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The Five Most Important Lessons I’ve Learned in College

A woman walks down a city street, the sun shining brightly into the camera. From behind we see the woman holding a box and wearing a brown coat, grey scarf, black hat, and black backpack.

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

As my first year of college draws to a close, I’ve been asked by friends, classmates, and professors about whether I’ve changed as a person.

It’s interesting to reflect on my experiences of the last year and think about how my personality has developed and changed over the course of 12 months. The response I usually end up giving is that more than changing as a person, I feel that I’ve learned an unbelievable number of valuable lessons.

Although my personality may be the same, my mind is not. From starting off as a clueless freshman, I’ve learned so much about navigating college, friendships, classes, and relationships, more than I could ever imagine.

So, I wanted to share with you five of the most important lessons I’ve learned during my first year at university: 5 lessons that I wish someone had told me before I was thrown into the foreign (and often confusing!) world of college.

1. Build deeper connections with professors

I cannot emphasize this one enough! When I first entered college, I was ready to learn.

To me, classes were about listening to a professor lecture. Classes were about meeting new students with shared interests and passions. Classes were about taking exams and maintaining good grades. 

It’s only now, as a sophomore at my university, that I realize how valuable networking is, how important it is to go out of your way to speak to your professor outside of class hours.

For jobs, graduate school, or whatever your plans may be after college, many applications require recommendations from college professors. If you never go out of your way to speak to your professors, it’s unlikely that you’ll find it easy to get these.

After all, in a class of more than one hundred kids, it’s unbelievable how easy it is to blend in. 

What most students don’t know when they enter college is that professors WANT to talk to you! They WANT to build stronger connections with their students. They WANT to help you succeed.

Don’t be scared to write a professor an email asking if you can meet them after class or if they have time to speak to you about a concept you don’t understand. Trust me, they’ll want to help you.

In the process, you’ll not only do better in the class, but you’ll also build the teacher-student relationships that will come in handy when applying to jobs, graduate school, or medical school. 

2. Make an effort to speak to students in your classes

This one may be a slightly more well-known piece of advice than the first, but it’s still useful nonetheless! What I’ve found after spending a year in college is that classmates and study groups are your best friends.

Whether you are a more independent learner or someone who learns through collaboration, I can guarantee that you’ll find classes easier if you have classmates you can reach out to and ask if you need anything.

Whether that entails help on a homework assignment, preparing for a final exam, or answering a question you’re stuck on, professors are busy people. They may take a while to respond to your emails or questions.

You’ll find it much easier when you have friends taking the same class who you can text and ask for help. Don’t have friends in a class you’re taking? No worries! Just go out of your way to meet a few students who sit around you or who share the same major/interests as you. The difference will be miraculous!

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3. Make a planner

I’ve had this habit since high school, but since I’ve entered college, keeping a planner has made my life exponentially easier.

I’ll be honest: when you’re taking 15 credit hours, trying to socialize with peers, and worrying about things like cooking for yourself and doing your own laundry, things tend to become a little messy.

Your memory may become a little hazy and things that you tell yourself that you’ll get to may end up never happening. It’s easier in college for that one homework assignment or that one online quiz from a week ago to completely skip your brain. 

While professors in college give you more flexibility in terms of studying and turning in homework, this added flexibility and independence comes at the cost of added responsibility.

Unlike high school, professors no longer remind you about assignments or reach out to you if they see you haven’t turned something in. It’s up to you to keep track of what you have to complete and by when you have to complete it.

Keeping a planner with a list of things to accomplish every week is indescribably useful in keeping everything organized in your brain and making sure you don’t forget things that you are supposed to get done.

I’ve also found that checking things off of your planner when you’re finished with them is useful in keeping a tab of what you’ve already finished so that there’s no potential for forgetting an assignment or task.

4. Don’t disregard sleep!

“You can only have 2 of 3 things in college: sleep, friends, and grades.” 

I’ve heard this saying over and over again, but I didn’t truly understand it until I experienced it myself. Let me tell you: it’s SCARY how true this is.

While much of college is about keeping good grades and making sure you’re academically on track, a whole other part of it is socializing and meeting new people.

There’s so much more to college than studying, and you’ll start to realize that when you begin meeting new people and craving those new college experiences. 

If you care about your grades and are also into socializing, your schedule can get pretty hectic. There may be a lot on your plate at once and you might struggle to balance your social life with your academic one.

In times like these, it can be easy to neglect sleep. It’ll be easier than it seems to sleep one hour later so that you can turn in an assignment on time or push your bedtime by 30 minutes so that you can stay out with your friends for a little bit longer.

While changes like these seem harmless in the short term, they can actually be detrimental to your health over time.

When I started college, I used to get nine to ten hours of sleep every night, easily. As I struggled to schedule in time for both friends and academics, this number dropped lower than what would be considered healthy, often down to four or five hours per night.

While it didn’t seem too significant at first, these shortages in sleep began piling up, and I felt more tired in the mornings, struggled to stay focused when doing my homework, and fought to keep my eyes awake during a movie. 

I’ve fixed my sleep schedule now, and I can say I’ve never felt better. Reflecting back on this first year of college, I realize that trying desperately to balance both my social and academic life perhaps wasn’t worth the hours of sleep I was losing or the damage I was doing to my health.

While it’s easy to neglect sleep, I highly suggest you don’t. Trust me, it’ll do more harm than good.

5. Don’t try to do everything

For all my overachievers out there, this tip is especially for you. As an overachiever myself, I often tried to jump on every opportunity I saw.

When I heard of an internship offer, I would immediately apply for it. When I heard about a cool job opportunity, I would immediately send in my resume. When I heard about a class that sounded interesting, I would immediately add it to my schedule.

A great thing about college is that you’re finally given the flexibility to do everything you want and exactly how you want it. But that comes at a cost.

If you’re a perfectionist or an overachiever, you might find your schedule filling up and your responsibilities taking up more hours than what’s available in a day. While you might feel productive at first, you’ll slowly start to have less and less time to do the things you enjoy.

You may be in a sluggish mood, not enjoying the things you used to enjoy. Often referred to as burnout, this is never a pleasant feeling, and it’s a good strategy to avoid it.

If you’re wondering how to avoid it, it’s easier than it seems! If you are trying to jump on every opportunity you encounter or every experience you hear about, take a moment to stop and think: Do I really have space for this in my schedule? How much time do I foresee myself committing to this activity? Will I still have time to participate in all the things I enjoy?

If the answer to this last question is no, it might be better to pass up on the opportunity and wait for a different one to come your way. You won’t regret it.

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Author: Anisha Holla

Anisha Holla graduated as the valedictorian of her high school, and has since been named a National Merit Scholar, a National AP Scholar and a Coca-Cola Scholar. She is currently one of 20 Eugene McDermott Scholars at the University of Texas at Dallas, where she studies Psychology on the pre-med track. She loves to play her piano, flute and guitar; and one of her favorite hobbies is trying out new food places in the area. Holla is fluent in Spanish, Hindi and Kannada, and newly conversational in Mandarin. After graduation, she plans to either pursue a career in psychiatry or an MBA .