Group of diverse students with backpacks in a white room next to window

College Reality Check: Learn This Long Before You Leave

College is a great time, but don't fool yourself into thinking it's going to be this perfect experience. Here's a reality check and advice you need to keep in mind.

It’s easy to get a rose-colored glasses view of college when we’re constantly shown fictious, idealized versions of campus life through movies and TV shows. And while some of what happens is based in fact, these stories often blow college life way out of proportion. Constant partying and hardly ever going to classes just doesn’t happen—but classes don’t make for good entertainment, right? The smartest thing for you to do when you head off to college is to carry a healthy dose of practicality with you and this sage advice that you should know long before you graduate.

Perfect the art of listening and learning

We spend so much of our lives talking and not a lot of time listening. College is a time of immense change and growth, but we often let times like these happen to us rather than making them happen for us. Something that will benefit you is learning how to listen and reflect. Take in a professor’s constructive criticism when you’re struggling with a paper and learn to understand it’s not a personal attack against you or your intelligence. Listen to your roommate’s concerns over your shared lifestyle and learn to compromise while also making sure your needs are met. You’ll face a lot of moments like these where you’ll need the skill of responding over reacting. Perfecting that skill will take you far and lead you to a more balanced and less stressful daily life. 

Related: 5 College Lessons Learned Outside the Classroom

Keep your circle smaller than you think you need to

Having friends is great, but one of the biggest things I learned after leaving college is it’s impossible to keep up with everyone. You’ll have a job, a home to upkeep, pets, hobbies, and maybe a spouse eventually. It’s just not reasonable to expect you to keep up with every single friend from college (or high school). So while you’re in college, it’s smart to keep your circle small. I’m not saying don’t be friendly or hang out with acquaintances—but don’t force yourself to keep in touch with people just for the sake of being popular or nice. You’ll find yourself much more stressed in your relationships and academically if you’re spread too thin.  What if your soccer buddy wants to get dinner on Thursday, but that friend from your psych class is upset because they haven’t heard from you in a while and that’s the only night they’re free, but you also have a test the next morning? Find the people who really uplift, support, and understand you and keep them the closest. The ones you want to carry with you are the ones who understand how busy life gets but will pick up with you right where you left off no matter how much time has passed.

Related: 4 Great Ways to Make Friends at College 

It’s not the best four years of your life

Yes, college is a wonderful, fun, exciting time of learning, growing, finding independence, and discovering yourself. But it’s only four years of a long life you have left to live. So while you should enjoy it to the best of your ability, don’t hang your hat on it being the best years of your life. This kind of thinking is harmful for two main reasons: 

It will make the hard parts harder

Partying, making new friends, joining clubs, and playing sports are amazing opportunities you’ll have while attending college. But there are also major exams, huge projects, and the balancing act of assignments, jobs, and your social life. College will be equally as trying as it is rewarding, so don’t blindside yourself into thinking it will be this perfect experience. You’ll have to challenge yourself, and you will struggle—but all of it will make you a better person and more prepared for the wonderful life you’ll lead after college.

It will give you a poor outlook on postgrad life

Believe me, I know people who left college (even high school) and wasted many years of their life just wishing they could go back. Make the most of your time in college, but also remember the end goal: to find a great career and lead a great life after it’s over. While you shouldn’t wish it away, you also shouldn’t spend your time fearing graduation and leaving the life you’ve built in college. It’s just another stepping stone to bigger and better things. And trust me, there are bigger and better things waiting for you.

Related: True or False? Clearing Up College Myths

College is a special time in a person’s life, but it’s not the end all, be all. There’s a lot of life to live when it’s over. Enjoy it to the fullest while you can, but know you have a whole lot else ahead of you after graduation. Keeping yourself grounded is a smart way to get you through the experience so that years later, you can look back and say, “Yeah, that was a great time in my life, and I’m grateful for where it got me today.” 

For more practical advice like this, check out other blogs and articles in our Student Life section.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

college advice college life college myths friends life lessons student life

About Kelli Dolan

Kelli Dolan

Kelli Dolan is the Senior Assistant Editor & Counselor Communications Coordinator for CollegeXpress. Her day-to-day includes editing and writing CollegeXpress articles, running the CollegeXpress Counselors social media platforms, and basically just doing all things CollegeXpress. When she’s not editing other people’s work, she's writing for fun, favoring fiction stories and poetry. You could also potentially find her reading, playing video games, or hanging out with her dog, Athena, and red bearded dragon, Freya.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
CollegeXpress Logo


Are you our next winner?

Register now for our scholarship giveaway

Hannah Nelsen

Hannah Nelsen

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has helped me look at colleges that fit my interests by taking my profile and matching it to colleges that have the programs I'm looking for. It has the ability to connect me to colleges so I can be contacted by them and look at them more in-depth to find what's right for me. Additionally, the scholarship database is super beneficial for getting scholarships for college. Not only does it help lift the financial burden of college but it shows all the opportunities available. Overall, CollegeXpress has been very helpful to me.

Kelly Nogueiro

Kelly Nogueiro


For me, CollegeXpress has given me a valuable tool to use with my students to explore colleges easily beyond objective data. It helps me find colleges for students that fit their needs and wants that aren’t quite so black and white. It's a wealth of knowledge, and the Type-A side of me loves all the lists and the fact that I know they're coming from folks who know what they're talking about. I share it with colleagues and students alike, and it's always well received.



High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress showed me that Western New England University was a great match for me both with curriculum and location. CollegeXpress is an excellent resource both future and current college students.



High School Class of 2023

Being a sophomore in high school, I never really worried about college. I thought it wasn't important to worry about until senior year. Through this program opportunity I came across, I realized how important it is to start looking at colleges early and start planning ahead. CollegeXpress has opened my eyes to what colleges require, what colleges are near me, and what they offer. The daily emails I get from CollegeXpress really help me look at the different options I have and what colleges I fit into. Without this website, I would not be taking the time out of my day to worry about what my future will be nor what opportunities I have. I could not be more grateful for such an amazing and useful website. It's thanks to CollegeXpress that not only me but my family now know how much potential I have in to getting into these colleges/universities that we thought were out of my reach.



High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me greatly during my college search. I used their college search feature often and it helped in comparing schools I was looking at. Now that I’ve found a college the scholarship search feature is helping me find a way to find my college experience. CollegeXpress has many helpful features and resources for anyones college search, it truly is a wonderful tool for anyone entering college level!

College Matches