Updated: Aug 25
High school and college - these are aspects of life widely portrayed in all kinds of media because they’re such a defining part of the life of a young adult. As a result of this, you’ve probably heard from a lot of sources (movies, tv shows, your parents, teachers, counselors, memes) about what the next phase of your life will be like. Some of this information is probably accurate but it's very likely some of it is misleading. I know that some of the misconceptions I had about college intimidated and scared me. So, I present to you a look into what college is really like- a clarification of some common misconceptions of college life.
Before I begin, here is some background information about me, so that you have an idea of what kind of college life I lead. I am a sophomore at Wheaton College, Massachusetts, where I am double majoring in Psychology and Philosophy. Wheaton is a liberal arts school with about seventeen hundred students.
Okay, so, are you ready? Well, you better be, because here are eight myths about college life debunked. Enjoy!
When you think about your time in high school, I’m sure you remember times when you may have forgotten to finish your homework, arrived late to class, not gotten an “easy concept” or remarked the classic “wait. I didn’t finish copying down that last slide.” I’m also sure that you remember that these tiny infractions on your part probably invoked the good old “this won’t slide in college” from your teachers. All high school students have heard this phrase over and over again, from our heads of departments to our English teachers who just could not move on from Macbeth, and even the strict math teachers who thought we were all just a little too dumb for their classes. Well, luckily for you, this list starts on a good note.
Professors understand that life just happens. Sometimes, you genuinely cannot finish that one assignment or show up to class that one day. It is normal and entirely alright.
If you don’t understand a concept, those god-given office hours with your professors will help you get them right. Most professors, if not all, won’t sneer at you if you are unable to catch on. They’ll work with you patiently, ensuring that you’re able to grasp the concepts. I had a professor email me after he saw that I was having a visibly lousy day. He invited me to his office to just chat and reassure me that everything is going to be alright. Furthermore, sending an email to your professor for an extension or absence because of an incredibly lousy day (which very much happens) is a valid excuse and will “slide” with your professors (don’t abuse this power though, it will come back to hurt you!).
Next, college is nothing like high school when it comes to teachers. Teaching styles and the overall learning experience in college is extremely different from what you experienced in high school.
Unlike in high school, where teachers play a huge role in your learning and monitor what you do in their classes, in college your learning experience is more independent. One of the main reasons for this is your age. By the time you are in college, you will be an adult, even if you are not legally an adult you will be treated like one, and will be held accountable for the work and the time that you put into your classes. You will not find professors reminding you to submit assignments or reprimanding you if you come late to class. Of course, failing to submit assignments and not showing up for class on time are things that will negatively impact you, but what you eventually end up realizing is that in college, the amount you learn is entirely up to the efforts you put in.
You might have heard that college is an extension of high school. It is not. Personally, I don’t think the school education system is designed for practical life. In my experience with college classes, I was not once required to use the knowledge of why Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo.
This doesn’t mean that every class you take in college will be out of ‘passion’ or even that it will be of direct use to you. There are classes you need to take because they are requirements and there are classes you will want to take simply because they are easy.
But, college is a place where you gain a lot of soft skills. You may not be able to use your knowledge directly, but the skills you will learn in that class are transferable and need not be just academic. Many professors use real-life examples in explaining concepts, and the class can find itself going off on tangents relating to social issues. You learn how to deal with certain professors, people, manage time, and get organized. These are all skills that employers deem valuable. Additionally, they are skills that help with personal growth. I have found myself thoroughly enjoying everything I study at Wheaton since they are classes I chose for my major. It is something I want to either work in or is connected to a career choice. Unlike high school, colleges provide a myriad of interesting classes to choose from.
A myth about college is that all classes you take are geared towards your major or are very serious, theory-heavy classes. That is simply untrue!
You are given the opportunity to take a myriad of classes to explore the fields you like. Even after you choose your major, you will find yourself taking an extremely random class just because you think it covers a fun topic.
Fascinating fields of study are available, such as ancient civilizations, through which you could intern in museums, and forensic science, which allows you to explore a made-up crime room and analyze the data. You may be a psychology student and find yourself taking a tap dance class just for fun! College can get serious, but it gives you numerous opportunities to explore your passions as well. It challenges you to relearn what you think you already know and tackle questions such as what makes you a good human being. College helps you learn something about the world around you, your career choice, or even yourself, even if it cannot be directly applied to your planned career.
Another popular myth about college life is that college students are constantly partying and always having drunken adventures.
I remember when I was a senior in high school, I had just started following a bunch of college life pages on Instagram and I came across memes and TikToks that described college life setting unrealistic expectations about college. These expectations were impractical because they only showed the stereotypical party lifestyle of college students. Newsflash- college is not about parties and adventures for everyone. Your college life is the one you create and it does not have to be what you see online. I struggled for a while, trying to cope with the pressures social media put on me. You might find yourself struggling too. Here’s the thing, though. You want to look back at your undergraduate experience and find that you created your own path in those four years and were not pressured to live a certain lifestyle. Making your undergraduate experience your own leads to some amazing years. So don’t be afraid to say no to party invitations or choose to dance around in your room to the latest Taylor Swift song. It’s your college experience, make it large.
Most students who are off to college come in with an expectation that their roommates will be their best friends. We see plenty of videos and storytimes on Youtube and TikTok where creators describe their roommates as their best friends and people they cannot live without. I have seen plenty of wedding speeches where the maid of honor is the bride’s roommate from college and their friendship is going strong even five or six years after graduating. This is a very rare situation.
Not all roommates are your best friends.
Most of the time, I see roommate situations not working out just because they aren’t compatible living together. Even if you choose your roommate before you get there (there are Facebook pages for your class to interact), there is no guarantee it'll work out. There are a lot of factors that need to be considered while living together and although your roommate can be a great person, your living preferences may not match at all. On the other hand, not all roommates are completely terrible. Bad roommates are real, but not all of them are horrible either.
Social media does not always portray college accurately.
Don’t let the YouTube storytimes fool you; they are trending on YouTube for a reason. They can be exaggerated or sporadic cases. Here’s an example - when I was in high school, after looking at social media and Pinterest college student outfits, I assumed that everyone wore pajamas, messy buns, and oversized hoodies to class. It was only after I got to college that I realized that some students do indeed show up to class in oversized hoodies but there are also a lot of students that don't. I found myself and many people in class being extra most of the time and putting on a fabulous outfit from our little wardrobes just because it made us feel good! Social media also portrays college as being extremely academically intensive with difficult classes, complete sleep deprivation, and the good old all-nighters. While it is true that there is a significant amount of work that needs attention at most times, it is quite attainable. Most work at college is manageable and with time you may even find it reasonable given your majors! You might have a hard time figuring out how to manage time, but as you spend more time at college it gets easier to manage. I promise!
Finally, one of the last myths in your head could be about friendships. College is said to be the golden era of life where you meet a ton of new people and rediscover yourself. This is not always true.
Although it is true that you will meet a lot of new people, you may not like all of them. Amongst all the new people and the pressure of building bonds and finding your place at college, you may find yourself feeling a sense of estrangement and loneliness, which could take a toll on you if you let it. The most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to force yourself into liking every single person at college or feel pressured about understanding yourself. These processes happen very organically and you always have options if you feel like the college you chose isn’t the one for you, including but not limited to transferring colleges and choosing one that is a better fit for you! However, there is of course the chance that you get lucky the first time around and absolutely love your college. Fortunately for me, I found three people that mean the entire world for me, and they have proven that time and time again. It is true. You will meet a lot of different people, even if you go to a small school. One of the most important things that college taught me was that you can’t be friends with everyone, but you will be friends with someone.
It is not always rainbows and sunshine at college. One of the most real things that my Resident Advisor told me was, “this is college. Cry and sleep anywhere, no one is going to care,” I knew that was real because I had a full breakdown in the dining area (roommate issues man, we have all been there) and nobody even looked up. With constant deadlines, exams looming at every corner, and ten-page research papers to write in a day (does not come highly recommended), college can be cruel. However, college can also be full of joyous moments with learning opportunities and growing intellectually, socially, and genuinely learning about yourself. Once you have had a taste of the next chapter of your life, you will find yourself wanting to turn the page and go on, no matter how hard it gets!