20 Harsh Truths Grown Ups Won’t Tell You About College

The idea of college when you aren’t in it yet is a romantic one: it’s like some mystical enclave where you party, find yourself, make lifelong friends, and occasionally go to class. Movies and TV made me really stoked about having the best time ever in college. And no one corrected me! Every grown up I talked to wasn’t telling me the whole truth about college. High school was disappointing, but every single grown up I spoke to reassured me that yes, college was the greatest years of my life and that I had a lot to look forward to. In general, everyone was like, “It gets better! You’re going to college, you’re going to graduate, then anything is possible! The world is your oyster! *Force reads you Oh, The Places You’ll Go*.”

College was awesome, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t get awesome I let go of those expectations I romanticized for so long. My expectations were set so high that before the end of my first semester, I was ready to transfer schools because CLEARLY something was to blame other than my thought patterns. My experience wasn’t like the experiences I had watched, read about, or heard about. And honestly, I didn’t discover most of the harshest truths about college until after I graduated, at which point it was definitely too late to do anything about it.

If college is still ahead of you – good for you! It’s a hell of a good time… but you should still know the small things that no adult is going to admit. Hopefully these help you along the way. Here are 20 truths grown ups won’t tell you about college: 

1) Your major doesn’t matter.

There are some careers where your major certainly matters – examples include being a lawyer, a doctor, or a teacher. But for a lot of careers that aren’t quite as demanding, your major is not that big of a deal. Employers are looking for someone with experience in the field they’re applying for, and to be honest, they usually don’t care that much about school. Instead, you’re better off getting an internship in your field of choice and networking to meet people. While the correct major definitely can’t hurt, it’s not always the end of the world if you don’t have it.


2) Your degree does not guarantee you a job in your field.

No one is going to be like, “Ah, I see you have a business degree, would you like this job as an account executive?” It’ll be something more like, “So, you have no experience… do you want to answer this phone? Input data in a spread sheet for a very small amount of money?” And you know what? We’re all starting on the same playing field. If you want an advantage, get an internship while you’re still in school for college credit so you graduate with real life experience and have a head start once you graduate (if you know what you want to do).


3) Where you go to college only matters a little bit.

Y’all, I could not begin to tell you how crestfallen I was when I only got into my two last choice schools out of the 12 I applied to. Of course, some colleges come with killer alumni networks that will help you get jobs or have better programs for what you’d like to go to school for, but ultimately, if you’re going to be great at what you do, you’ll be great anywhere you go. Unless your goal is to go to a great graduate school program, you’re fine wherever you are.


4) Your GPA doesn’t matter.

Nope, not even for grad school – they’ll just look at your essay and your recommendations. It’s a cool thing to have on your resume that you’re Magna Cum Laude – that doesn’t mean that someone is going to look at your job application and think, “You know what, I really like him/her, but I’m going to go with the Summa Cum Laude grad instead because she did better on her Medieval Lit Final.” Rejoice all ye poor-test-takers, no one gets graded in the real world!


5) Taking a gap year is NOT the end of the world. 

A lot of teachers, guidance counselors, and parents shake their heads at the idea of gap year – taking a year off between graduating high school and starting college – but they shouldn’t. Taking some time to yourself before going to college is not the end of the world. Many adults who really push college don’t like the idea of gap years because they’re worried you’ll never back to school. Not true! There are plenty of people who take some time off and then go back. In fact, a gap year can be a positive thing. It can be a great time to save money while having more time and less pressure to figure out what you want to do in school.


6) You still have to take core classes, just like in high school. 

I don’t know about you guys, but when I was struggling through math and science in high school, I heard the same thing from a lot of people: “at least you won’t need to do this in college.” Uh, yeah, you do. Most colleges (unless you’re in a trade school or special program) still require core class credits like math, science, English, and some form of history. And it’s hard! Sucks, but it’s true.


7) Your freshman 15 is optional.

Everyone always talks about the freshman 15 as if it’s a sure thing. It’s not. Sure, if you eat terribly at school, you’ll gain weight – that makes sense.  One time freshman year, I made an ice cream taco with the waffle maker and was like, “You know what, I’m doing this to myself.” But you also have the choice to eat well and not gain weight, so… it’s basically just like regular life.


8) You need some form of income or allowance.

I don’t know books, movies, and TV shows never show college students working. Talk to your parents about giving you a monthly allowance or consider getting a part time job. You will suddenly be buying things like toothpaste, toilet paper, and all of the snacks and that money has to come from somewhere. Life is expensive if you don’t have the means to take care of yourself. Being a full time student is a full time job and it sucks that it’s costing you money, not earning you money. Get a plan in order for some cash flow.


9) Textbooks are so expensive. 

Most high schools do not force you to purchase textbooks. Colleges do, and the textbooks can be PRICEY. Sometimes they’re over $500! The good news is that there are lots of ways to save – buying used books, renting them, selling them back to the bookstore when you’re done, and sometimes, not even buying them because the professor says you don’t need to.


10) College guys aren’t “better.”

College was a revelation. I was a quiet kid who no one noticed, so dating in high school wasn’t a thing for me. In college suddenly, guys were interested in me and let me know about it, but you know what? The same shitty behaviors existed that were there with high school boys. Sure, some people mature, but as it turns out good people are good people and f*ckboys will always be f*ckboys.


11) “No one cares if you’re absent” is a lie.

I’m not sure where this rumor started. While there are some professors who don’t care about how many classes you miss, most do. Many professors have rules for how many missed classes (without an excuse) you can have and it’s usually three to five. After that, missing class could actually cost you your grade.


12) Losing friends is natural, but it doesn’t mean that it’s any less sad.

It’s natural to grow apart from some people you were once tight with in high school as we all grow up to become who we really are. It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to miss that friendship and wish that things could’ve been different.


13) Being friends with your teachers is cool.

I know, the thought of being friends with your American History teacher gives you the squicks right now. That will change. I love my favorite professors. We still talk. Some of them will hook you up with jobs and be really kick ass mentors. Don’t dismiss them because they’re “old” – you’ll have a lot more in common than you think.


14) Your 8am class is going to feel so hellaciously early.

“I’m up and getting ready for high school at 6:30, so an 8:00 class will feel like I’m sleeping in.” This logic will fail you hard within two weeks of classes. Don’t make this mistake. Only take courses that start at 10am and later.


15) You have the power to change your experience.

High school can feel like a set experience: things are done a certain way and there is little you can do to change that. In college, it’s a lot easier to make your own film festival if you want, start a live music performance series, make an a cappella group, petition to reform something you don’t like. People take you more seriously and your voice matters. Like I said, college is only as awesome as you make it.


16) These don’t *have* to be the best times of your life.

They’ll be in your top five “best times,” sure, but life is long. Who wants to peak at 19?


17) Having a boy in your room is a little less fun when you both have to squeeze onto a twin mattress.

Don’t fall off the bed, everybody.


18) No one feels 100 percent sure of themselves.

You can get close, though! The feeling that everyone has their shit together but you will pass once you realize that some people are just better at squashing their imposter syndrome than most.


19) You don’t have to go!

Many people act like college is the only option, but it’s not. There are alternatives! Some of which don’t get you into an insane, insurmountable amount of debt. You may be lucky enough to be offered a job in your field right of high school. Take it! Explore all your options before deciding that college is absolutely the right choice for you. You can absolutely still succeed without a degree.


20) The experience of college is just as important as your education itself.

It’s truly a unique experience that will give you an education you can’t get anywhere else with friends you won’t meet any other way. Education is awesome and you should go to school or be involved in a class if/when you can.

Which of these truths were you most surprised by? What did we forget to include? Let me know in the comments!

You can follow the author, Aliee Chan, on Twitter.


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  • I_am_rice

    imma still be going to college and be a pathologist

  • jay

    I don’t get the title. Seems to me that this is the sort of stuff that older folks are constantly telling young people.

  • jay

    Doing well in college really helps when getting your first job. After that, it doesn’t matter much. When you’re 50 years old, employers want to know what you’ve been doing the last couple of years, not 30 years ago. But if you don’t get a decent first job, how do you get a good second job? So it can affect your whole life, but indirectly.