College is an incredibly transformational time in anyone’s life. No matter your path to college, the 3, 4, or 5+ years that you spend earning your degree will teach you an assortment of hard and soft skills that set you up for success later in life. Though at times your college workload may feel overwhelming and far from the expected day to day demands of adult life once you graduate, the work ethic and mix of skills that you acquire in college will set you up to tackle a wide range of problems and handle whatever life throws at you.
Beyond your technical academic skills (information retention, study skills, career specific knowledge, etc.), college teaches you a variety of soft skills that are integral to being successful outside the strict dynamics of the classroom. This is not to say that you cannot acquire these skills elsewhere if you are not able/choose to not attend college, but the pressure that is put on you as a college student causes you to go through periods of introspection and struggle that help you grow.
Resilience: Above all, college teaches you to be resilient and to adapt to whatever situations and challenges life may throw at you. Personally, I worked my way through college at a time when California's scheduled power outages & wildfires/smoke posed dangers, as well as the COVID-19 epidemic hitting society at full force. For me, those experiences in and of themselves taught me how to be resilient: working twice as hard to stay on top of a demanding academic schedule during an emotionally/physically volatile time, and learning how to do so while also working a time-consuming job and trying to maintain a healthy social life balance.
However, within college too, I learned how to bounce back from so many less-than-ideal situations: working with the anxiety and stress that came with picking up the slack for a group project where several members neglected to do their part, sticking it out for many late nights for projects with tight deadlines despite being exhausted from 4 other classes at the same time, fighting with friends/significant others before grueling midterms or finals - you name it. During college you experience the best of the best and the worst of the worst, and you learn how to pause, take a step back, and say “Ok. This is less than ideal. But what can I do with what I’ve been given?” You learn that it is ok to reset your goals and readjust your idea of success, and you learn that most things in life don’t happen perfectly the first time around. During college you might experience failures that you never thought you could come back from (maybe you’re used to being a straight A student and you fail some tests or a whole class itself), but you soon learn that in the grand scheme of things, everything will be ok. You learn to keep chugging along and keep striving towards bigger and better things.
Emotional Health Regulation & Self-Forgiveness: While learning to be resilient and figuring out how to keep going when life feels impossible, college also throws so much emotional turmoil your way which teaches you a lot about yourself, about how you react to troubling situations, and how you treat yourself when you’re feeling down. Above all, you learn to be kinder to yourself and put life into perspective, and you learn what your body and mind need to feel happy. Now - this is not to say that every graduate has figured out how to be nice to themselves and regulate their mental health in a healthy way - hey, I still struggle with that on the daily. However, college exposes you to extremes: you learn how your brain reacts with only a few hours of sleep, and you figure out how cranky you get when you’ve forgotten to eat all day. Through trial and error, you learn the things that aren’t healthy, and you figure out all of the things that your parents may have told you upon leaving for college that you didn’t really get until you experienced them for yourself.
When you’re in college, take a step back every so often, and try to put things into perspective. Personally, I always struggled with self confidence and I beat myself up about mistakes I made, opportunities I missed, or skills I lacked. It wasn’t until I started actually dedicating time to list my strengths and practice self-care that I was able to acknowledge a lot of the positive traits that others saw in me, but I always neglected to pay attention to. Learn what makes you happy, and take time to integrate those things into your day. If that means binge-watching a few episodes of your favorite show, don’t beat yourself up about it and call yourself lazy - just enjoy the relaxation! If that means taking an extra nap and opting for alone time rather than social time, don’t feel guilty for taking the easy route out of the day! Self-care and relaxation don't mean you’re lazy: it means that you care for and listen to your own body, you know what makes you happy, and you make time for it.
Networking & Professionalism: Being in college was especially transformational for me because it was the first time that I was surrounded by both established professionals (professors, guest speakers, mentors, etc.) and students going through the same existential thoughts that I was having. During the ages of 18-22 and beyond, your brain changes in a way that can often be hard to describe. You start to think harder about what it is you want out of life, you see others around you making bigger life choices, and you learn more about the professional world and the exchange of knowledge. At a university, it is much easier to expose yourself to extremely intelligent people that have so much expertise to share, and you learn how valuable it can be to make genuine connections with people that embody careers you find an interest in.
In college, you are more easily able to pursue networking and professional development events/resources, and you have an easier time learning where to look for jobs/internships. Colleges generally have a career center where you can meet with counselors to develop helpful resume, portfolio, and cover letter practices, and you can usually develop deeper connections with professionals that genuinely love to help young students.
Beyond these three ideas, there are so many other life skills that you learn in college that are incredibly helpful later in life. College teaches you just as much about life beyond the classroom as it does within the classroom, and you learn just as much (if not more) about yourself than you do about your intended career path. In the most cliché way, college really is about finding yourself - but hey, that doesn’t STOP once you graduate either. It’s a rather safe period of time in which you can make mistakes and change your mind 1000 times, and though it may feel like the most impossible thing in the world, you will come out of it feeling much more prepared to manage life (despite the never-ending chaos of the real world).
Sarah is a Consultant on the Study Hall College Consulting Team. Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley in the class of 2020 where she majored in Architecture and minored in Spanish Language and Literature. For more college application and essay tips, check out our Study Hall College Consulting website at: shcollegeconsulting.com.