6 Life Lessons You Learn In College But Only Realize After Graduation

Audrey Morgan
Audrey is a freelance writer and recent graduate from Appalachian State that has an obsession with avocado toast and pop culture. When she's not writing you can most likely find her sitting down with a glass of red wine and judgingly watching reality TV.

I remember the feeling I had my first week of college. I was undoubtedly in a pathetic amount of denial about missing my parents, but felt the perfect mixture of fear and possibility. It was the undeniable fact that things were going to change that made me excited and want to call my mom crying all at the same time. But soon the fear faded and I was left with just possibility. The kind where you become open to doing just about anything that won’t kill you or leave you too broke.

For four years you’re infected with the “I’m trying new things bug” and, if you’re lucky, it never quite goes away.

We don’t realize it, but as we make our college towns our homes, turn strangers into friends, and make important life decisions, we’re growing. It’s not until graduation when we catch our breath that it becomes a realization. When we have to pick ourselves up to do it all over again, the muscle memory sinks in — we’ve learned how to do this before. There are several lessons that you learn in college, but don’t realize until after you turn that tassel.


Life’s not about who you used to be, it’s about who you can be

We seemed to subconsciously come to the conclusion that our potential mattered much more than who we were in a particular moment in college. We didn’t seem to realize it in the moment, but we all changed and cared less about who we were in high school. Even in our lowest lows, after we failed that exam, didn’t get our dream internship, or completely embarrassed ourselves one night at the bar, that it’s just college. It dawned on us that at the end of this, we were destined for bigger things. It’s a little different after graduation. We might not get the job, say the wrong thing in a meeting, or move to a new city and feel a little lost, but now we just tell ourselves, “it’s just life.”


The best things can happen from feeling small

We all remember how small we felt walking around campus on the first day of classes, seeing more strangers than familiar faces. We all felt a tinge of insecurity or fear, but it pushed us to make that first friend and join that first club. We’re the most daring when we feel small. When we get to the real world the smallness settles back in, but we’ve realized that it’s an opportunity to grow.


It’s okay to not have it all figured out

We’re all a mess in college. We’re broke and changing our major so many times it makes your head spin, but it doesn’t seem to us like our lives aren’t figured out. It’s not until we graduate and are faced with the decision of what to do with our lives that it hits most of us. We have no idea what we’re doing. It stings a little. It keeps us up at night. We realize that “fake it till you make it” is just about the most terrifying thing out there, but we know we can do it. And why? Because we’ve done it before. We’ve picked a major and then changed it, talked to a stranger in class because we knew no one, and resisted the urge to call our parents for the third time in one day because we don’t know what brand of toilet paper to buy and we’re better for it. Life’s no fun if it’s all planned out.


Life moves insanely fast

One moment we’re hanging up our posters in our first dorm room and the next we’re taking photos after commencement. For many of us, college is the first time we realize life moves quickly. People tell us all the way through to “enjoy it while it lasts” and that “it’ll be over before we know it”, but it’s not until after graduation that we take notice. It’s something we take with us.


Everyone has a story

Before college we only experience a small bubble of people. As we enter our collegiate experience and become open to meeting new people, we expand our horizons. We go out of our way to talk to strangers, to that the guy in our chemistry course you might have never thought to meet in high school, introduce yourself to a random person at a party, and we think to ourselves this is what college is for. It’s not until after that we grasp the beauty of new interactions, and realize that this is what the whole world is for.


Regardless of the variables, good friends will stick with you

Friends that stick with you for the mess you are in college are keepers. We all realized that, but it doesn’t become evident until your time zones away, working long hours, and not at a frat party every weekend that we apprehend the unconditional love of good friends. Good friends are there for the party and for the life crises.

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