7 Crucial Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting College…That Still Apply Today

I started college at age 17, a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed high school graduate who had never lived away from home for an extended period.

Over the course of my four years of undergrad education, I learned many lessons. Made some friends. Earned a 3.9 GPA.

So I didn’t do too badly. On the surface.

But there were a few things I wish I had learned before I’d gone. Including the following:

1) You don’t have to know exactly what you want to get out of college (or life, for that matter), but it’s better to have an overall idea

Otherwise, you may end up “blown and tossed by the wind” chasing anything that seems interesting.

And if, like me, you don’t have a relatively clear view of what you want, or where you want to go, you may end up finding yourself going nowhere.

Worse, you may even find your ability to go taken from you.

Doors of opportunity do not stay open forever — and only those who are prepared are able to step through them.

And you can only prepare to step through that door when you know what your goal is.

So I wish I had taken some time before even applying to college (maybe just an afternoon) to think about what I really wanted to get out of college and life…and then repeated that process monthly, since all dreams need regular clarification and re-commitment.

2) Serendipitous encounters-that-blossom-into-great-relationships/opportunities do occur, but don’t try to force them

I met two of my closest college friends by randomly bumping into them in unexpected places like the cafeteria.

Another time, following up on a random poster advertisement led me to join a fellowship that changed the trajectory of my life.

On the other hand, I met many random people, flitted through numerous groups, and attended many free events that not only led nowhere, but were a waste of time.

Don’t go to an event ONLY because it’s free and offers free food and sounds kind of fun. Go if you really are interested, if you really have the time, and most importantly: if it really aligns with your overall goals (see #1).

courtesy of Bess Hamiti from pexels.com

3) Attending lots of church/fellowship events is not the best idea

College is partly about meeting people and making friends. And, in general, attending a church or fellowship is a good idea.

You are more likely to meet kind, generous people who have bigger goals in life than self-indulgence, selfish ambition, and worldly gain in a fellowship than at a frat party. People who will care about you and set a good example for you to follow.

However, you will probably still never be fully satisfied with any one group or fellowship.

But this is not a reason for you to “church-hop” incessantly. As long as the group you are with is not clearly against what you stand for, give them a fair chance. Stay with them for a while and see what happens.

And if you decide that you have to leave, don’t leave one foot behind while you step into another group. You’ll wear yourself out. Don’t be mean or burn bridges, but don’t attend multiple groups simultaneously out of a misguided sense of loyalty.

4) Health is more important than socializing and homework

Young people tend to think that their bodies are like rubber bands (which snap back no matter how hard you stretch ‘em). At least, I know I did.

And I learned that bodies and minds are resilient. But even rubber bands lose their elasticity after a while and bouncing back becomes harder and harder over time.

Physical and mental/spiritual health is one of those things that can fail you if you don’t take the effort to maintain it.

In college, I’ve seen more than one person morph from a healthy, cheery student into a beaten-down, exhausted shell of a former self, struggling with mental and physical issues so severe they led to failed classes and intensive rescue efforts.

What that taught me was how incredibly important it is that your brain and mind and body are all functioning optimally. Without health, you can’t do much of anything else.

If you have to sacrifice a few assignments and social events to take care of your body, mind, and spirit, do it. It’s worth it.


5) Sleep deprivation and other bad habits have deceptively delayed consequences

In college, I discovered that whenever I pulled all-nighters, or near-all-nighters, I wouldn’t suffer much the day after.

Instead, I’d be miserable two days later.

This delayed reaction meant that I did not learn my lesson soon enough, continuing to pull near-all-nighters and keep terrible sleep habits until I nearly destroyed my body and mind.

And it’s not just the two-day delay. Sleep deprivation accumulates. It WILL injure you, physically, and mentally, if not now, then later — when it’s harder for you to afford it (See lesson #4).

6) Don’t stay in the dorms too long

Because I worked as a resident adviser for a couple years, I didn’t move into my own apartment until my last year of college. While it was convenient to live on campus in the dorms, there were also drawbacks:

As an upperclassman and an RA, I didn’t have the same camaraderie with the girls I lived with as I had when I was a freshman, just like all the other freshmen.

Also, by the time I moved out, I had to learn many things later than my other classmates — such as how to shop and cook and manage a household.

In many ways, staying in the dorms for as long as I did stunted my growth as a person.

7) Relationships are the MOST important thing you will get out of college

I spent a lot of time studying, working hard, and doing the best I could to get the biggest returns from my extremely expensive college tuition investment.

There’s nothing wrong with that, that’s what college is for.

But when my life took an unexpected (dark) turn after I graduated, was my 3.9 GPA there to support me?


But my best friend from college was.

Moreover, the relationships I formed with my classmates, friends, and teachers led me to the most important opportunities and experiences of my life: from my writing tutoring job, to my teaching assistant position, to multiple scholarships, and more.

Eventually, I learned (a little too late):

Invest in relationships with friends and teachers during those short college years. This is the most valuable thing you can do with your time and energy.

Pick a few people you truly admire and like, and spend time with them. Learn from them, share with them. Spend more time with them than you do with other, less ideal people or situations.

Be there for them, and one day they will be there for you.

After all, you’re not going to stay in college forever, and good grades won’t last past your college years.

But good relationships will.


In conclusion

If you haven’t started college yet, I hope these tips give you a head start.

If, however, (like me) you realized a little too late that you kind of did college all wrong, most of these tips can still apply to anyone, no matter your age or stage in life:

  1. Take the time to consider what you really want, and then act accordingly. Don’t stumble blindly through life, allowing outside circumstances to determine what happens to you.
  2. Accept opportunities to do random things that seem interesting — you never know when they will lead to you meeting your new best friend — but don’t overdo it.
  3. Find a fellowship, and commit fully. Don’t hover on the edges or church-hop. Every relationship takes time and investment. Pick a group that is “good enough,” invest in it, and it will be good enough for you.
  4. Don’t put work or employment ahead of your physical, mental, and spiritual health. Jobs can change and be discarded, but your body, soul, and spirit, are yours forever. Protect that.
  5. Get enough sleep. You never really “get away with” indulging in a bad habit, whether it’s sleep-deprivation, or ice cream addiction, or worse. It WILL come back to bite you in the butt eventually, when you least expect it, and most cannot afford it.
  6. Don’t delay normal life stages. If it’s time to start, to end, to move, to leave, don’t wait — do it.
  7. Invest in relationships before you invest in anything else.

For most of us, college lasts 4 years. In the course of the average lifetime, this not all that long.

If you messed up your college years, it isn’t too late to turn the boat around and start heading in the direction you want.

Don’t let regrets hold you back. Learn from your mistakes, be grateful for the lessons you have learned, and keep moving forward.

Thank you for reading!

If you enjoyed this, please share and comment — I would love to hear what you think and respond to your ideas as well.

This article was originally posted on Medium.

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