By Guest Blogger Catherine Phipps, recent college graduate

You spent months preparing for the SAT, considering 10,000 factors and applying to what feels like 10,000 schools. Then come the decision-making questions: Are your SAT and ACT scores high enough? Should you stay close to home or venture far away? Is this school too small or too big? What major should I choose? Are sports teams important? We spend so much time focusing on the college application and selection process that we arguably don’t prepare enough for being successful in college.

To that end, here are some words of advice and lessons learned the hard way from a well wishing, recent (but feeling really old) college graduate:

Take advantage of free resources

Colleges have innumerable resources and opportunities readily available, from Zumba to intramural water polo to free dinners and desserts in your dorm. Disclaimer (from someone who now sees money literally flying out the window as she tries new things): This doesn’t exist at any other point in your adult life. Want to go to a baseball game with friends? That will be 15 bucks please. Thinking about taking yoga or spin classes? Easily 10 bucks a class. Want to join an intramural league to counterbalance the 8 hours you now spend in an office chair?  $75.00, to be exact.

College is a fantastic time to try something new, develop a hobby, get active, go to ice cream socials, and make new friends. It’s a time to experience activities you may never have had the courage to try had they not been readily available. Also, let’s face it – there’s no such thing as too much free food.

The college career center is your friend

Speaking of free resources, this one is an often under-utilized gem. The career center does more than helping with senior year “scaries” as your prepare for graduation. You can go to the career center for help with writing a term paper, mock interviewing to help with the job search jitters, revising resumes, meeting with an advisor to discuss majors, taking career aptitude and personality tests, and making connections. Don’t wait until your senior year to take advantage of this resource.

Give college your all

Your college experience is largely what you make of it. There is a newfound independence and autonomy found in college that is fantastic. You can finally choose what time you actually like eating dinner. You can take classes you find interesting for once, too!  However, there is also greater self-responsibility. There is no hand holding, no one forcing you to go to class or constantly inviting you to dinner. Especially if you end up going to a larger college, you may have to be the one to put yourself out there. You may need to work hard to make new friends who will make that big campus seem small. Every bit you invest, both academically and relationally, will be 100% worth it.

It’s okay (and normal) to be homesick

It often seems like everyone else is having the time of their lives and making 10,390,483,950 new friends. They are and posting alllll over social media and never sleeping. But, we should all know by now how deceiving social media can be. This is coming from the girl who cried every day of her freshman year. I was convinced that no one else felt that way. However, the more students I talked to and the more outspoken I became about my feelings, the more I saw that TONS of college students struggle with homesickness. It takes a long time to build deep and lasting relationships, so if you feel like no one knows you yet, or you miss your high school friends or your family, that’s OK.

College is an amazing four years, but that doesn’t mean that the transition isn’t difficult or uncomfortable at times. Anticipating and knowing how to deal with these emotions when they come is half the battle. (In case I alarmed you earlier with my excessive crying, my college experience ended up being a phenomenal one).

Figure out your study habits early on

It’s easier to start strong than it is to finish strong. For some people, college is the first time that they will be forced to study more than the 30 minutes the night before the test method that worked out fine in high school. Unless you’re one of those geniuses with a photographic memory, college is challenging. One of the best things you can do to set yourself up for success is to figure out where and how you study best. For me, it was in the basketball gym listening to the sound of basketballs hitting the hardwood floor, surrounded by people, and taking copious notes. For my roommate, it was complete silence in our dorm room and re-listening to class lectures she had thoughtfully recorded. Find what works for you and implement it early on.

You will need to give yourself grace

You will be simultaneously learning tons about yourself, adjusting to independence, putting yourself out there and meeting new people, creating your own schedule instead of following the robotic regimen you’ve been given for the past 15 years, studying hard, getting lost on campus, encountering diversity, and finding edible dining hall food. There is invariably going to be a learning curve. So, as you maybe don’t spend as much time studying as you should have because you were making a new friend, or you get FOMO from staying in because you’ve been going and going and need to rest, or you’ve had dessert three times in one day, know that there is no such thing as the perfect balance or perfect execution of this phase of your life, so don’t expect to get it just right. And when you fail to get it right, remember that you are learning, and there is something to be said about that.

Study Abroad

Never have I ever encountered someone who studied abroad and said, “Eh – it was just alright.” Honestly, not studying abroad may be my biggest regret of college. This is learning on a new level – the kind that sinks in to your pores, livens your senses, reinforces the abstract teaching from the classroom, broadens your horizons, and reminds you that life isn’t all about you. There is an incredible amount to be learned from other cultures, other people, and other customs. (Besides, travelling through a college that helps you with logistics and organization is a HUGE plus – think free travel agent.)


A note from the author:

college graduate“Hopefully my story will be an encouragement to those who feel slightly lost and sometimes confused by this whole growing up thing. I grew up in High Point with my two sisters (and best friends) and the greatest parents around. I attended High Point Christian Academy. I’m the definition of Tarheel born and bred, and was thrilled when I was accepted into my dream school, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. My time at UNC was challenging, but richly rewarding. I battled new, unexpected feelings of homesickness, career indecision, but made many lifelong friends and incredible shared experiences.

I graduated with a degree in Sociology and a Minor in Spanish for the Professions, which I initially bemoaned upon graduation as I felt it didn’t translate into any specific job, but have learned to appreciate how these majors are foundational for virtually every career. My first job out of college was working as an administrative assistant turned paralegal for a small law firm, Ortiz & Schick, in Raleigh, which was a wonderful experience. Currently, I am working in the colocation department of a company named TowerCo that owns cell phone towers. Specifically, I work as a paralegal and project manager in leasing space off of the towers to various carriers (I describe it as “vertical real estate”). Sounds a little all over the place right?  But it’s my story, and it’s just right – God has led me right where I need to be, and He will lead you too.”  


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