As I’m approaching the last day of my undergraduate career at the University of New Mexico, I’m prompted to sit back and marvel at the last four years. Whether for better or worse, being in college has taught me so many things academically and socially and emotionally and every other -ly word I can think of. I’m thinking back to the classes I wanted to take, and the classes I didn’t want to take, and all of the students and teachers I’ve had either the honor or displeasure of encountering over the last four years. So, I, as I’m sure many other prospective graduates are right now, got to thinking; what the hell did I actually LEARN in college? I mean besides the fact that there are plenty of studies to show that you only really retain roughly 20 percent of your college education, I want to know what stuck up there.
Now I’m not talking academically because I’m sure you don’t want to hear me drone on about communication theory or social penetration theory (think the onion analogy from Shrek and you already got that one down), nor do I particularly want to hear the gory details of the academic onslaught you braved to gain the degree you did. I’m talking those other things. The social, emotional, gritty, come-to-Jesus things that I know for a fact I didn’t know going into college nor could I without experiencing it.
1. You only retain about 20 percent of your college education.
I know, right? I hate that I have to wrap my head around this idea, but it’s true. Of all the time and effort and blood, sweat, and tears you've put into college, your brain is going to remember 20 percent of all of it. Now, this is good and bad in my opinion, but when I first heard this statistic, I was beside myself. Four years of my life, all the term papers I've written, all the presentations I've given, and my brain will only retain 20 percent of it?! How is that positive? How am I going to look at that and tell myself that this has been worth it?
Well, it's pretty hard, I'll give you that. But how much of it do you really need to retain? Do you really need Math 101? Do you need to know every detail from your Survey of Early American Literature class? This is all information that's been so ingrained into your scholastic career that you don't have to commit it to memory. But maybe that 20 percent is the important stuff. That's what you're going to take with you once you get out of college. That's the information you had fun with, you loved to learn, maybe even hated to know. At least that information, that 20 percent, is going to be relevant to you moving on.
This is definitely possible, or it's possible I'm only going to remember the last 5 classes I took and that's it. I can do my best to remember what I want to remember and keep that in my head, because if I don't I'll just get irrationally annoyed and mad at the fact that I've done all of this to myself and stressed myself out for only 20 percent.
2. What’s a “sleep/eat schedule”?
I don’t think all those years of having a blocked off time for lunch that started and ended with a bell really prepared me for the calamity that is the standard course workload of college. Oh, and don’t get me started on how much I hate my elementary school self for not appreciating the now fabled “nap time”. It’s almost admirable, albeit a little terrifying, how long the human body can function without so much as a nap or a real meal. Just think of the years we’ve taken off our lives because of the amount of sleep we’ve lost. The hours and hours and HOURS we’ve spent burning the after-midnight oil to get that final done, only to have 4 others till to do later, really feels like we’re not getting the best return on our investment here. The nice thing is that you kinda learn to live with it as you and countless others just begin to exist in this perpetual state of sleep deprived. Plus, there isn’t a soul on campus that’s going to judge you for taking a slight respite on campus. Whether it’s on a chair in the library, in your student union building, or up against a wall before your next class; we will all salute you and continue on with our day thinking of when we’ll get our first nap.
Also, let’s go back to that term “real meal” and have a collective laugh. The amount of Ramen and peanut butter and all sorts of distant outliers on the food pyramid that we’ve called “dinner” is a little sickening. That is, if we ever get the time to just sit down and eat something with how busy we are. Thankfully, high school painted a far stricter picture of college than what we actually experienced. I’ve demolished plenty of cheeseburgers, Subway sandwiches, Chik-fil-a nuggets, and a myriad of other things while also furiously trying to keep up with my teacher’s lecture notes.
3. You will drink/go out, and so will that person that PROMISED they wouldn’t.
“I live for the nights that I can’t remember, with the people that I won’t forget” seems like the song lyric to justify our insatiable need for socialization accompanied with alcohol. Whether you’re the social drinker or the blackouter, you’re still going to go drink. It’s fun, it’s a great way to meet people, and a great way to build camaraderie knowing that you all have papers due and you’re sitting there taking shots. There’s really nothing like feeling that sense of belonging that you get when you’re walking around a random house and you see people you know, who are just as if not more drunk than you are.
Now I’m not advocating for the over-consumption of alcohol, nor the negative effects of being drunk both on your body and your life, but when else in your entire life will it be socially acceptable to chug half a bottle of Jack Daniels while trying to throw a ping pong ball into a red solo cup? In the end, everyone matures, just in different ways.
4. Sometimes you must skip one class to go work on another.
One of my favorite ironic moments in my college career was when I skipped my 10 am class because I had to work on a presentation for my 11:30 am class. As I was walking to said class, as prepared as ever to present, who did I see walking past me? The teacher of my 10 am class. Now I’m caught, but I don’t want to just ignore this teacher because I’m going to see them in two days and it’s already awkward, so the only real thing II could do in that situation was smile and wave and keep walking.
This is the nature of the beast that is college. Sometimes you have to miss that class that doesn’t take attendance so you can knock out a paper you should’ve done a month ago. Granted, there’s the possibility that you’re going to be behind in that class that you’ve just missed but hey, pick your battles, right? Not only is this a good time to learn not to procrastinate, but in reality it also teaches you what’s important. If you can get by and make the important things work for you then why not? Just don’t get too carried away.
5. Think before you buy that $200 textbook.
At the end of my sophomore year, I decided to sell my textbooks back and make some money back. I took 11 total books from freshman and sophomore year, which added up to roughly $1,200 and change. Want to know what I got back for all of those? $90 bucks. I can’t even handle how big and L I took that day. How many textbooks have you bought a week or two before class started and then realized 3 days in that you wouldn’t need it? It’s insane how much money you waste on stuff you realize you don’t need. Thankfully there are actually textbooks that I do enjoy and use often, but damn! Anyway, taking the time to gauge the situation and see what you really need is a good practice for life, if not also for spending stupid amounts of money on textbooks. Give it time, and everything will fall into place.
6. You're not going to see your friends every day and plans are going to fall through, and that's okay.
Think of your daily schedule at its busiest. Work, school, study, work, and maybe a doctor’s appointment penciled in somewhere. How many moments in that busy schedule did you have to just sit? Probably twice; when you woke up and when you went to sleep again. The crazy thing is that while you’re trying your hand at this whole “adulting” thing, your friends are doing the exact same thing. So, don’t freak out when your friends aren’t as accessible as they were when they didn’t have a job and 18 credit hours and sorority meetings and study groups. They’d absolutely love to drop everything and go out with you or go to lunch or meet up at that movie. But like you, they’re neck deep in responsibilities and stress and their fifth practice test before their final exam. They don’t hate you, if anything seeing you would make their weeks a whole lot better, but it might just be the case that they just can’t, and that’s not the worst thing in the world.
By the way, don’t beat yourself up because you have to bail on your friends sometimes. You’ve got responsibilities! You have a job and two research papers to write and a C+ that needs to look like a B in a few weeks. There’s nothing wrong with needing to just buckle down and knock some work out. You’re going to be busy, and if they’re your friends they’re going to understand. Not just because they’re your friends, but because they’re also busy. Your friends don’t just stop being your friends because you haven’t seen each other in a week (or maybe a month, who’s counting?). That separation just makes the reunion that much better.
7. This time, there really are people you will NEVER see again.
I remember parents of friends in high school telling me not to worry about those people, because I’d never see them again. But I went to the main college in my hometown and have maintained the same general crowd of people for the last four years. This is the cut-off though, and where we as people get to genuinely pick and choose who’s in our lives and who gets the axe. Your true friends are going to be the ones to stick it out with you to the bitter end, of course, and you already know who they are. But there are the other people. The randoms you kick it with in class, the people you’ve presented with, the guy who loans you his lecture notes; it’s entirely possible that you’ll never lay eyes on those people again when you graduate. While finishing high school might be a funnel for where to go, getting out of college just presents endless possibilities for everyone. Who knows where life’s going to take you at that point? It puts into perspective the weight of the relationships you make, or choose not to make. I always hate deleting that one group text with my project group because I know that there’s no way I’ll actively be able to see them again. But I don’t mind walking out of class that has the know-it-all guy in it because I know I’ll never have to deal with him again. It’s all a matter of perspective.
8. You’re a whole lot more amazing that you give yourself credit for.
Think about where you are now. Whatever grade you’re in (or supposed to be in), whatever work you’re currently ignoring to read this article for whatever class you’re taking; there are a lot of layers to it. Sometimes you can feel stressed because not everything is done or you’re not getting enough sleep or your grades aren’t where you think they should be; I know I do. But remember the things that make you really awesome in this situation.
1) You’re getting a higher education from an accredited university.
2) your grade point average is higher than all of the people who decided they didn’t want to college, and higher than a lot who did decided to go.
The point here is that no matter how hard you are on yourself, you are always better than you think you are. No number of things not going your way or stress is going to change the fact that there is a positive spin to everything, even if sometimes it’s incredibly hard to find. You look better than you think you do, you sound better than you think you sound, you’re smarter than you think you are. You are all of these amazing and good things, regardless of how long it’s taken you to realize it. Don’t forget to remind yourself of that.
9. College was everything they'd said it would be, and nothing like it at all.
My whole experience went by so fast. No one really tells you how quickly four years flashes by before you’re getting ready to put on a cap and gown and walk down a stage to get a diploma. There have been so many things that teachers, friends, and movies got right. I did spend many nights up late studying when I should have been out drinking, and many more drinking when I should’ve been studying. I did meet a lot of new people and learn a bunch of different perspectives on life just by talking and listening. I did have probably too much fun on the way to my diploma, and I did have a blast.
There are also a lot of things that those sources got wrong, or just flat out didn’t tell me. They didn’t tell me how stressed I would be. They didn’t tell me how good a B- would feel and how horrific a B+ would. They didn’t tell me how lost I would feel at times. No one warned me how expensive everything would be. They didn’t tell me that I would lose people that I cared about, and care about people I never knew I had. They never told me that I would come out of college so excited about life and so defeated about it at the same time. I didn’t make as many friends as they said I would (if anything I rarely learned people’s names). I didn’t drink as much as I thought I would. Living on campus wasn’t as shiny and awesome as they said it would be.
I loved being in college. I loved the parties and the tailgates, the students and the instructors, the games and the events. I even loved the papers I wrote, the presentations I made, and the speeches I gave. I didn’t realize how much I would love college and how much it would do to me both positively and negatively. I became more positive and more cynical. I became more independent and more dependent. I did all of these things that I never knew I would, and I didn’t do so many things I thought were given.
And in one week, it’ll just be another chapter of a book that I get to close.