The 7 best things I learned in college that had nothing to do with my grades

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  • What you learn in college outside of academics can often be more valuable to your post-college life than the lessons you learned in courses.
  • Here, author Alexis Reliford details the seven best things she learned in college that had nothing to do with grades.

Almost eight years ago, I sat in a crowded auditorium surrounded by a bunch of other bright-eyed college freshmen.

The sweet smell of summer was fading, and we stumbled onto campus armed with mini-fridges, maps, and class schedules that solidified our statuses as young adults. We listened closely as upperclassmen stressed that we were about to embark on one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. At the time it sounded a little cheesy and cliché, but looking back I would’ve told my freshman self to pay close attention to everything and not just to the professors. Opportunities to learn were all around and that four-year journey provided some much-needed wisdom that I’m still grateful for today. Here are the best lessons I learned that had nothing to do with passing finals or writing essays in MLA format (aka the bane of my existence):


1. I learned who exactly I was

Interacting with different people, trying new activities, and experiencing situations I never had before helped me piece together the real me. Late nights in the newspaper office showed me how good I was at working under pressure. Planning homecoming week and serving on the campus activities board bolstered my leadership skills and creative spirit.

Unlike high school, where I felt I had to blend in with a certain group in order to survive, college gave me permission to hone my unique passions and strengths.


2. On the flip side, I also learned who I wasn’t

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Being on the dance line freshman year helped me realize that I wasn’t cut out to be a collegiate athlete running stadiums at 6 a.m. (or ever). Going to frat parties every Friday night didn’t make me happy. I was a far better yearbook writer than I was as its editor.

These low points initially made me feel bad, but experiencing them helped build confidence in myself and how to appreciate what truly makes me, me and what simply doesn’t. This skill comes in handy now when sticking up for what I believe in even when it’s unpopular with others.


3. I came to appreciate the world around me

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Contrary to what most Netflix movie characters would say, high school was a pretty comfortable place for me. It was a small town. There were plenty of familiar faces, and most of my classmates came from similar backgrounds and families.

College threw me into a whole new environment. Suddenly, I was surrounded by thousands of people from different states and countries, backgrounds and lifestyles, with even more personalities and perspectives. This diversity allowed me to broaden my outlook on the world and showed me that differences really are what makes humanity so beautiful.


4. I learned how to say “no”

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There are so many things to do on campuses. So many places to go. So many people to see. And yet, there are only 24 hours in the day. As I came to learn the hard way, the freedom to do whatever you want in those four years also means that no one is going to stop you and ask if you’re burnt out.

Trying to do everything and please everyone at once only leads to undue stress. Saying “no” sometimes isn’t about being weak or selfish; it’s about being smart and understanding that your mental health should take priority, something that many of us still struggle with today.


5. I realized that you have to create your own opportunities

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Life doesn’t come with your own personal assistant. Scholarships won’t just appear in your bank account. Jobs don’t just fall into your lap. You have to make things happen, and there isn’t always a roadmap on how to do so.

Case in point: I wanted a particular magazine internship in college. The catch was, it was super competitive and I could only apply once in my junior year. I needed a ton of experience and my university did not have a campus magazine. I could’ve given up my dream upon learning this my freshman year; instead, I forced myself to get creative and found other opportunities to boost my résumé. In the end, I won that coveted internship.


6. I learned to never let others stand in the way of my dreams

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Even after I came up with a plan, some people still weren’t convinced that I’d snag that internship, one of my professors in particular. She thought it’d be smarter for me to aim for a more local magazine instead. I took her advice with a grain of salt and eventually came to understand that it came from a place of fear.

The fear of failure is real and sometimes the people around you won’t understand your vision. That’s okay. You just have to know when to stop and listen to them, and when to just look and leap, opinions be damned.


7. I learned how to live in the moment

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College is a crazy, fun, emotional, stressful, roller coaster ride, but in what seems like an instant, it’s over, and you’re thrust headfirst into the “real world.” The best lesson I learned in those four years is the importance of being present and soaking up every moment life has to offer. Likewise, that place also taught me how to move on from something once it’s over.

There might (read: most likely will) be tears, but college teaches you that all good things must come to the end in order to make room for others. Until that happens though, no matter how small or how big something is, enjoy every second of it.