What I Wish I Knew Before Going to College

The American media would have you believe that college is the greatest place on Earth.

Who can forget movies like Old School, 22 Jump Street, or Animal House?

Frank the Tank living the college-life dream

Just about every movie or TV show paints college as this mystical world of partying hard, making new friends, and constantly indulging in crazy shenanigans on campus.

The women are beautiful, the guys are ripped, and the campus is constantly bustling with students playing frisbee out on the quad (I’ve been at college for a while now and still not sure why it’s called a “quad”) or indulging in a mid-afternoon yoga sesh.

Its romantic. Its cute. And most importantly — it sells.

I get it. A movie about what college is actually like would never sell.

Who wants to watch the protagonist debate for hours on end how she’s ever going to possibly pay back the $37,172 in loans she took out just to pay for her Bachelor’s Degree — no closer to her dreams than she was when she started college.

It doesn’t help that only 1 in 4 college students are “financially literate”

Or how about a film where the main character stays up late on a Friday night to make sure his online math homework is done by midnight so that he can hold onto a passing grade in a class where the professor doesn’t know his name and consistently recites meaningless PowerPoint slides for hours on end without once taking the time to truly connect with the students? Oh, and this class doesn’t have anything to do with his interests, passions, or dreams (let alone major).

This is true — Homework is graded in about half of my classes and attendance is mandatory. Is that a private school thing?

Oh, I got it — How about a new Netflix exclusive where the hero deals with the social anxiety of simultaneously trying to maintain old friendships, but also develop new ones as his hometown friends slowly drift further and further away. We follow the hero through the ups and downs of trying to find a group that he gets along with while eating lunch alone at the cafeteria and spending weekends drowning in self doubt.

Senseless alcohol and partying is great- right guys?

The sad thing is that it’s not just media that portrays college as heaven on Earth — parents, grandparents, and friends do the same.

It certainly helps that our parents in 1980 were paying about 150% less for college than we are today (all while income for grads has stayed flat).

Dolla bills baby

On top of the normal stresses that come with college, like building new relationships, tedious classes, and immense pressure to excel in every way possible, many college students today have insane student loan debt, sky-high rent prices, and expertise in industries on the edge of extinction thanks to automation and artificial intelligence.

I’m not saying college is any harder for students today than it was 50 years ago, but there are certainly some factors actively working against today’s college students wallets.

This doesn’t even scratch the surface on the bias that’s inherent in the advice students receive when deciding whether or not to go to school. If you went to college a long time ago, you likely don’t remember the stressful nights of studying nearly as much as you remember that one friday night where you went streaking through the quad. The unflattering aspects of college are drowned out by the “legendary” stories we hear of mom and pop going out and writing themselves into the annals of collegiate partying history.

Memory bias and social influences at work

At the end of the day, society tells us that college is the right choice for just about everyone.

I remember being in an AP U.S. History class junior year of high school, still wondering whether or not college was right for me, when the teacher asked us who was going to college. I was the only one who didn’t raise my hand.

It wasn’t that I was dead-set against going to college, as I eventually reached the conclusion that college was the best choice for me to grow and develop, but the point is that we’re trained from day 1 to strive for college.

No matter who we are and what we believe in, we’re born raised with the notion that college is a required step in our lives

You do well on the ACT, get good grades in high school, and then get into a solid university. You do well there, graduate with good grades, and get a job at some corporation you don’t really care about — but hey, someones gotta pay the student loan bill, right? Then you get married, move to the suburbs, buy a silver Toyota Corolla, and continue the grind. Then at 65, when the best of your days are long gone, what do you do? Buy a timeshare in Florida? You betcha.

Sometimes the truth hurts

Everyone around me is questioning whether or not college is the right path for them. Sure, the weekends can provide momentary bliss and a nice distraction from the harsh realities of the challenges we’re all facing, but I don’t know one person who is entirely content with their decision to go to college.

There are some amazing people at college — people you can talk with, people you can learn with, and people you can really grow with. But just like the real world, there’s also a lot of jerks. It’s tough to make new friends. It’s tough to be away from your parents. It’s tough living in a new city or state.

It’s tough to be in an environment that is entirely new to you when the environment you were just in finally started to feel so comfortable.

There are classes that you will probably hate. There are professors who couldn’t communicate fluently to their close friends let alone a lecture hall full of students. You’ll be required to take a lot of these classes in the name of “Liberal Arts” (more tuition money, yay!), and you’ll likely flash memorize material right before a test before completely forgetting it.

But there are also classes you will love with professors that bring out the best in you. These classes excite you like nothing in high school ever could. The professors get you to work harder than you ever imagined, and you finally think, “Wow, so this is what college is all about”.

There are ups and there are downs. There are days where you’ll probably wake up and think, “I’m dropping out”, and other days where you’ll wake up and think “I’m never leaving college”.

These are some of the things I wish I would have known.

I wish I would have known there would be extreme self-doubt. I wish I would have known there would be boatloads of social anxiety, classes that bore me (and cost a lot of money), and situations that make me reevaluate everything I believe as an individual.

Most importantly, I wish I would have known there would be times where I f*cking hate college.

I’m not saying college isn’t worth it. I’m not saying that you won’t grow in college or that you won’t have an amazing time. Some people do have an amazing time. Some people do live the college life that movies portray. And for some people college is the best time of their lives.

But if you’re not loving every aspect of your college life, just know that you’re not alone. No one tells you you’re supposed to hate college. No one tells you that college might not be for you. No one tells you that you might end up stress-eating Mike and Ikes on a Friday night instead of hanging out with friends.

And if you’re in high school and not sure if college is right for you? Good! Be curious, be suspicious, be skeptical. It’s your life and you deserve to make the decision that makes YOU happiest in the long run (as long as it’s within your means financially). Is that taking a gap year? Going to a tech school? How about a coding bootcamp or trip abroad? That’s up to you, but don’t feel obligated to commit to the largest financial decision of your life without listening your heart first.

Despite these challenges, am I glad I went to college?

Yes, I actually am.

The thing is, I wouldn’t trade my worst day at college for my best day in high school, because I know that I’ve grown and that the problems I am facing today are 100 times better than the problems I was facing in high school.

And at the end of the day, aren’t we all defined by the problems we choose to solve?

Think there’s someone in your life who might benefit from reading this post? Make sure to share it with them and check out my website, FinMoto.com.

We’re building an app to help college students make the stressful transition from living at home to becoming financially independent young adults, a transition that school doesn’t prepare us for and parents often can’t help with.