11 Life Secrets I Learned in College (but Not in the Classroom)

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I learned a lot in college, but I learned more when I wasn’t sitting in a classroom. I learned helpful skills like writing and public speaking I use every day. I also learned things about astronomy and math I’ve completely forgotten. It’s the life skills I gained outside the classroom, which have been the most lasting and influential lessons learned to this day. Here are a few impactful life secrets I learned in college (but NOT in the classroom).

1. Networking is About Relationships

Staying connected with people is important. I have a friend who keeps phone numbers and birthdays of people he meets in his phone so he can send a quick ‘happy birthday’ text to those people each year. It’s simple and quick, yet meaningful. It doesn’t take much time to be thoughtful. If there’s a book, article, or event you think your new connection might appreciate, send it their way! Be on the lookout for ways you can help others. This is a great way to foster a connection and maintain friendships.

2. Google First

I worked in my university’s graduate school department where I would have people come in to talk about graduate school programs without ever looking anything up. This was fine because I was there to help, but this was also really unimpressive. Google and do some quick research before you start asking questions. Chances are you’ll find the basic information you were looking for and now you will be ready to ask some great questions and dig a little deeper. This shows that you are informed and resourceful. It will be more helpful to you (and whoever you’re working with) in the process as well. This goes for job interviews, college applications, internships, travel and important purchases.

3. Stick to a Budget

It’s okay to be scrappy. It can actually work! Know when local restaurants have good deals like Taco Tuesday, student discounts, and Happy Hour menus. A budget can feel intimating and sometimes you must go into survival mode to make it work. But, it’s not hard to stretch a budget if you’re creative. These are great skills that can be empowering. Not having a lot of resources forces you to be resourceful which is a valuable skill.

4. Learn from Others

Make time to learn from others. Take advantage of office time with professors, shadow a professional in a career field that interests you, grab coffee with a fellow intern and find a mentor. Are you looking to grow professionally, spiritually, physically or emotionally? Find someone who is willing to meet with you who can speak into this area of your life.

5. Professors/Mentors Will Let You Down

Sometimes people will disappoint you. Your friend will flake out, an opportunity with a professor may fall through or your mentor might let you down. All of this is most likely unintentional, but it’s important not to let disappointments rock your world. They will come, but you can learn and grow from them. As strange as it sounds, welcome the failures, let downs and frustrations as a friendly foe to make you stronger and more equipped.

6. Know Who Your Real Friends Are

Chances are some friends will hurt you and let you down when you need them most. It’s okay to walk away from those friendships. Although it’s hard in the moment, they probably weren’t a true friend to begin with. People change over time and that’s okay. Some friends will be friends for life and others you’ll have to let go of. I had a hard time finding friends I felt comfortable and myself with. It can take some time to feel known and valued by others. It also takes time to find a like-minded community, so be patient and be intentional.

7. Learn to Identify What Really Matters

Are you more concerned about perfect grades or a rich learning experience? We often put too much pressure on what major to pick and our GPA. Choose what interests you and do your best, but be more concerned about how you can help solve a problem in our world or what arena you could add value to with your skills and passions. Choose your dreams, and not your parent’s. Let go of your past expectations and what society says is trending or will make a lot of money. Know what you value most and what your “deal breakers” and “passion fuelers” are. These will be great guides as you say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to various opportunities and experiences.

8. Discover What Your Learning and Working Style Is

It’s so helpful to have a grasp on how you learn. You’ll gain tricks and methods to will help you in college and in life. You’ll also learn what your working style is. You might prefer working as a team, partner studying or quiet time. You may be night owl or morning person. You’ll do your best working, thinking, studying, praying and learning when you’re in your sweet spot of learning and working styles. This will help you succeed in life.

9. Make Time for Travel

New experiences and places give you stories to tell, people to learn from, and renewed energy for the days ahead. If you can’t travel abroad, then travel in country. If you can’t travel across the country, try travelling around your state. Whatever you do, play and make time for fun, creativity, adventure, the great outdoors and the act of creating. This will fill you with energy and refresh your soul.

10. Everyone has a Story

That cranky girl in class, the quiet guy in the meeting, and that opinionated professor each have a story. We all carry with us a background, hopes, scars, hurts and victories. I think of this quote by Plato, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” Be quick to offer kindness and slow to offer judgment.

11. Hospitality

There is something sweet about being welcomed into a home, classroom, office or dorm room that has been well-kept. Even if you don’t have much space to call your own, take the time to make it “you” and be intentional about welcoming people in. Your little brother might make fun of you for bringing twinkle lights and picture frames to school for your dorm room, but do it anyway. Guys, keep the dirty socks out of sight and use a diffuser or Scentsy pot to keep your room smelling as fresh as possible. If you have a group over, include everyone (even the awkward ones). This will show people they are valued by you.

Remember, your college experience both in and out of the classroom is what YOU make of it. College can be something you “grin and bear” simply to get a piece of paper after four years or it can be a time of growth, exploration, relationships, and fun. It’s up to you. What you put into your college experience is what you’ll get out of it. It’s a unique time of community and learning. Take advantage of the opportunity!

Good luck friend!

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Esther Laurie is a staff writer at ChurchLeaders.com. Her background is in communication and church ministry. She believes in the power of the written word and the beauty of transformation and empowering others. When she’s not working, she loves running, exploring new places and time with friends and family. It’s her goal to work the word ‘whimsy’ into most conversations.