Things I wish I knew before going to college and back to school

Things to know before going to college/back to school.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Have you been thinking about going to college or back to school recently? College can be a very exciting time for students. It is full of wonder, self-exploration, and discovery. However, I am not the person who will tell you to go get a college degree for the sake of having a college degree. I firmly believe that there are plenty of viable options for individuals outside of the college halls and academic achievement-based systems. Skills learned through a trade school or working a job out of high school give access to jobs that are needed to keep society functioning. We will always need welders, plumbers, tech repair specialists, etc. and these are in no way inferior jobs to those you would get with a college degree. As a matter of fact, the price of entry to many fields goes beyond just having a bachelor’s degree so investing in education should always be a calculated step. Unfortunately, in our current system, chances are you will need a paper or another to climb the ladder, making many individuals choose the college route or even return to school after years in the workforce.

Here are a few things you should know about higher education before starting:

It is hard

There is no way of sugar-coating this fact. If anyone tells you differently, they are lying to you or, simply put, not meeting the mark. I have never met a student, who cared about their grades, that has not felt overwhelmed when the workload became crushing or thought about giving up when the piles of papers got unsurmountable. I heavily considered switching my degree from a BS to a BA to get out of Calculus II! However, nothing worth it in this life is without sacrifice. There is no easy out and you should be prepared for what this degree will demand of you. Fortunately, there are many tools at your disposition to help you thrive in this new journey. Communities centered around accountability and support, study buddy systems, and tutoring services are great ways to ensure you are setting yourself up for success when your courses become challenging. Don’t be scared to ask for help when you need it.

It is expensive

I can’t speak for people with college funds or massive scholarships, but I, with my modest scholarships, still had to go into debt (though not nearly as bad as most) to finish my degrees. I don’t think that it is a waste, on the contrary, but you must view your education as an investment in yourself and treat it as such. Failing classes because of a lack of commitment will not only put your financial aid in jeopardy but also impact your GPA negatively. Grades are not everything and a bad grade in a class can usually be salvaged in the grand scheme of things. You can always explain an extenuating circumstance to a hiring manager, but you cannot explain lack of interest or plainly not trying hard enough. I think it is important to view classes as paid services because you are paying for access to a knowledge source. Failing to set yourself up for success ultimately only hurts you.

Specialization pays the big bucks

One of my mentors told me while I was in High School: “Find your niche and dive in”. I did not listen. Five years later, I finished a BS in Biology was effectively useless for finding jobs in my field after graduation. I am now about to finish a Master’s to get that same specialization he so begged me I would pursue in the beginning. Do not go to college planning to get a BS in Biology and expecting to get a job immediately after graduating. I learned this the hard way. Certain majors require further specialization and even graduate degrees to allow you to enter the workforce.

Do your research

Ok, why are you going to college? What is your end goal? Are you seeking a degree you need for your dream job? Are you just going through the motions? Is this program you are signing up for going to meet the requirements for what you want to do in the future? If the answer to this last question is no, I strongly recommend waiting for the right program. I feel like many of us become overwhelmed by university rejections and start to lose hope only to jump on the first program that accepts us even though it may not be the right fit. Being patient and trusting good things will come to us goes a long way.

Pick your major wisely

My great-grandmother used to say that picking a career should be considered with higher gravity than one would pick a partner. Her reasoning was “you can always split up, but your career stays with you.” Now I realize that in many places, there is always room for upscaling, seeking a new degree, or switching career paths. However, drastic changes like this often come at a cost and are not without sacrifices. Furthermore, make sure to research how your major will translate into the workforce and what additional certifications you may need to pursue. Do you need to seek internships while in college to get your feet at the door? Places like Indeed, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn are great tools to gauge if your degree will allow you to pursue options after graduation or if you need additional certifications to do so. Furthermore, in many cases, these certifications can be obtained instead of a college degree.

Now, I know what you will say! Didn’t you just tell us it is okay to not have a path carved out? Yes, I did. College is a good time to experiment, learn, broaden your horizons but it can also be very expensive and draining. Being unprepared for what is to come can have significant consequences for the rest of your life. Ultimately, what matters most is making our journey enjoyable. Choose wisely!

After all, we sometimes have to ground ourselves to be able to fully take off.

Building relationships is priceless

This is something that I believe I failed at massively during my time in undergraduate and perhaps somewhat during graduate school and I deeply regret it. As an introvert, it can be oh, so hard to reach out to professors, grad students, or professionals in your field. Moreover, if you are like me and a complete mess at staying in touch with people, you may find yourself scrambling to find appropriate letters of recommendation or individuals to list as references for graduate programs and job applications. I was extremely lucky that I was able to use professional references in my graduate school application and that my bosses and coworkers were kind enough to step up and help me. However, I have friends who needed academic recommendations and struggled to find them. If you do nothing else in school, make sure to build relationships with the professors that you will want to write letters for you. Don’t wait until the last semester!

Do not cheat on your mental health

It is so very common for students to work themselves to the ground. The hustle is hard, many will have to work and study, and the college triangle is real. The best tip I can give is to invest in, care for, and strive for mental health while you embark on this journey. You will have hard days, you will have good days. Ensuring peace within will make or break your experience. I like to think about mental health like exercise. Good mental health requires you to carve time for it in your daily schedule to practice things like mindfulness, journaling, meditation, self-care frequently.

Did you enjoy this article? Feel free to leave a comment below about your college experiences or reach out through any of my social media contacts.

Published by L. Leal

Productivity enthusiast, dog mom, and post-graduate student conquering the pitfalls of procrastination.

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