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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wisconsin chapter.

You can learn a lot in 4 years

It’s the end of an era as my time at college comes to a close. I wouldn’t say these past four years went by fast, but it still feels strange that I’m done with college. My experience has been unique for sure. I got into my dream school and went there for two years but was pretty unhappy for most of it, then a deadly global pandemic hit and I did two semesters online, and finally, I was able to have a senior year on campus at UW-Madison which I ended up loving. This is not the college journey I expected, but I learned so much along the way. Here are some of the big lessons I learned in college.

I found out what subjects and topics interest me

In high school, maybe you had some electives but for the most part had all your classes decided for you, even if you hated them (looking at those three years of math). In college, you get to pick a major that hopefully interests you and can take lots of fun and interesting courses. Yes, there are gen ed and major requirements, but you still get the chance to find out what you are passionate about. For example, I learned that I love theater history and classes about media effects. You can also take classes and realize that the topic isn’t the one for you and that’s ok! I started as a business major and realized that wasn’t the best major for me. I didn’t expect to graduate with a journalism major but I loved the classes I took in that major and learned so much. I also got to take tons of fun electives like a class on fairy tales, a class about vampires in the media and a class on Shakespeare. 

Plans can change at any minute, so be prepared for the unpredictable

I am more of a type-A personality so I like to plan things out. However, most of those plans never go exactly how I imagine. For example, I was so excited to attend my dream university but it ended up being the wrong school for me so I transferred to a school that I didn’t even consider during my first round of applications. I ended up loving that school.Other things can go awry in college like the dreaded class registration where you have to make lots of contingency plans and even then the classes you want might still be full. Or, you know a global pandemic could hit and drastically change the way you live your life. I still think having a plan is good for some things, but it’s also important to know how to handle obstacles that come your way. Also, don’t be afraid to take a risk. When looking back at college, the times that I took a chance led to the best outcomes. Life is unpredictable, so be ready and take that chance if it’s something you want to pursue. 

You are in charge of your happiness

This is pretty self-explanatory but it is something that I faced in college. I reached some real low points during my first two years but it was also my own actions that got me to a better place. I needed to make a change, so I did. People can give you advice but you need to be in the headspace to listen. You have to advocate for your own happiness and that can take many forms. I realized that I could sit in my dorm and feel sorry for myself…or I could try and make myself happy again. I went for walks around my campus, I journaled my thoughts, I put myself out there more, I found new things to enjoy and I removed myself from a place that wasn’t making me feel good about myself. Now, I can say that I am in a much better place and know what makes me happy in life. There isn’t a one size fits all way to find happiness and it’s not an overnight process, but it is possible.

Comparing yourself to others is a waste of time

I think I got out of high school pretty easily. I had a good group of friends, felt I knew who I was, and was pretty confident. I wouldn’t say I peaked in high school but it was not a terrible experience either. I never compared myself to others in high school as I started to in college. I thought people were smarter than me, prettier than me, more charismatic than me, and so on. I believed people were living out super happy lives based on their social media and was upset that I wasn’t doing the same. It took a while but I realized it was pointless to compare my life to others because everyone is so different and what people portrayed on social media might not even be accurate at all. I’ve met so many people who seem like they have a perfect life but are actually struggling. We are all living a unique life and moving at our own pace, so there is no point in comparing yourself to someone else.

College doesn’t have to be “the best four years of your life”

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that phrase, I could really make a dent in my student loans. It sets up this idea that college is going to be an amazing time for everyone when that isn’t true. It might be the best four years for some people and that genuinely is great. For others, it could be a good four years, an average four years or even a bad four years. Everyone is going to have a different college experience, and no experience is “wrong.” I also think it’s interesting that if someone says high school was the best four years of their life, they get mocked and told they peaked in high school. Yet, it’s the expectation that college will be the best four years. I don’t think any four-year time frame should be the best for anyone. My goal is to be old and able to look back on tons of years and think about how great they were, not just my college years. Even better yet, just let each year get better and better so I don’t have even one “best year.”

College truly is a learning experience like no other. Yes, you learn academic things but you also learn so much about yourself and the world around you. My time definitely had its ups and downs, but I am truly grateful for this experience and what it taught me.

Ava Calpino

Wisconsin '22

Ava Calpino is a senior strategic communication major at UW Madison. She previously wrote for LMU's chapter. She loves writing, the environment, and cute animals.