11 Lessons I've Learned in College So Far

I knew that college would educate me on many things, but in reality I had no idea just the kind of wisdom I would gain after just one year. I learned important lessons about friendship, being alone with yourself, being away from loved ones, independence, time management, and enjoying these four years. In actuality, college is so much more than attaining a degree.

  1. 1. Making friends is a different experience for everyone.

    There is no right or wrong way to make friends, nor is there any specific deadline. Social media can make it seem like many people have found their BFFs and are living their best lives together, but that’s not always true. Many of those people may be struggling and using social media to make it seem like they’re not. However, there is nothing wrong with struggling to make friends. Some people make friends during NSOP, or even before reaching campus, and some people don’t; all of that is OK. I personally didn’t make many lasting friendships during NSOP, but instead made lasting friendships in time.

    The first few weeks can be daunting when it comes to making friends, but it won’t always be that way; it’ll get easier as you get more accustomed to campus and your classes. Odds are that there are plenty of other people who feel the same way, but everyone deals with it differently. There are surely people who don’t find the friend-making process daunting, even in the beginning, but everyone is different.

    The friend-making process also doesn’t end, because there will always be new people in new classes and new clubs and maybe even new roommates. If you’re struggling, know that as time goes on it will get easier and more natural to be friendly with people.

  2. 2. Being alone with yourself is good and can teach you a lot.

    College can feel lonely at times, especially for people living away from home for the first time. It can make time spent alone feel like a bad thing, intensifying the loneliness. Being alone doesn’t have to be a lonely thing, though. A universal college experience is being able to figure out who you are and come into yourself, which you need alone time to do. Spending time with friends is great, but it’s only when you’re by yourself that you can be honest with yourself.

    Learning to be comfortable by yourself is a really important skill to have. Once you’re comfortable with being alone, there are so many possibilities for things to help you discover yourself — meditation, yoga, reading, dancing by yourself, etc. By being alone with myself, I discovered that I like meditation and yoga and both have helped me when I need to de-stress.

  3. 3. You’re never too strong or too old to be homesick.

    The feeling isn’t entirely dependent on personality or age; anyone can feel homesick at any point. If you think about it, that’s completely natural when most of us have lived with the same people for most of our lives until college. The feeling of homesickness will probably be at its highest intensity the first year of college, but some people experience it each time they come back to campus. Some people experience it at random points during the year. The point is, there’s no shame in feeling homesick. There may be people who act like they’re too cool to miss home, or maybe they truly don’t, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with missing home and loved ones. I personally felt most of my homesickness in the fall semester, but still felt it from time to time in the spring semester.

  4. 4. Being away from loved ones can help strengthen your relationships with them.

    Many of us know what it’s like to feel like our family is driving us crazy and then wonder what it would be like to not have to see them every day. Not being with them every day gives you breathing room to not get annoyed with being around them all the time. You have the choice of reaching out when you want to, and whether or not you want to accept when they reach out. The feeling of missing loved ones can also be a reminder to not take advantage of having them in your life, the way that you might while still living with them. I became closer to my parents and came to appreciate them in a different way after living away from them.

  5. 5. You can still be close friends with someone without talking everyday.

    Young teenagers often believe that they have to talk to their friends all the time in order to be considered friends, an unrealistic standard likely set by the luxury of having the same school schedule and classes. College complicates this idea by separating everyone. The question becomes, what will happen? Will the friendships withstand the tests of time and distance? As you mature and change, so will your potentially childish notions of what friendship is. I personally have come to realize that you don’t need to talk to someone every day to be friends; what makes a healthy friendship is making time for each other and being confident that you will be there for each other when need be.

  6. 6. Living away from home fosters a unique kind of mental independence.

    There are different types of independence, physical and financial being two of the most common ones. Mental independence, however, is often not talked about. Even so, it just might be the most important kind of independence to acquire, because it is not reliant upon money or people.

    Living away from home in itself is challenging, nevermind when the responsibilities of classes and choosing a lifelong career are added onto that. Dorming away from home for college will give you a type of strength that you may not know that you even needed. This strength will come from the first times that you handle illness without a family member to help you, cry without a loved one to hold you, or panic that you don’t know what you want to do with your life. Once this strength is obtained, it results in a lifelong mental independence built on self-reliance and self-trust.

  7. 7. Time management differs substantially from high school to college.

    It can be hard to predict, but managing time in college is an entirely different thing from doing it in high school. Especially when living away from home, college adds in so many factors. Besides doing things for yourself that you might not be used to doing (like laundry or grocery shopping), there is the constant temptation of new things at your disposal to procrastinate doing work and no one to remind you of your responsibilities. In the fall semester, I found myself getting distracted by the many attractions there are in Manhattan (like food, entertainment, art, and shopping) that I wasn’t used to when living in the suburbs. Even so, I still studied so much that I often didn’t have time for fun and that is something I do regret at times.

  8. 8. Partying, drinking, drugs, and sex don’t have to be part of the college experience for you to have fun.

    Just like with making friends, there is no right or wrong way to go about college. It’s universally an educational and social experience for everyone, but the balance of each is different for everyone and can vary during one’s educational career. People who are usually extroverted and social often may not be at first because they are still coming out of their shells, and once they do they become more social.

    Social media and television often portray toxic notions of what is considered to be the “normal” college experience, focusing on drugs and sex. These are not, however, the things that define the college experience — the things that define it are the lessons learned, obstacles faced, and friends made. Although there are people who choose to define their college experience by substances and sex, not everyone does; in fact, most people probably don’t. The amount of people who do will generally vary by college, but everywhere there will be people who do and people who don’t.

  9. 9. There is more to college than getting the degree.

    Although education is the main reason people go to college, so much happens along the way that you won’t want to miss. These four years are a journey and the degree is the destination, but you don’t want to have tunnel vision along the way. In relation to time management, it can be hard to find a balance between work and play, and you might not ever know if you’re making the right decision. College will teach you when and how to prioritize work and play in ways that are suitable for your lifestyle. The important thing is that you take a step back every once in a while to examine your life and make sure that you won’t have any regrets after graduation. The last thing you want is to look back after graduation and regret studying too much or partying too hard.

  10. 10. “A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.” – Zen Shin

    Attaining a college education can be hard enough without comparing yourself to anyone else. Everyone survives and thrives differently; everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. As such, don’t be concerned with anyone else on your path to greatness. Don’t compare your accomplishments and failures with those of your peers. Just do you and be you, for you. Also, remember that social media shows people’s lives through the lens they want you to see them in; no one is happy all the time and no one is perfect.

  11. 11. There are resources available to you.

    If you ever feel overwhelmed with loneliness, stress, sadness, anxiety, or any other number of emotions, there are places you can seek help. College can be a challenging experience for everyone in different ways, and so there is no shame in accepting your emotions and seeking help. You can try Barnard's Rosemary Furman Counseling Center or Columbia's Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).