What I’ve Learned From 4 (or 5) Years of College
Lee Robinson / May 02, 2016
7 min read • ––– views
With my college career coming to an end in just five short days, I took some time to reflect on what I’ve learned throughout my experience at Iowa State. This article reads like a love letter to my Freshman year self, but lots of the topics and advice will apply to you as well.
Many factors play into your decision on where to attend college: cost, location, scholarships, prestige, etc. This is a place where you’re going to make a huge investment in time and money, so take that extra college visit to ensure you’re making the right choice.
I spent a long time debating what my major would be in high school and ultimately chose Computer Engineering based on my passion for computers and Iowa State’s well respected engineering program. I didn’t realize until I started working as an intern just how critical it was that I truly enjoyed my major. That “real world” job probably isn’t as glamorous as you’d hope, so it’s important to either enjoy who you work with or what you work on (why not both?).
Like many other college students, I had a rough Freshman year. The combination of adjusting to larger class sizes as well as my inability to study effectively led to a sub-optimal GPA. After the conclusion of my Freshman year, I remember Googling “How to get a good job with a low GPA” because I was so nervous. What I learned was that your GPA doesn’t necessarily matter if you can learn to prove yourself in other ways, like rocking an in-person interview. As I got more accustomed to college and refined my studying skills, my GPA naturally improved over the years. I still had opportunities with a lower GPA, but this improvement led to arguably better options to chose from. There’s a fine line between studying all the time to improve your GPA and having fun that most people (who aren’t naturally brilliant) have to learn to balance.
When you get that text from your friend saying “Do you want to go out tonight?” and you’re debating on reading the next chapter in your book… do it (just not every time). I know, this sounds like horrible advice, but you’re only in college once. If you can learn to balance having fun with being responsible and studious, you’ll have a better college experience. Hell, you just might even make some life-long friends.
Drinking isn’t for everyone, so if you fall into the latter category simply ignore these next two points. Lots of people enjoy drinking and having a good time. No one enjoys the person who can’t handle their alcohol and ruins the night for everyone, or makes a fool out of themselves. It’s important to learn your limits and how to handle yourself after a couple drinks.
There will be times when things get a little out-of-hand (21st birthday?) and that’s okay. Those memories you make with your friends will be told for years to come. Leave the car keys at home and put your party pants on every now and then.
It took me awhile to figure out how I had more free time as a Junior and Senior than as a Freshman when I was taking harder classes, working part-time, and spending more time with my friends. I didn’t suddenly have more free time than before, I just learned how to work with the time I had available more efficiently. There are a million different articles on time management so I won’t go into detail here, but it truly does help.
I’m not sure I could classify myself as someone who enjoyed learning before college. High school was very structured, and ultimately left me wanting more out of my education. The freedom to explore whatever avenue of education you want that college provides is truly a blessing. Some people are able to find this without college, and for others they might never find it. However, if you can learn how to enjoy learning… you’ll set yourself on the right path to prevent your skills from becoming stagnant in the workforce.
Chances are you’ll probably be exposed to the most diverse set of people you’ve ever encountered at college. Take advantage of this and meet some new people who you wouldn’t normally interact with. You just might surprise yourself with how much you have in common. College provides you with a lot of places to stumble into people repeatably, which helps increase your chances of building a stronger connection with them. All of those events that seem pointless are actually great networking resources that you won’t necessarily have as easily outside of campus.
You think you have an idea of your ideal job, but you won’t really know until you get out into the world and work in your field. That’s why internships can be your most valuable asset - they help you determine what you want from your first full-time position. In a way, you can create a mental checklist of all the things you like and dislike about your position. Then, when it’s time to graduate and interview for a full-time job, you’ll be one step ahead of your peers and know exactly what you’re looking for.
On a more personal level, I’ve found that college has taught me more about relationships than I’d ever possibly imagined. During your college years you’re exposed to so many new people, and chances are you’ll probably end up dating some of them. Dating advice is not one-size-fits-all. Some people find “true love” and boom, they’re married and have kids before the end of college. Others might make a mistake on Tinder and end up with two kids and a life of hard knocks. My advice is simply this: learn from experience. The only way you’ll truly know what you want from your future partner is through the pros and cons of a failed relationship. Heartbreak is more-or-less inevitable, and it should be embraced. Did your college relationship fail? Congratulations, you just determined qualities you don’t want in your future spouse. If you get the opportunity to find someone you truly love, it will be one of the best things you take away from college.
Seriously, that woman is a saint. This can be interchanged with any person of importance in your life who’s played a significant role in shaping your values and views. For me, that person is my mother. She’s the one who was always one call away when I thought about switching my major Freshman year. She’s the one who gave me words of encouragement after every accomplishment and helped me cope with my failures. She was my steady, powerful stream of reassurance, and for that I thank you. If you have someone like this in your life, make sure you let them know.
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