• Students at SU

While constantly hearing about how life-changing college can be is tiresome when you’re still grinding your way through SATs, ACTs, and applications (especially the dreaded personal essay), there’s truth in this worn-out sentiment. In a few years’ time, you’ll have a degree or two to call your own, which is no small feat. The opportunity to continue academic pursuits may be the most obvious reason to pursue a university education, but much of your experience will be extra-curricular. At the risk of sounding a little mundane, here’s a list of seven things you might not expect to glean from your college experience.

You’ll probably have more free time than you did during high school.

As crazy as this sounds, it’s true! Quite possibly for the first time in your life, you won’t be in classes from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. (unless of course you really want to be). Sounds liberating, right? It is, but it can also be a little unsettling at first. Should you get a headstart on homework? Watch Netflix? Hang out with friends? Take up yoga? The possibilities are endless, so perhaps it’s best to aim for middle ground. Try not to feel too much pressure to be productive 24/7, but also keep in mind that getting some work done and not having to stay up all night writing an essay can be (almost) as amazing as binge-watching all of Stranger Things.

You’ll have a “favorite” grocery store and a “convenient” grocery store.

Assuming you’re fortunate enough to have multiple options nearby, you will develop a subconscious rating system for your local alimentary establishments. Don’t worry that this means you’re turning into your parents; consider it a sign of mature adulthood. Procuring food is a constant endeavor in college, so the quicker you get the hang of it, the easier your life will be. You may not always have time to drive out to “fancy H-E-B” (that’s our Texas grocery mainstay for those of you out of state), so it’s good to know that you can find your favorite ice cream at the one just down the road. It seems trivial now, but it won’t feel that way at 10:00 p.m.

Professors are real people, and they really do want to help you.
While the list of papers, articles, and books your English professor has authored, edited, or read may seem intimidatingly long, they do want to talk with you and help you in any way they can. Even if going to office hours wasn’t your thing during high school, it’s worth it in college. You may find out that your essay is much better (or much worse) than you thought or that your professor just so happens to know someone at that publishing firm where you’re applying for an internship. Going to office hours may very well mean discovering the mentor you didn’t know you were looking for. Plus, sometimes there are free snacks.
Laundry-room etiquette is very important.

Using some fairly basic manners while doing your laundry can make the difference between successfully cleaning your clothes or never seeing them again and making new friends or becoming notorious around campus. This may seem trivial, but it really isn’t. When it’s 9:00 p.m. and you can’t dry your clothes because someone’s left their laundry sitting in three of the dryers since yesterday and all of the others are running, you’ll understand. Please, don’t be that person.

It’s really OK if you don’t graduate in four years.

In fact, only about 40% of students actually do! After elementary, middle, and high school, we’re all pretty used to divvying up our educational lives into convenient three- to five-year chunks. As normal as this seems, it’s not a fundamental truth of the college experience. If you have the means to do so, taking time off from school, taking your time during school, or both can be life changing, and you might even learn something about yourself in the process. 

Your umbrella will be one of your most prized possessions.

During high school, most of your classes were probably all in the same building, so getting to sixth period on time probably meant walking down the hall or up some stairs at worst. Depending on your university, you may have to cover no less than half a mile to get to class. The extra walking and time outside are great, but when it’s pouring rain, you’re trying to avoid spilling that PSL, and you’re painfully aware that your backpack isn’t waterproof, the waterworks don’t seem as wonderful. Your umbrella will become your new best friend. Guard it with your life. 

Two words: free T-shirts.

You’ll most likely find yourself a little overwhelmed by free T-shirts from your university, and yes, there’s something to be learned from them. Between athletic teams, school-sponsored events, and student organizations, there’s a T-shirt for everything. Did you go to a concert on campus? T-shirt. Community service event? T-shirt. Joined a fraternity or a sorority? T-shirt. Your overflowing laundry basket is a sign that you’re becoming more involved on campus, meeting people, and having those unique college experiences you’ve always dreamed of (or at least heard about from friends and family). Free stuff probably shouldn’t be your only incentive for volunteering or joining a group, but in a few years, you’re going to have some pretty cool reminders of everything you’ve done, the people you’ve met, and the person you’ve become. Even after you graduate, there’s something really special about putting on that free shirt from the homecoming football game and hearing a total stranger yell, “Hey! I went to school there, too!” from across the street.  

Taking the time to look back on all that you’ve learned without even really trying is a confidence booster, a trip down memory lane, and a reminder why all of it was “worth it.”

While some or most of these may seem either self-evident or insignificant, they’re also the types of lessons that stick with you long after you’ve forgotten how many ATP are produced during aerobic respiration or how to calculate inventory turnover. Ideally, you’ll learn a great deal from your coursework, but the bits you accidentally pick up along the way—the things that make you laugh or that make running to the library in the rain before class to print your 20-page research paper a little less terrible—will differentiate you from the first-year accidentally sitting in the wrong classroom on the first day of school. These unintended and accidental lessons constitute incidental learning, and although it may not seem worthy of mention on a résumé, you wouldn’t be you and college wouldn’t be college without it. Taking the time to look back on all that you’ve learned without even really trying is a confidence booster, a trip down memory lane, and a reminder why all of it was “worth it.”