Your final years of high school may see your mailbox stuffed with promotions from colleges vying for your consideration. However, the process of fine-tuning your shortlist, touring campuses, and finally applying can be daunting. Many students wonder if the hassle of the college admissions game is worth it.
However, the school you choose has a major impact on your future beyond your potential employment options. Your college experience can transform your life in just four years, beyond what’s learned in the classroom. You can discover your true self, what you’re capable of, and — most importantly — what you believe with a college education.
1. New Experiences Become the Norm
If there’s one thing that’s consistent across college experiences, it’s that “new” will become the norm. New places, professors, living situations, and friends will replace everything that you’ve ever known on day one. The prospect of switching out everything you’re familiar with can be scary, but there’s beauty in the unknown.
Real life requires a level of adaptability best gained through experience, and there’s no better place than college to practice. Expand your horizons during undergrad and try new things, change your mind, and pivot. Say yes to things that scare you — so long as your personal safety is secured. While doing so may feel like a big deal, the risk of trying something new is relatively low.
Research colleges that offer a range of opportunities, targeting schools that specialize in your interests, academic and beyond. Develop a shortlist with the help of your college admissions consultant, whose expertise can give you an insider’s insight. Extracurriculars, both structured and student-led, can complement your classroom studies with ways to broaden your horizons.
2. Independence Takes a Front-Row Seat
You may be used to running on your family’s and high school’s schedules, but in college, you’re on your own. You’ll have a class schedule, but your attendance, assignment completion, and study habits rely on your direction. If this 180-degree shift toward total independence sounds scary, look at it as an opportunity to grow. After you graduate and begin working, there won’t be someone to nudge you along on your assignments. Stretch your time management and personal responsibility muscles while you’re in school, experience the inevitable failures, and learn how to recover.
Become your best advocate, speaking up in the classroom, with advisors, and among friends. Everyone is focused on their own journey, and no one is going to push you harder than yourself. College offers a relatively level playing field, so the threshold is as accessible as it’ll ever be. With practice, you’ll stretch your self-advocacy muscles and build a foundation that’ll serve you well into adulthood.
Learn what time management style works for you, how you like to structure your day, and what your needs are. Outside of the bell-dictated schedule of high school, college offers gaps for rest, studies, and even work. Practice different ways of managing your time and figure out what feels right. By the time you graduate, you’ll have developed your work style, putting you on the right path to handle whatever’s next.
3. Your Beliefs Will Be Challenged and Rebuilt
Your home life has a tendency to wrap you up in whatever belief system reigns supreme. In college, the bounds of your community, household, and even others’ perceptions of you disappear. Now, you have free rein to challenge old ways of thinking, being, and operating.
If you’ve always been a jock but now you want to tread the boards, do it. In college, no one knows about your decade-long tennis career, so there’s no better time than now to reinvent yourself. Chart your own path, letting your interests, ideals, and priorities be your guide.
Outside of challenging the expectations that may have been put upon you, challenge your own long-held beliefs, too. Attend shows at your school’s performing arts center that you wouldn’t usually choose. Rethink your knee-jerk “no” response to an invitation to a club meeting. Put yourself out there with an open mind, and you may learn something new about yourself and what you think.
4. Team Building Will Become Your Strong Suit
Even in a technology-heavy world, people need to be able to work together. In a college environment, you’ll be among peers whose goals are similar, but their work styles and personalities will vary. Here, you’ll be in situations daily that require you to collaborate with others, solve problems, and achieve results through adversity.
One of the first challenges you’ll experience is learning how to live with a complete stranger. In one day, you’ll move into a new place with another person and have to learn to coexist successfully. You’ll have conflicts, mediate issues, and find solutions to problems large and small that will translate into your whole life.
Classroom settings also teach you how to work through difficult issues, advocate for your beliefs, and confidently express your opinions. When you’re assigned to a group project where not every participant pulls their weight, you’ll learn how to manage conflict. The confidence you gain through teamwork, and the challenges that accompany it, are essential for both academic and professional success.
Discovering the Real You With a College Education
The college experience puts the real world on hold in the best way. During your undergraduate career, you have four years to focus on who you are and what you want without distraction. Take advantage of this time bubble and explore everything that sparks your interest, take risks, and discover the real you. When you do, you’ll gain the tools, experiences, and relationships you need to create a life you love.