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Three (Unexpected) Life Lessons from College When I was a senior in high school, I had many expectations for college

I was accepted into one of my first-choice universities, and with an optimistic attitude, I started imagining what college life would be like. I pictured myself in a white lab coat and goggles as an ambitious STEM major, intensely focused on experiments taking place in the Physics building as one of the brightest students in my class. But of course, my imagination also created a social life for myself!   I pictured myself roaming around campus and meeting up with fellow classmates to study and exchange notes at an aesthetic and cozy coffee shop. I imagined meeting up for lunch with friends from an on-campus club or organization.    In my mind, college was this picture-perfect scene where I would get to experience my first taste of adulthood, and have true autonomy over my life and future.   But like many things in life…what we picture doesn’t always match up with reality. 

Hello “real world!” My name is Taylor Joy! 

Let me start by saying that college is an exciting time. to: Not only in terms of academic growth, but personal growth as well. This is the time to make strides toward your career goals, make friends with similar interests, and learn more about the “real world.” In college, you are in control of your education. You choose what classes to take, how many, and even what time (like no classes before 9AM)!   Consequently, this is also the time when you have to take ownership over all of your decisions. All of them. And not just the ones pertaining to school.    Through your college experience, you’ll (hopefully) learn valuable things like:

  • How to balance hang-out time and study time.
  • How to function with only a few hours of sleep. 
  • How to prepare a meal (that isn’t just cereal or eggs)
  • How far you can go on an empty tank of gas
  • How to balance your finances (and avoid the dreaded overdraft message)

  I know from experience how overwhelming these choices can feel, especially when they present themselves all at the same time. So as I look back on my college experience, I wanted to share the three most valuable lessons I learned from my own college journey with the hope of helping you as you start your own.

Three lessons I learned during college (and not in the classroom)

Lesson #1: Making God a priority in my schedule is always the answer. 

My college allowed every student to build their own class schedules. Unlike high school, colleges will offer classes that take place outside of typical school hours. There could be class options scheduled as early as 7:00AM, to as late as 8:00 PM. On top of this, professors can schedule final exams on a date and time outside of the usual class meeting time. For example, I had a class that met on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:00AM to 12:30PM, but our final exam was scheduled on a Friday at 5:00PM.   I enjoyed the freedom and independence that came with building my class schedule. However, I eventually realized that certain courses I needed to complete were offered only at times that conflicted with my existing schedule of obligations involving worship service times and choir rehearsals.    This is when I learned my first lesson from college: As important as it was to take the classes required to graduate, it was even more important to prioritize God in my schedule before anything else. Knowing that my obligations to God should take first place in my life, the thought of missing worship service due to a final exam just never sat well with me. Looking back now, I don’t feel any regret for passing up on classes and clubs that would’ve interfered with my church duties, because I know that God has blessed me immensely since then. 

Lesson #2: Perseverance and prayer go hand-in-hand. 

It’s no secret that college is a time of constant learning and rapid intellectual growth. The common advice students receive is, for an average class, you should be spending about twelve hours of independent study time per week in order to receive a good grade. This meant that, for a student like me who took three to four classes every quarter, I was expected to study for a total of thirty-six to forty-eight hours per week.    36 to 48 hours!  That’s like binge watching 96 episodes of Friends every week. Or 45 episodes of Stranger Things! It’s a lot.    Needless to say, this required me to sacrifice some sleep in order to finish homework. On top of that, I constantly had a stacked schedule of quizzes, midterms, group projects, and assignment deadlines to meet every single week.   Admittedly, I would find myself stressed out and struggling a lot of the time to succeed in my load of courses, especially my upper-division classes.    But I will never forget how I was able to find peace and reassurance in one very special thing: prayer. Prayer did wonders for me as a bustling student.  Whenever I felt like I couldn’t handle my class load anymore or felt like giving up on an assignment, I found a quiet place at my on-campus library to pray. Just being able to talk to God in the midst of my worries was an amazing blessing, and brought me the comfort I needed to pick myself back up, and face the challenges ahead of me again.  

Lesson #3: Being alone doesn’t have to feel lonely. 

When I first entered college, I was so excited to be involved in clubs and organizations on campus. I was also a commuter student (meaning I drove to school everyday instead of living on campus). So I felt that being connected to my university was of super importance in order to make the most of my little time there.    However, as academic terms passed, I became more solely focused on obtaining my degree. I even accepted a job on campus to start building my resume. This inevitably led to me having little time for extracurriculars, and a schedule that didn’t align with that of my friends or classmates.  I remember one day, as I was walking from class to work, I realized that I spent the majority of days in my own bubble, doing my own thing. I felt a bit isolated. I’ll admit, this thought made me feel sad and estranged.    But this is when I learned my third college lesson: whenever I was alone, I knew God was with me, protecting me from danger, and helping me succeed. I was reassured in knowing that my focus was on obtaining a bright future, and not just finding ways to fit in with the crowd. College was the time for me to build good habits and discover who I was as an individual. So the occasional alone time was just what I needed in order to reflect on my own goals, and to remember what I wanted to achieve through my college experience.

Taking my lessons to the next stage 

Being a college student is truly a wonderful, memorable experience. Some days will be fantastic! Other days you might feel like a failure. Ultimately, college will be challenging. But what has helped me as a Christian navigating through the ups and downs of college life is knowing that I’ll never have to face a trial that I can’t handle. Why? Because I’ve got God on my side.   So if you ever need a reminder about what God can do in your life, here are few things I suggest you read right now: 

  1. Feeling Lost? Let God’s Words Guide You

  2. God Helps Me Make My Decisions

  3. The Key to Turn Your Goals into Reality

  Also check out some of the recent Faith Speaks stories. There’s tons of lessons about young Christian living in a not so Christian world.    

  1. Dealing with Christian Stereotypes

  2. Letting Go of Control

  3. God Gave Me a Reason to Smile

Even though college is a time of many trials, it is also a time of even more blessings. You will grow in ways that you wouldn’t expect, and you will graduate as a better Christian because you got to witness firsthand how God performs miracles in the lives of those who trust in Him.   Oh! And if you’re wondering, I graduated and now hold a degree in English from the University of California, Riverside. I was part of the class of 2020…so no big college graduation ceremony for me. (I definitely didn’t picture that happening.)   But I’ve learned with these three lessons, things always have a way of working out in the end.   

About the Author

Taylor Joy is a Christian Gen-Z living in Southern California and volunteer contributor at INC Media.  She enjoys baking, watching movies, and spending quality time with her friends and family.