7 Lessons from 5 Graduating Seniors
After years of college, these five seniors have boiled the experience down into these seven tidbits. (Image via Colleges U.S.)
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7 Lessons from 5 Graduating Seniors

Take it from them: College is harder than you think.

As class of 2018 commencements take place over the next few months, seniors must say goodbye to a momentous period of their life. These graduates must now face the many new trials and tribulations inherent to living in the “real” world, whether it is facing employment, finding somewhere to live, paying off student loans or going to graduate school.

Rather than focus on what these former students must face in the future, it is essential to reflect on the many challenges they faced in the past. After all, those four or more years of their lives were anything but simple.

Whether they know it or not, graduating students went through and learned a lot outside of the classroom. Their insight and experiences can thus help incoming college students to better maneuver through campus life and come into school with a calmer, cooler head.

1. Put Yourself First

Mental well-being is a vital step to keeping stress levels low and to properly enjoying and engaging in college. As periods of high stress abound in college, anxiety and depression levels tend to rise, which is an issue for students who have not yet gotten used to college’s new and often difficult environment.

Tara Howell, a recent Loyola University Maryland graduate, noted that she wished she paid more attention to her mental health. Because she did not do so, her personal life and grades suffered, and she is now dealing with the consequences of not addressing her mental health sooner.

“Not everyone will understand what you are going through, and it may be difficult at times,” she says, “but your well-being should come first.”

Howell also pointed out that not everyone needed to be her friend. She felt she worked way too hard to make people happy and shape how others saw her, which came at a cost to staying true to herself. “I think I lost myself in that,” she says.

She also wished that she would have stopped spending so much time trying to get things right. “I tried to be in control of everything that happened to me,” she says. Thankfully, she has now come to understand that everything finds its way to work out in the end, even if it is not how you originally expected.

“College is a time to learn and grow,” Howell says, “and you are going to make mistakes.”

Howell also emphasizes that college is stressful and very difficult, which movies often do not stress. It’s not just a party like a lot people expect it to be. Students must face multiple challenges when learning in a system that expects a lot from its students, which can end up taking a huge toll on people.

For students struggling to grapple the issues college will likely fling at them, she quotes one of her favorite bands, The Gaslight Anthem: “Stay hungry, stay free, and do the best you can.”

2. Use Your Resources

College and university campuses are also rife with resources to help students adjust to entering and leaving college. One of the many resources Howell appreciated was office hours.

Professors’ office hours give students a chance to get to know their professor outside of the classroom, as well as help professors get to know students. Because she went to a small university, she had the chance to take advantage of such a useful resource.

Unfortunately, she did not do so as much as she wishes she would have. “I had some incredible professors that I wish I had gotten the chance to know more.” In light of this, Howell definitely thinks students should take advantage of these office hours if available.

Campuses also have counseling centers and programs that can help students to transition into college life better, or provide an individual to talk to when they need someone to listen. Colleges and universities will likely have directions on how to access these resources on their websites, as well as around campus.

3. “Forever Friends” Are a Myth 

Movies and television shows based on college can also cast a far too optimistic light on freshmen year of college. Megan Batt, a graduate of SUNY Cortland, learned that the friends she made freshmen year were not “forever friends,” or friends much of the media liked to portray as the people you meet your first year of college and stick with for the rest of your life.

“It’s okay for people to come and go in your life,” Batt says. “We shouldn’t settle for people who do not give us the same love that we give them.”

Batt also noted that, as we grow as people, who we choose to hang around will likely change. Paige Miceli, another Loyola graduate, concurred with this and added that students should also make sure not to get rid of good friends as soon as someone new comes along.

Regarding an ex-boyfriend, she said, “I would spend a lot of time talking to him and missed out on some things.” Balancing platonic and romantic relationships is an essential part of keeping a healthy, well-rounded life.

4. Try to Be Better Every Day 

College is a time well-known for encouraging competition inside and outside of the classroom, where classmates often attempt to outdo their peers.

Kerrianna Wallace, an Arcadia University graduate, learned a heartwarming and significant lesson from one of her professors: Rather than try to be the best at something — which is improbable if not impossible — try to get better at something every day.

Not only does this give someone something to strive to attain, it makes the goal accessible and easier to tackle.

5. Society Has a Lot to Do with It 

Much like the media had its part in indoctrinating incoming freshmen with the idea of “forever friends,” the media influenced other aspects of college — including the decision to go to college in the first place. Howell felt that there was a societal push to get her into college. When she decided to go to college, Howell felt like it was something she needed to do but is glad that it ended up working out for her.

“Although I do feel college, and specifically [Loyola], were good fits for me, everyone needs to acknowledge that college isn’t the only option.”

Currently, Howell thinks society affects her much less. After going through a Jesuit liberal arts university, society’s influence is not as strong. She is now confident making her own decisions and less influenced by others’ expectations or beliefs.

Howell feels this has to do with growing into herself throughout college, as well as gaining critical thinking skills. “I feel like I have broken that mold, especially since I plan to pursue a non-traditional career path.”

A lot of this has to do with growing into herself throughout college, she feels, as well as developing critical thinking skills. “I feel like I have broken that mold, especially since I plan to pursue a non-traditional career path.” Howell is currently pursuing a master’s program at Loyola and is planning to create a record label, either attached to the school or her own independent company.

6. Prepare to Settle

Miceli, who majored in statistics and minored in sociology, believed that other peoples’ opinions influenced what she majored in. She entered Loyola as a sociology major but, as people questioned her decision, she changed her major to statistics.

Miceli also feels that society urged her to look for higher-paying jobs in fields that are not nonprofit or service-oriented. “I really want to help others but that has to be put on the backburner for a while” she says. In her opinion, her loans were a huge deterrent from being able to do exactly what she wants.

Miceli is not alone in this: Approximately 44.2 million Americans owe more than $1.48 trillion in student loans. The monthly student loan payment is $203 for borrowers 20- to 30-years-old. Class of 2017 graduates hold an average student loan debt of about $39,400. This is 6 percent more than the previous year.

According to New York’s Federal Reserve Bank, there has been a 35 percent decline in homeownership since 2007 due to the student loan debt. Graduates must put such hallmarks of adulthood on hold due to struggling to pay off debts. Because of this, Miceli understands that she will have to “settle in the meantime” and make sure she acquires a job that gives her the stability she needs to attain before following her dreams.

7. Get Ready to Grow

While lessons for incoming students can go on for days, real knowledge and understanding comes down to the individual. There is far too much to learn from experience and trials that stories and accounts from other people just cannot do justice.

The most significant lessons come from places of growth, of learning one’s weaknesses and strengths. Such growth allows an individual to realize their true talent and potential that can then enable them to unlock a path they might not have initially seen. With such self-actualization, incoming college students will then be able to face new challenges in the real world, much like the class of 2018 graduates.

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