16 things I’ve learned after 16 years of school

With only a handful of days remaining until I become a college graduate, I have been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting on life. 

In addition to the education I’ve been fortunate enough to receive, I’m thankful to also be bringing a lot of other lessons I’ve picked up along the way, inside and outside of the classroom. 

1 When you are around other people who have accomplished as much as you, your accomplishments won’t seem as significant 

When I graduated high school, and now college as well, I started seeing these accomplishments as being less significant than I did when I started working toward them. It’s hard to feel like it’s a big deal when you’re surrounded by other people that are at your same level. But sometimes, it helps to think about the bigger picture. There are significantly more people without a college education than with one in the world. Try to keep this in perspective and don’t let yourself forget the weight of your accomplishment. 

2 Work hard when you feel productive, but don’t force it when you don’t 

This is something that has been really important for me while I’ve had a lot of things going on in life. Sometimes, you have an impossible time forcing yourself to be focused and motivating yourself to do work, and other times, you feel more productive. I try to listen to these moods when it’s possible and work with myself, not forcing myself to do something that I don’t want to do. This has been really good for my mental health and productivity. 

3 Growing up is all about returning back to the person you are at your core

I’m realizing the older I get, the more I just become more of the true self I am at my core, without the peer pressure from adolescence, the difficult times that damaged me or the mistakes that have changed me. You pick up all of the lessons along the way and become better, but ultimately, you are becoming closer to who you are at the core. 

4 Live below your means

Just because you can afford to buy a Mustang, doesn’t mean you should buy a Mustang. 

5 Studying a little bit is better than no studying at all 

This might seem obvious, but this tip is for those times where you have a lot of other things to worry about, or you procrastinate too much, and you decide that you have to just “take an L” on a quiz or exam. Instead of doing nothing and just accepting failure, sometimes just 30 minutes of studying can actually make a world of difference. 

6 Focus on studying what you’re the weakest on 

This goes along the same lines. I learned this when I had to practice playing instruments when I was younger — don’t go over and over again, reinforcing the things you already know. Instead, divert your energy to the specific things you struggle with. For instance, when learning to play an instrument, if I had trouble with a certain change between two notes, I would just focus on that transition over and over, instead of playing the whole song from the beginning. Applying this to studying as well has made this process much more efficient. 

7 Your hobbies aren’t dumb

Whatever you enjoy doing to destress, whether it be gaming or watching TikToks, your hobbies aren’t dumb. It’s pointless to spend all day working hard and being productive if you don’t have things you enjoy doing as well. Life is meant to be enjoyed. Try not to feel guilty for having fun. 

8 You should use your advantages and privileges to help people 

I recognize that I’m extremely lucky to have access to an education, and other modern-day luxuries like a car. I’ve found over time that the most important thing I can do is to use these things to try and help others. Whether that’s advocating for people that have less privilege than me, or giving people rides, if I have resources to share, it’s my responsibility to do so. 

9 Always be open-minded 

Apply this to lots of things: meeting new people, taking a class with a professor that people say is very strict, new political ideas, and everything else. 

10 Failure is not a death sentence 

This applies to a lot of things. I’ve failed exams and been able to work with my professor to either let me retake it, or study and do better on the next. As long as you don’t make a habit of it, there is room in your degree audit to fail or take a “W” on a class. While these things aren’t a good thing, they happen to everyone, and there are ways to make a comeback from them. 

11 Make friends with your professors 

I know everyone talks about this one, but it’s important. When you’re on the younger side of your career and don’t have extensive work experience, your professors are often the closest people you have that can vouch for your skills and work ethic. You don’t have to become every professor’s best friend, especially if you didn’t have a great experience in your class. Find the few that you feel comfortable with and build a relationship. This doesn’t have to be super hard work, either. Just participate a little extra in class, go to their office hours, and give them a sincere thank you at the end of the term. It goes further than you think. 

12 Be nice to service people 

Working retail during school taught me a thing or two about what these people deal with. Be nicer than you feel like you need to be. I still remember the customers that would come up to me and ask me if I was okay after I got yelled at by other customers while I was working. 

13 Your degree does not guarantee success 

While this is a lesson that I’m not thrilled about sharing, it’s true. It becomes more and more common every day to graduate with a bachelor’s degree and be unable to find a job, much less a job that pays what you deserve. Be prepared upon graduating for this harsh reality. Find work experience before you graduate through volunteering, work, or internships, and try to save some money for the inevitable skydive you will take into “real” adulthood. 

14 Don’t overwrite 

As I became more educated, I became more tempted to use bigger words and more complicated sentences to show off how much I had learned and impress professors. Don’t do this! You don’t need to “overwrite” just because you know bigger words. The most important thing is to write clearly. 

15 Figure out where things are in advance 

My first day at UW Tacoma, I couldn’t find the parking lot I had purchased a permit for. I ended up missing my first ever class, almost being towed, getting lost, crying in my car, and being late to my second class. If you’re starting work or school at a new place, it can be good to get there before your first day to walk around and get the layout of everything. 

16 You will miss college

This doesn’t mean that college will be the best years of your life — that’s kind of depressing, right? The best part over before you’re even halfway done? — But you definitely will miss it. Don’t let this get you down, though. There are great things ahead for you, too.