What College Taught Me

what college taught me, college, UCSB, freshmen year, college lessons

On March 20th, I graduated from UC Santa Barbara (a quarter early!) with a double-major in history and cultural anthropology. Although I don't technically walk in my graduation ceremony until June, I wanted to share some insights college taught me. Like any college graduate, I have been collecting these thoughts throughout my senior year. Having been separated from the daily bike-to-and-from-lecture grind for a month now, I feel like I can finally piece together the puzzle that was my unforgettable experience as a Gaucho at UCSB. So, here goes:

Determine your go-to coffee order.
College is jam-packed with all-nighters. Determining your favorite caffeine jolt order is clutch. Trust me.

Cultivate the habit of being grateful.
Learn how to be grateful. When I started college, I didn't truly "get" how fortunate I was to attend UCSB. Gradually, I became grateful for the amazing opportunities I had, like being able to afford college, making new friends, being exposed to noteworthy professors, participating in archaeology excavations, leading in student organizations, attending UCSB exclusive concerts, etc. College, and its four years of memory making, is a privilege not a right.

Learn to love yourself [first].      
You can't build lasting relationships in college if you don't start by learning to love yourself. Away from your back-home family and friends, college is the chance to figure out how to enjoy your own company, honestly evaluate your passions, and really find yourself. [Insert cheesy Mumford & Sons lyric: where you invest your love, you invest your life]. 

You do not (and never will) know everything.
It is OK not to have the information from your biology midterm forever ingrained in your memory, just like it is OK to admit when you don't know the right answer. Just because college is a place of higher learning doesn't mean you will ever know everything there is to learn there. Take that pressure off and learn to retain what interests you most.

Search for the good in each day.
All of us have a choice to be happy. During college, I started challenging myself to find three positives in every day. They included having a great cup of coffee, running along the beach at sunset, buying myself some flowers (which every girl should always do!), correctly answering a question in class, carving out enough time to catch up on favorite T.V. shows, etc. After four years of this exercise, all of my family and friends have commented on how much happier I am!

Take advantage of your school's available resources.
While at UCSB, I took advantage of the university's Career Services Center for resume critiques, an awesome psychiatrist when I hit a rough patch, free ocean kayaking trips, brain-stimulating E.G.G. chair, on-campus art museum, scrumptious waffle bar, traveling lecture series, wide variety of student organizations, free book giveaways, etc. In college, follow your school's social media platforms and webpage to get in-the-know of resources available to the student body. Your tuition covers these costs, so take advantage.

Become a leader.
In high school, I was never really a leader. College changed that. It wasn't until I became involved with Relay for Life that my passion for fighting cancer went hand-in-hand with my budding role as a leader. Find something you love and lead other like-minded individuals in achieving group goals.

Constantly dare yourself to try new things.    
Don't settle. Continuously expose yourself to different people and activities, because college is all about making an eclectic batch of memories in four short years. In college, I participated in an sailing pirate battle royale, took (and taught) ballroom dancing classes, went to the Channel Islands and Virginia for archaeology excavations, fundraised for cancer, led beach clean-ups, learned how to surf, got lost on many a hangover hike with best buds, camped and drove a RZR and quad in Glamis, modeled (hah!) for ModCloth, created and presented an original research project in front of undergraduate peers and faculty, went whale watching, competed in a Hershey marketing case competition, and so much more. Never let yourself get so stuck in your routine that you forget to make the most of college.

Ask for help.
Be honest with yourself when you need help. If that is tutoring, a shoulder to cry on, whatever it may be, know it is OK to not be perfect 100% of the time. Part of the human condition is imperfection. Embrace it.

Wanderlust locally.
Get your surrounding community wired. After living in Santa Barbara for four years, I can take you to the best lobster tacos in town, show you how to climb to the top of the Santa Barbara court building for some killer downtown views, tell you which boat is the best for dolphin watching at sunset, give you directions to a 100+ year old stagecoach tavern in the mountains selling mouthwatering tri-tip, bring you to an oceanside drive-in theater, and top it all off with a trip to McConnell's Ice Cream. You did college right if you can act as a tour guide for such similar local hotspots.

Do not be afraid of evolving.
College changed me. It transformed me from a somewhat shy, overly idealistic, and rather conservative girl into a woman I can proudly hold my head high in being. Yes, the unknown is pee-your-pants scary, but sometimes it can be for the most unexpectedly awesome ways.

Follow the "good vibes only" rule.
Surround yourself with people that radiate "good vibes only." Life is too short to let yourself be caught up in other individuals' negativity.

Realize everyone has a unique story to tell.
Everyone has a story that will make you laugh, cry, break your heart, and want to give them a big 'ol bear hug. Everyone. Understand that about people, and let that translate in your getting to know (and empathizing) with new friends.

Pick your battles wisely.
Pick and choose your battles. Battles can be spats with a roommate, challenging a grade on a paper, questioning leadership in a student organization, choosing a too-challenging course schedule, whatever. You are the acting general in your life's army. Determine which battles are worth losing your cool over and which require sucking it up and moving on. Not everything has to be an episode of Gossip Girl.

Always double-check your work.
You should always double (even triple) check anything you submit with your name on it. That's your name. Make sure your work reflects something you can be proud of. Otherwise, what's the point?

Understand when to make and lose friends.   
Your friendships will completely change from freshman to senior year. The best part about college is you are not committed to one set clique of friends. You have the power to put yourself out there and mix things up. Your tuition is way too high for you to subject yourself to a lousy group of friends when there are thousands of other friend fish in the student body sea. Besides, if someone wants to be a part of your life, they will find a way to make it happen. Don't force halfhearted friendships.

Call home.
Call home more often than not. Your family loves you lots, and family always comes first. Don't get so caught up in your own life that you forget you started out in your parents' first.

You have as many hours in a day as Beyonce.
If Beyonce can do it, you can do it. Wake up an hour earlier to get things done, and try to avoid procrastinating on important assignments. Doing so will make a world of difference in your stress levels.

Find a mentor(s).
You can never surround yourself with enough individuals who are older and wiser than yourself. Find a mentor who is kind, leads by example, you connect with, and whose career/life trajectory is something you (more or less) aspire to similarly achieve. Mentors can be older students, professors, school faculty, coaches, etc. Your mentor should have your back when dishing out advice,  sharing in a quality conversation, and writing you a stand-out letter of recommendation.

Make your passion your post-grad paycheck.
Know your passions and find creative ways to pursue them in your post-grad life whether they be through volunteer work, hobbies, or employment. You will perform a thousand times better at a job you are passionate about than something you are just doing to get by. Ask for what makes you happy.


  1. I am so excited to award you a Liebster Award! http://headbandsandbagels.blogspot.com/2014/05/my-first-liebster-award.html
    xo Elisabeth
    Headbands & Bagels

  2. What a great list, Jen! I like how your list of lessons learned from college life is a mix of practical notes and kind advice. My favorite would have to be the last three, probably because the one with Beyoncé cracked me up and I really admired my mentors as well. I think anyone who is just about to enter univ or college life would definitely benefit from reading that list of yours. Congratulations on graduating!

    Valerie Casey @ Studemont Group