to feel superior, but your path isn’t necessarily better. Sometimes the high school sweethearts who marry at 19 and take over the family auto business do better and are happier than the college graduate.
3. Go to College to Learn to Think
Don’t just go to college to learn. You can do that at your local library. It’s probably what you were avoiding to do all through high school. The information you take away from college isn’t nearly as important as the thought processes you learn. You must learn to think critically, even though not all your professors really want you to. Recognize when a single professor presents a single textbook as the single authoritative view and learn to dig deeper. Learn to explore all the possibilities. That’s really what writing all those tedious papers is all about—assimilating knowledge and digesting it rather than simply parroting what other people say on a short test.
4. It’s All About Relationships
As far as relating to your peers is concerned, college is like a giant orphanage. Depending on your college, dozens or thousands of people of a similar age are tossed together in close quarters with no parents and very few overseeing “adults.” You’ll live together, eat together, learn together, and play together. As a result, the relationships that are formed are much more intense than you’ve formed before, much more similar to siblings than friends. You’ll probably either love or hate your roommates and suitemates. While you may vary between the two extremes, you probably won’t be “lukewarm” very often. Things may be slightly less intense between you and your classmates, but if you’re in a small school, you’ll see the same classmates quite often as you choose a major and move into upper-level courses. You’ll very likely even relate to your professors differently than you’ve ever related to your teachers.
5. Take It for What It Is
Enjoy the experience. While you may not feel it’s the best time in your life while you’re there, looking back, you’ll realize how important this time in your life is. Take in everything you can and enjoy college for what it is rather than looking ahead, because the truth is, a college degree isn’t necessarily an instant passport to success. If your sole reason for going to college is to make tons of money when you graduate, you’ll probably be disappointed and you certainly won’t enjoy this time in your life. But you will better yourself, regardless of whether it pays off in money. So relax and enjoy the ride.
And, really, don’t buy your textbooks from the campus bookstore.
Tanya Carden is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in South Carolina with her husband Steve.