When you first head to college, it is easy to get ideas about college through the media. I know that I personally thought I would have to learn how to sing so that I could join a sorority and find the perfect clique of best friends who were also geniuses with the exception of the token idiot (or vice versa). After the first semester, the truth became clear: everything you've ever been told about college in the movies is probably not true.
Lesson 1: Everyone Sings
If you look at most college themed movies or TV shows, there is always a singing storyline. It can seem like to make friends you will have to join an a capella group. I am here to reassure you that is just not true. If you are a musical type, then there is a robust a capella presence at most universities (see list here), but it is by no means mandatory or even normal, unless you attend a conservatory -- in which case you totally knew what you were getting into.
Lesson 2: Everyone is in a Fraternity/Sorority
While lots of students are in a fraternity or sorority, not every student is in one. Plus, many greek life chapters do not resemble “Greek” or “Legally Blonde” with out-of-control parties and binge drinking. Greek life also serves a philanthropic purpose that leads to millions of hours and dollars donated each year. And there are even more benefits to greek life. In short: it’s not all partying, and not everyone joins.
Lesson 3: College is just like high school but bigger
Maybe you shouldn’t live with your best friend. On TV shows, there is a limited cast of characters that the main character can live with. So, the best friends go to the same college, take the same classes and live in the same dorm room. In real life, it’s not so simple. It can be great to have a friend from high school with you at college, but college is very different. The freedom, academic rigor, activities and professors are very different than your experiences in high school. Do not limit yourself to those you went to high school with. Friends will change and grow -- sometimes together, sometimes apart, and that’s just fine.
Lesson 4: Classes and professors are supposed to radically change your thoughts, beliefs and actions
We’ve all seen the movies where a professor says a magic phrase or paragraph, then you see all of the students collectively gasp from the knowledge bomb that was just dropped. Some professors will change your life through expanding your mind and showing you parts of the world that you have never known about. Other professors will simply confirm what you already know or provide another lens that does not necessarily shake your world.
Lesson 5: Getting into grad school is super easy
Source: Legally Blonde
Graduate school is a huge decision and is not a cakewalk. Watching movies like “Legally Blonde” can leave the impression that graduate school is a simple decision and can just be made spur of the moment. In reality, graduate student loans are the majority of student loan debt nationally. The decision to go to graduate school is a huge deal, and the debt you incur is nothing to take lightly. Then, the tests, essays, letters of recommendation and everything else make getting into graduate school difficult. Sadly, it’s not as easy as an admissions video to Harvard Law.
Lesson 6: Sports are everything
Most people know of colleges because of their sports teams. Collegiate sports are worth millions of dollars every year, and they help with visibility. Playing on a varsity team, however, is not everything. Many colleges have competitive and regular intramurals that you can participate in. Others have robust college traditions that do not revolve around sports.
Lesson 7: Finals are the worst week ever
Source: Boy Meets World
Don’t believe the horror stories. Finals are hard because they are worth a huge percentage of your grade, but they are not everything. If you’ve been working all semester and impressing your professor, finals week won’t be so bad.
Lesson 8: All classes are taught in large lecture halls and don't matter
If you go to a big school, there will be big classes. There is no getting around that. Honors Programs, like American Honors, can help reduce class size by limiting who can enroll in certain sections. Often, the large lecture hall classes will have study groups on alternate days led by teaching assistants. Those classes also are crucial for your graduation. Most of those courses in large lecture halls are necessary to get a diploma.
Lesson 9: College is full of geniuses
Trust me, not everyone in college is a genius. Yes, there are a few savants, but the majority are not a certifiable genius, despite what “The Social Network” would lead you to believe. Every school has its fair share of geniuses, and, well, decidedly un-genius students too.
Lesson 10: Romantic relationships are the most important thing about college
There are few college movies that do not focus on finding the person of your dreams. College is about so much more than just finding a romantic relationship, for however long the relationship lasts. In college, you meet mentors, friends, more-than-friends, intellectual challengers, athletic rivals and everything in between. College is a time for geeking out. Do not limit your college path to being a quest for “the one.” Find yourself, let him or her find you.