Coming to college, I anticipated the obvious ways that life in college is different from high school: being away from my home and family, taking fewer classes, and a whole new world of people. But there are many ways in which life in college is really different; things that seem unnoteworthy at first but that collectively make for a very different lifestyle.
1. You’re social 24/7.
Living in a dorm means that even washing your face or getting a late-night bowl of cereal happen in public places. This can be so fun and you can make great friends in the most unexpected circumstances, but it can also be exhausting, especially when it starts to feel impossible to get any privacy.
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2. You have a more flexible schedule.
Taking only three or four classes means that every day looks different. Instead of 8am-3pm five days a week, you could have five classes one day and none another. This can be a beautiful thing; it gives you the option to do things like hold an internship two days a week or go skiing on Fridays. It also means that your sleeping schedule is generally shifted later; the combination of hanging out with people in the dorms and not starting until 10am means that every day can feel like a weekend.
3. You have way more downtime, but way more work outside of class.
At first, I didn’t know what to do with a surplus of downtime when I only had class for a couple hours each day; I’ll go for a walk I guess? But as classes heat up with workload, you realize that there is so much downtime because there really is that much work to fill it with. Learning to budget your own time is a major learning curve. More downtime also means that you have more time to do other things; join clubs, get a job, and generally have a life that’s not 100% about school.
4. Classes are not intimate.
Especially with lower division courses, lectures can be anywhere from 80-500 people. Coming from high school classes of 20-30, this is a huge shock. Suddenly it feels intimidating to ask a question or get the help you need, but the resources are out there with discussion sections, office hours, and tutoring.
5. Schoolwork is not about assignments, it’s about exams.
In high school it was unheard of for essays or exams to be worth much more than 25% of your grade. In many college classes, the final is worth 50% of your grade. The time I used to spend slaving away on busy work assignments and worksheets I now spend studying, oftentimes teaching myself much of the content.
6. You don’t have to go to class, and if you do you don’t have to pay attention.
Those 300-person lecture halls mean that you miss out on having a relationship with your instructor, but the plus side is that attendance is almost never taken. Plus, most professors post the lecture slides online, so you can get by in some courses without ever showing up (though it’s not recommended).
Image source: Min An
7. You never run out of things to get involved in or people to meet.
The school is bigger, especially if you go to a public school like UCD. My graduating class size went from 400 to 10,000. This means that the school has a never-ending abundance of things to get involved in or new people to meet; you never know what’s out there. This can feel overwhelming, but I try to keep as many doors open as I can and try as many things as possible.
8. Things you previously did with your parents you have to do on your own.
I had no idea how to make a doctor’s appointment, and I thought I knew how to grocery shop, but it turns out there are a lot of different kinds of everything and I was overwhelmed with what to get. Living in a dorm with a meal plan isn’t really living in the “real world,” but it’s still a jump from living at home.
9. College parties are… different.
Most high school parties are with people you already know, whereas in college it’s in a random house with random people. Raging can be fun, but it can also be grimey grimey grimey.
10. You don’t go home to your family.
This seems obvious, but I didn’t realize how much the tiny, menial interactions I have with my family mean to me, whether it’s making fun of my sister while getting cereal or telling my dad about how my exams went.
11. With a gained sense of independence comes a sense of loneliness.
Your first year in college is a major growth curve in terms of independence, and this can be very empowering. You are becoming who you are in the real world without relying on the support of your family, friends and home. However, with this huge change can come a sense of loneliness; what am I doing here? With time though, your campus will become your home and you will find your place.