1. WHAT? It’s been 10 years since I graduated?
On the one hand, college doesn’t seem that long ago. Then again, when I think about how much my life and perceptions have changed since I was 22, at least 10 years seems about right. Time does go fast, and one day you’ll wake up and be in your 30s — which sounds terrible until you realize that it isn’t.
After 10 years, it is amazing to look back on all of the interesting turns life has taken, and to realize that many of them were completely unplanned, unpredictable and, for that, lovely.
2. College dorms and apartments were janky slums.
I went to a decent state school and the dorms were about as homey as the federal prison in “Orange is the New Black.” No windows, shared bathrooms, and hospital green walls—the place was foul, ridden with mold, and, likely, other health risks. Ditto my first college campus area apartments managed by a slumlord who only cared about collecting rent.
I remember climbing to the roof every morning to reset the fuse box after one of us turned on a blow dryer the same time as the coffee machine. There was that shattered window on the first floor that didn’t get repaired for months. Holes in the floorboards meant that our apartment was also a home to stray cats.
Still, these spaces represented my first independent life away from home and, back then, all those hazards and defects were fine by me.
3. I had so much free time!
You might think studying for exams was hectic and that your schedule was SO busy, but nothing compares to working full-time, having children, and trying to squeeze in a workout or (dare I dream), some time for myself. Looking back on college days, I realize how much free time I really had, which was really more about a lack of responsibility the fact that no matter what shenanigans I pulled during that free time, I still had the energy to stay up all night and do it all over again.
Why not stay out all night dancing when I can still sleep in AND have time to study before class? I could and I did. Even those all-nighters cramming for an exam seem easy now, compared to staying up with a teething or barfing baby.
4. What was my major again?
When you are 19 and everyone, from your parents to career counselors, is pressing you to pick a major (and your life’s direction), it can seem like this decision is both self-defining and critical. A few years after graduation, you’ll realize how little your major mattered, not only to potential employers, but also in your long-term career path.
Even if you are one of those few people who actually majored in Engineering or Accounting or you pursued graduate studies in your field, it is just as likely that your career path will wind in an unexpected direction. For most liberal arts majors, even Communications or Business majors, it won’t matter too much in the long-run. What matters more is your job experience, internships, and most importantly, how you continue to develop your skills and experience after college.
5. I took myself way too seriously.
Of course, everyone is different, but I wish that I would have taken myself less seriously during college. No reason to turn into a drunk slacker and get kicked out of school, but I wish I would have relaxed more and worried less. Instead of anguishing over romantic relationships and counting calories, I wish I would have enjoyed my girlfriends and eaten that pizza guilt-free. I had no idea that my metabolism was actually still KILLING IT!
I also wish I would have explored art classes, spent some genuine time volunteering (not just for the sake of a resume), traveled aimlessly and wide-eyed, or simply enjoyed some quiet to myself. Time in college seemed entirely focused on what was coming next, and there were so many missed opportunities to enjoy my early twenties and what actually was.
6. Four-year university is not the only way.
Many of my friends who were the most stable and financially successful after high school and even after the college years did not have four-year degrees—they had jobs. They were skilled workers: hair stylists, mechanics, bakers, health care workers, or electricians. They weathered the economic storm, didn’t have student loans to pay off, and had a skill set that was marketable outside of a limited company or geographic location. I only realized it after I graduated, but college is certainly not the only way to make it. Arguably, it is not even the best way to prepare for the “real world.”
While I don’t regret my college education or career path, I have a growing and deep respect for those who chose skilled labor positions and steered clear of the university (and debts).
7. Everything they said about networking was true.
Of all the unsolicited advice I got before, during, and after college, the piece that continues to hold true is about networking: “It’s not what you know, but who you know” #TRUTH. Networking does not mean going to every local business event or schmoozing with every corporate or political bigwig you can. It could mean, chatting with a stranger on the airplane, being friendly at a coffee shop, or engaging yourself in community events: you never know who you may meet.
8. College is a privilege.
Whether you got student loans or your parents helped pay your way, you will come to realize (if you haven’t already), that college is a massive privilege. I came from an upper-middle class suburb where it seemed like everyone went to college. It was expected, and looking back, I definitely took the opportunity for granted.
When I think about undocumented students who are barred from access, young people in countries without funds or access to college, or even those who must drop out because they don’t have time or resources to continue, I realize what a significant privilege it was to attend and graduate from college.
9. I miss my old service industry job.
You spent your entire college career waiting for the day you could throw down your apron and get a “real job,” but guess what… you WILL miss your service industry and summer college jobs! Looking back, I don’t remember the unruly customers, scrambling for tips, or sweeping dirty floors. I do remember the inside jokes, lots of laughs, and the many friends I made working nights and weekends. Compared to my first starting salaries, my waitress pay wasn’t even that bad.
You may never want to put on your apron again, but you will look upon those old bartending and waitressing jobs more fondly than you think.
10. I am so glad I’m not in college anymore.
You may worry that the best days of your life are over or feel that “real world” creeping up on you. One thing I did not expect is how much better life got after college. Not only will you finally have an income to buy some new clothes or shoes, or finally go on that vacation you’ve dreamed of, but, more importantly, you’ll get to make your own choices and get on with your life.
It wasn’t until after college that I realized that my decisions were finally my own, and that they would definitely add up. No more will you be confined to a college campus where your ideas, actions, and motivations are limited to university or courses.
Your major or your coursework will no longer define who you are: you can do what you want and be who you choose.
With a college degree in your pocket, you’ll be even more prepared to carve your individual path and make your actions count.