Unexpected Lessons I Learned in College

 by Kelsey O’Malley

College can be a challenging and uncertain. There is much that is expected, and a lot that is unknown, as whole great big road rolls out in front of you. What’s more, each college provides its students different experiences, and every student undergoes that experience differently. There isn’t one rule book that will fit everyone, or one lesson that is applicable to all.

With that said, here are some things that surprised me and things that I wish I knew when I was a freshman.


“Freedom” is not all you think it is

Many people get to college thinking that because they no longer live with their parents and there’s no after-school detention, they have the freedom to do whatever they want. This is idea is a sham. Although you do have freedom, you will be working way harder than you think.The reality is that if you want to win at college, you have to hold yourself to a pretty strict schedule. This is hard when the only person keeping you in check is yourself.

Friends, quality over quantity

Just like in high school, you meet a ton of people but you don’t necessarily stay close. A lot of your college acquaintances will fade, too after your graduate. You should look for people who will make real friends in college. This doesn’t just mean friends who are fun to party and hang out with, but also those who will nudge you towards a path of academic and professional success . Unless you’re very self-assured, it’s hard not to yield to your surroundings, and bad habits stick easy and die hard.  Once you find those few good friends, try to stay in touch if you can.

Family matters

You will miss your family more than you think. Call your mom and dad once in a while. This might seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget in the whirlwind of college that they’re still there for you. Set up a time of the week and have it be a recurring event, it’ll make your time in school a lot easier.

You don’t have to be #1

Yes, grades are important and it’s good to do well. But, unlike H.S. where your grades determined where you went to college, a college degree is given to everyone equally as long as they pass the course curriculum. Unless you’re going to grad school or are dead set on that summa cum laude, you don’t have to be the absolute best in every class.

Its easy to get on a path of choosing easy classes because it will help boost your GPA and avoiding classes that are challenging, even though they’re interesting. My advice, take that risk! Don’t let protecting your GPA take away from exploring what really interests you.  

Critical thinking, not mechanical memorization

It’s going to be tempting to study for your classes the night before and then just content vomit the information the next day. This may work in the short-term (if that) but you’ll quickly notice that classes and concepts build on each other, and not understanding the basics early will hurt you when things start to get more advanced.

Choose your roomates wisely, best go with acquaintances

College roommate horror stories abound. There’s no one size fits all checklist to choosing who you’re going to live with, but in general not opting for a total stranger or your best friend is a good rule of thumb. Broadly speaking, you should look for easy-going people who you’ll get along with, but won’t hang out with every second of the day.

Networking is a necessity

Not everyone has to be your friend, but you should try to be friendly with everyone. College is a great time to meet future business connections, and closing yourself off to your inner circle of friends can lead to missed opportunities. Diversify your social scene and you’ll be better for it.  

Tailor your curriculum to your needs and interests

Besides your core requirements there are usually a range of electives and concentrations you can choose from. Even more, each professor’s class provides unique experiences and takeaways. Choose the ones that will inch you closer towards your goal- they may not always be the easiest ones, but they’ll be worth it in the end.

You can push through, even when its overwhelming

College can get insanely stressful  and scary expensive, it’s tempting to give up mid-way through. This is rarely a good idea, especially if you’ve taken on debt and have no other way of paying it off. Its okay to transfer schools to a college that is more affordable. It’s okay to pivot majors, but it’s not optimal to give up all together. Take a semester off or try out something new, but don’t outright drop-out. Dropping out puts all the costs of going to college on your shoulders, without any of the benefits. Even when things seem grim, know that it all gets done and that you’ve got this!

You don’t have to be pre-med to go to medical school

If you are planning on going to medical school, you don’t necessarily have to take on a pre-med track. You can opt for another major, and simply fulfill the medical school requirements as well. It’s a good option if you want to have a backup degree to go along with your dreams of an M.D.  


“Sleep more than you study, Study more than you party, party as much as you can”