The most important lessons I learned in college had nothing to do with class
A college education is still valuable — just not for the reasons you might think.
A growing crowd of educated people today lament that their college education was not what they expected it to be.
Many graduates are leaving college only to find that their newly-minted degrees do not bring them the job opportunities or ideal lives that were promised them.
Are you one of those people?
Nowadays, unless you are an engineer, or computer science major, or you want to go to professional graduate school, chances are whatever you study in college won’t help you much in real life.
Chances are, whatever you learned in college, you probably could have taught yourself, while spending far less money.
So what are we to do when we figure out that college and a degree are not all they’re cracked up to be? Turn around and warn all the innocent little high schoolers not to go to college?
Well, I wouldn’t go that far. After all, I did learn a lot of important lessons from college.
I just didn’t learn them in class.
I learned how to clean up raw sewage (and keep house)
When I was growing up, my mom was mostly a stay-at-home mom.
She was a very good one, too — too good, in fact.
Cooking, laundry, cleaning, budgeting — it all fell to her, and she never made any of us lift a finger to help her. In fact, if we offered to help, she’d decline and tell us to go do homework or practice, instead.
Needless to say, I didn’t learn a whole lot about the care and management of a household while living at home.
But once I went to college, I not only learned how to cook, but how to shop and portion food so that I would not end up wasting food (In spite of my efforts, I still had to make a LOT of banana bread out of old bananas).
I learned how to unclog a toilet, and clean the bathroom after a flash flood caused the sewage to overflow.
I learned to be my own nutritionist, manager, maid, cook, and more — roles I probably should have taken on earlier, but hadn’t, until I started college.
I learned how to take care of drunk people at 2 a.m. in the morning
I worked as a resident adviser for two years of my college career, during which I dealt with all kinds of challenging things I’d never experienced before, including drugged students, drunk students, and grieving, sick, or homesick students.
(In fact, the first all-nighter I ever pulled in my life was when I sat up with a drunk resident on a Friday night)
I learned how to deal with 2 am emergencies, and how to watch out for signs of trouble. On a brighter side, I also learned how to keep track of 20+ residents’ birthdays, how to be available, and how to organize fun and educational events for my residents.
Besides working as a resident adviser, I also became a tutor, peer mentor, and teaching assistant, roles which taught me how to take care of other people in many other ways, from matching them to appropriate resources, scheduling time to meet with them and answer questions, and simply — how to listen.
I learned to read an analog map (and hoard quarters. Lots and lots of quarters)
Prior to attending college, my parents always drove me everywhere. Unlike most kids my age, I was never very keen on driving, and did not get my driver’s license until late in life. Instead, I always hitched rides with my folks.
In college, that was no longer an option.
I couldn’t afford a car, nor did I want one. Instead, I learned how to use public transportation. I learned how to look up maps, and how to plan for and deal with unexpected situations.
All of this training came in handy when I had to take the bus to another city for a standardized test at 7am.
I did a test run of the bus route the week before, waking before 5am to catch my first bus. It’s a good thing I did, too, because I ended up making a terrible mistake and catching the wrong bus, arriving at my location at noon. But on the day of the actual test, I knew exactly what to do, and it all went off without a hitch.
I learned how to be a friend
Prior to college, I had very shallow friendships. I lived far away from most of my classmates, and spent most of my free time practicing piano, so I did not have time to nurture relationships.
But in college, that changed.
Several times I stayed up late into the wee hours, listening to my roommate’s concerns about her relationship with her boyfriend.
I sat with my friend when she experienced crippling depression.
I cared for another friend who was suffering from an eating disorder on the other side of the country.
My friends and I were separated from home, family, and our usual sources of comfort and support, so we learned to be each other’s support.
Without moving away from home to attend college, I would have never had the opportunity to make, and be, a true friend.
I learned how (not) to schedule my time
This is something I’m still working on. But college taught me a lot about time management.
In college, I took something like 160 units of coursework (average units needed to graduate: 130–140). On top of that, I was holding down multiple jobs, leading extracurricular groups, volunteering, and doing a lot of general exploring.
I tried things I’d never tried before. I joined groups and events I was mildly interested in. I took advantage of every free program that I had the time to try, and I made the time to try most of them.
Obviously, I cut some corners with my health to fit it all in, but I did manage to graduate with a solid academic record. That should count for something, right?
Sigh. Like I said, it’s a work-in-progress.
Bonus: I learned how to be hospitable
My most precious memory from college are Friday nights, when I was able to gather in the homes of local church members for dinner, music, and fellowship.
Especially near the end of my college career, when I was exhausted and drained from all the events I rather unwisely tried to keep on my plate, Friday nights were a refuge in the storm, an oasis in the desert.
The couples who opened their houses to us students were so warm and dedicated, showering us with love and care. I will be forever grateful to them for that.
Their selfless generosity and persistent hospitality showed me how to do the same — that the best way to reach out and take care of others is as simple and sacrificial as inviting the over for a home-cooked meal.
In some ways, those Fridays saved my life. At least, they made the inevitable stress of college that much easier to bear.
Never underestimate the power of true hospitality.
College life was exhilarating, stressful, eye-opening, and exhausting. I learned a lot, but 90% of the most important lessons I learned, I learned outside the classroom.
In the end, that’s what college is for — an opportunity to try life out in a different setting, to experiment with your life, your goals, yourself.
Yes, my college education was expensive. And yes, most of my classes may have cost more than what they were worth.
But when I take into consideration all of the lessons I learned indirectly through the overall college experience, I’m not upset with my investment.
All things considered, it was worth it.
Ready to be a Brilliant Writer?
I’ve created The Brilliant Writer Checklist to help you clarify your message, reach more readers, and change the world with your words.