What happens when thousands of eighteen-year-olds, many of whom have never lived away from their families, suddenly find themselves living independently, hundreds of miles away from home? No, this is not the beginning of a contrived social experiment, or an alternative to Lord of the Flies, but college. True, most of us are not entirely independent, but there is a fast learning curve that accompanies the newfound freedom. While the primary purpose of college is obviously to learn the subjects we came here to study, we are also trying to learn how to be functional adults at the same time, and sometimes the latter seems to take priority. Many of the most important lessons we learn in college are not learned in the classroom.
1People aren’t thinking about you as much as you think they are.
It is so easy to freak out about that one time you tripped in front of everyone or the time you got home and realized you had been walking around with a big stain on your shirt all day. But the truth is, people aren’t worrying about what you’re doing because they’re too busy worrying about themselves. So while they might not remember those great shoes you were wearing yesterday, they probably won’t remembering that embarrassing thing you did either.
2There is always going to be someone better than you.
There is always going to be that person in class who gets a 100 when the average is a 60 (thanks for bringing down the curve) and that friend who is the president of literally everything. If you constantly try to compete with everyone, you will drive yourself crazy. Worry instead about improving yourself–that’s likely what those insanely successful people are doing.
3It is okay to be alone.
Freshman year, there is nothing scarier than realizing that your roommate had to stay on campus for a meeting for one of her thousands of clubs, and that you don’t have anyone to eat dinner with. Eating alone can be anxiety-inducing, but soon you start to cherish the break from the pressures that come with constantly being surrounded by other people. It doesn’t make you “antisocial” to want to say in and watch Netflix alone some nights.
4It is also okay to need help from friends.
Being independent is great, but it’s hard to survive college without a little bit of help. Whether it is because you just had a really hard test or you’re feeling homesick, there are some days when you just want to talk through a problem with a friend.
5You have to take care of yourself.
There are so many obligations to juggle here: schoolwork, jobs, clubs, relationships. Sometimes, your tests all fall on the same day and you happen to come down with a cold that week. You’d be surprised by how understanding professors are, as long as you go to them with a genuine concern (after all, they are people too). Everyone has days when they need to take a step from their responsibilities and prioritize their own mental health.
6You have to hold yourself responsible.
That being said, professors might be less understanding if you ask for an extension the day before the deadline and it is clear you haven’t even started yet. Similarly, if you bail on friends too many times, they will stop counting on you, and eventually, they will stop being someone you can count on. No one here is going to make you study, tell you what your priorities should be, or force you to do your laundry, but that also means you have to deal with the consequences.
7There is no substitute for hard work.
It’s the night before a prelim. You’ve been half-heartedly scrolling through the slides for the last 3 days and called it “studying.” Now, with only hours left, you wish you actually spent the time learning the material, even though there were a million things you would rather be doing. There are no shortcuts: sometimes you just have to go to the stacks, buckle down, and actually study.
8But sometimes you do everything you can and you still fail.
College might be the first time you fail a test, the first time you apply for a job and don’t get it, the first time you get rejected. It is disheartening to put yourself out there only to find that things aren’t working out the way you wanted them to. But the world didn’t end, and next time you might even get that job.
9It all comes down to balance.
A lot of the things I learned seem to contradict each other. But basically, the most important thing I learned was to balance my priorities, my times, my relationships. You don’t have to be the roommate who is constantly cleaning up after everyone, as long as you’re not the one who is always leaving a mess. You don’t have to spend all of your time studying, as long as you know when it is time to really focus. And you don’t have to prioritize other people over your own well-being, as long as you’re someone others can count on.