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10 Things I Learned in College:

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”—Henry David Thoreau

His name is Jackson. He pulls my eyes from my lecture notes to the rolling white clouds out the window, where developing plotlines spin through my head.

I created Jackson in my second year of college, when I developed an interest in writing for young adults. Jackson became the character I dreamed of the most. I did not care about American Government, Economics, or Business Communication. I cared about classes where I could create life. Create a story. Or bring what already lives to words on a paper.

This was me in college. A dreamer. A person who was not always present when I needed to be. Not listening to how to create a 401k and only skimming through the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. I wrote my own college experience, and it was not one I would have predicted, but if I couldn’t graduate in just two years as a trained creative writer, then I could at least learn a few things, right? Just a few.

Here are 10 things that I learned in college.

There is no “cha-cha-slide” in college.

I tasted part of the world I had not experienced before my first college class ever began. Some young adults learn earlier, but I was raised differently.

On my 19th birthday, I drove five hours to a different state for my first year of college. In my first 36 hours, I experienced these things:

  • A senior, having just met me, looked at me and said, “Do not be alarmed that this is a Christian school.” She said we could still find ways to have fun there.
  • My teammates and I were invited to an 18-and-up club. My naïve Christian school-self thought I would get to rock out with the cha-cha-slide, limbo, and a conga line (I know, don’t judge me). I knew as soon as I walked in that my speculations were incorrect.
  • Two or three seniors offered to buy the freshman alcohol, even though police lined every edge of the building.
  • A creepy dude high on something offered me a little of the something he was high on. I politely declined. He leaned in too close and said to find him if I needed anything.
  • I wandered from my loner table to the “dance floor” once, and a different guy tried to grab me inappropriately. I slapped him. He backed away confused.

Some of these events shocked me because of my upbringing, but that was the first and last time I went to a club or party. After that, I lived for Saturday nights when the 90% of the school left the dorms and I got to make popcorn and enjoy Netflix in peace.

There is no cha-cha-slide in college. That was a disappointing lesson, but there is never anything wrong with staying in on a Saturday night.

8 a.m. classes will never be easy.

This goes out to all first semester students who think it will be easy coming out of high school. I am guilty of this. “Get them out of the way,” I said, but it really didn’t apply to me at first. In my first year of college when I played a college sport, I had to be awake and on the football field by 5:45 a.m. I was wide awake by my 8 a.m. class, so it simply did not matter.

The second year was different. It was like my first year all over again. New school. Same perspective as before. I scheduled eight o’clock classes three days a week, and my days in early morning conditioning the previous year did not help me. If you are fresh out of high school, it will not help you either. I promise.

(this excludes any individuals who find strange joy before the sun goes up)

College sports take a lot of sacrifice and commitment.

Before committing to a college sport, you might ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I willing to get up before sunrise five days a week?
  • Do I enjoy practices, running, and weights?
  • Do I care about winning?
  • Is all the sacrificed time and effort worth it?

I couldn’t be any less of a morning person. I never cared for organized practices. I could have lived my whole life without running outside of a game, and most of the time, I didn’t care about a loss. I cared about the laughs and smiles in the dugout and each strikeout I pitched.

I cared only about having fun, but most college sporting teams don’t prioritize this. When I rarely practiced outfield (because I always pitched), coaches yelled instead of encouraged after one mistake. When I scrunched my face against the sunlight, they asked what my attitude was. When the whole team laughed together after a drill, a coach said, “There’s no reason you guys should be smiling right now.” If the coaches would not allow their team to laugh in enjoyment, then I didn’t want to be a part of it.

Believe me when I say it is much more difficult than high school or any competitive team you play on. When you reach college, it’s only about success, about “getting that ring.” You aren’t treated as an individual person but only as a moving part that contributes to something bigger. Once you malfunction, you’re either disposed of or set into strict training until you start working right again. I truly hope that this doesn’t apply to every organization.

Be careful when committing to a college sport. Make sure you are ready for the sacrifice and commitment. Sometimes, simply enjoying the sport is not enough. 

Gen-Ed classes are almost pointless.

Chemistry, College Algebra, American History, Art Appreciation. The list goes on. Didn’t we take these in high school?

I can say firsthand that I did not learn anything new with general education classes in college. My family paid two extra years of expensive tuition just for me to be refreshed on information I learned in high school. But hey, it gives the university more money, right?

Gen Eds are great for the plenty of people who are unsure of what their futures hold, but what is the point in requiring the driven doctor-in-training take an art class? Or the artist to take a chemistry class? Somebody might tell me that a future surgeon could use an art class to practice a steady hand. The artist might somebody paint something involving a certain chemical reaction. These people can still choose to take these classes without General Education requirements. This doctor-to-be and artist went into college knowing what they want to do and can graduate in two years with all the training they need to move forward. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

If you want to help yourself out, do everything in your power to take as many AP classes in high school that your sanity will allow.

Your high school teachers weren’t always right about college.

“Your college professors will never allow this.” Have you ever heard this?

Did you ever hear from your high school teachers, when they gave you extra homework, that “this is just preparing you for college”? While some of their words may be true, they are not always right.

In four years, I took classes in almost every professor category, including the following:

  • A history professor who dressed in 1800s dresses.
  • A bored Earth Science professor who stated often that he preferred Astronomy, and that he wasn’t as interested in the subject we were learning.
  • A history professor who aggressively called on people and expected an on-the-spot thorough analysis of a specific Cold War subject.
  • An English professor who sang and jangled his keys everywhere he went and purposely mispronounced 30% of his words. Yes. An English professor. My personal favorite.

I’m not saying that you should not listen to your high school teachers. Simply keep in mind that everything is different for every student. Every college is different. Every teacher is different.

I went to a college prep high school, so my high school teachers were much stricter than most of my college professors. I learned quickly that my high school really did overprepare me for college, but no student can be prepared for everything they will face.

Be YOURSELF.

People really do not care what you look like, how you talk, or whether you think the same way as them. I found within my first month that college students are more likely to interact with more diverse people and people of different ages. It surprised me to see freshmen and seniors as friends and classmates in their 40s and up. People are also less likely to be judgmental. If you want to wear sweatpants to class, go for it. If you show up with no makeup and bedhead, nobody cares. Everyone understands. This was different than I was used to. I felt out of place at times in high school because everyone was different from me, and I felt like I needed to fit a standard.

For example, I’ve never been into most trends. I prefer to form my own style then to do something because the rest of the world does it. If somebody tells me to buy a pair of shoes because “everyone is wearing them nowadays,” I will almost always refuse to buy them. I also dislike the half-bun half-down hairstyle and phrases like “okay boomer.”

I learned even more in college that I don’t have to always fall into the “norm.”

Through these points I’ve made and more, just be yourself and don’t worry about other people. Chances are high that your friends didn’t notice the extra ten pounds you gained over the semester. So, have the extra scoop of ice cream. Forget to brush your hair sometimes. Be comfortable saying no. Take care of yourself first, then look after others. Be comfortable with not always being perfect.

I’m much more of an introvert than I used to be.

Family and friends could have called me a social butterfly from age one to sixteen. When I learned to talk, I never stopped. At five, I’d say “hi” to any stranger in the grocery store. At fifteen, I transferred to a new school and gained a large group of friends quickly. I went to birthday parties and dances. I wasn’t afraid to be in the middle of the crowd and the center of attention (unless it was dancing or singing). My friend group started to shrink a little at the end of high school, but I still had a great group of close friends.

I believe the shift came in my first year of college. I tried to make a few friends and at least talk to plenty of people, but my friend group shrank because there were simply little people that I connected with. Most of the people at my first college were very different from me.

I began to thrive alone, and I looked forward to Sundays when I’d take an afternoon drive on the highway away from the noisy dorm. One day, I drove to the Nebraska border, and a friend showed genuine concern that I drove it alone. I didn’t understand what was wrong about it.

I started my current job my second year of college, and suddenly my priorities shifted strictly between work and classes. I did not have time for the high demanding friend groups or campus events. The little free time I had, I needed to be relaxed and stress-free.  

To this day, there are very few people I can be with consistently and fewer that I’d choose to spend a day off with. Maybe it’s relatable to some. Maybe it is abnormal to others. Either way, I am content.

The whole roommate thing is not a big deal to everyone.

I never liked the idea of having roommates, not like many girls do going into their first year. I lived an only-child lifestyle for several years and never had to share a 20’ X 10’ personal space. Being an introvert did not help my case either as I can only live with certain types of people, and I can only be friends with certain types of people.

I had so many roommates in college that I can’t even count them on one hand. The only one I kept in touch with, I left behind when I switched schools.

This is a difficult part of college that not many people talk about. Tour guides and resident advisors only boast about the joys of dorm life. Resident advisors have told me that they think I will connect greatly with a specific roommate. They never seem to suspect that some college students are simply not suited to live with roommates and that some actually wish there was another realistic living option. I did the best I could in getting out of the dorms, but I could not afford an apartment by myself, and living alone was the whole point in leaving.

Don’t hurry through life, and let time do its thing.

Maybe I’ve always been different, but young adults, especially women, try too hard in trying to find the person they’ll eventually marry. They try to defy time and pick out the strangers that are the most attractive or outgoing. My university was the type of school that saw many relationships and eventual engagements among its small population of students. They call it the “ring by spring” attitude, and it is popular among many first-year students.

You can’t try so hard to find love or you’ll never find the right person for you. I don’t know many people who married the person that they desperately chased after and sought their attention. I hear more people explain that their love came at a time when they least expected it, and I can say the same thing. I was single for three years and found love with my best friend who started out as my co-worker. We got to know each other for a year a half. I still didn’t expect it, and I am glad I waited.

Not just this, but I feel like most people live their lives in fast forward and forget to stop sometimes to enjoy the fresh air. I felt myself speeding through each April because it is always the busiest month for schoolwork. April is my favorite month of the year, and I hated not being able to get outside and enjoy nature when it is the nicest. But sometimes, I was able to take an extra ten minutes to turn off everything and sit outside away from people and responsibility.

Don’t hurry through life. Don’t let your busy life get the best of you, and trust time. Be content and always know that something greater is coming.

Travel as much as possible.

I may have not had a social life in college, but I had many great opportunities to travel. Between May 2016 and May 2020, I went from only visiting eight states to visiting twenty-nine. I feel like this was my way of enjoying my youth while I could before I graduated.

Los Cabos, Mexico
Ontario, Canada
  • July 2016: A conference in Cleveland, Tennessee. I gained four states
  • November 2016: A conference in Atlanta, Georgia
  • May 2017: drove to Panama City, Florida. Gained three states
  • July 2017: Road trip to Hannibal, MO. Ended up in Minnesota. Gained three states
  • May 2018: road trip to Las Vegas. Gained Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, and New Mexico
  • June 2018: Waco, Texas
  • July 2018: Cabo, Mexico
  • May 2019: drove to Pensacola, Florida
  • July 2019: Drove to Niagara Falls, Ontario. Gained five states and a country
The Stratosphere, Las Vegas
Grand Canyon
Niagara Falls

These were my most rewarding experiences during my college years. I don’t think any day on a college campus could beat traveling across the country. I encourage anybody to travel as much as they can.

My college experience ended in a strange way, but unlike most graduates, it did not affect me. I did not care that my classes moved online, and I didn’t care that I did not get a graduation ceremony. To me, graduating was the completion of my classes and receiving my degree, and that is exactly what I did.

There is nothing more satisfying than throwing away all notes, assignments, and papers from the semester and knowing I will no longer have to fill my three-ring binder with anything but new characters and story ideas.

Jackson circles through my head often, and I’m glad I now have the time to learn more about him as I write more chapters of his life. I can only hope that someday other people will get to know him as well.  

Photo by amphotography