What Is College Like?

By Jacqueline DeMarco · August 18, 2023 · 7 minute read

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What Is College Like?

Whether you’re leaving home for the first time or enrolling in your local community college, you might have a lot of misconceptions about the college experience.

So, what is college really like? Keep reading to learn about some of the myths and realities of being a college student.

Common College Myths

Pop culture has altered how we view the quintessential college experience, and though some of these myths are rooted in some level of truth, many don’t hold up nowadays.

College myths can stoke anxiety for incoming students. So let’s look for truths.

Myth 1: Most Students Graduate in 4 Years

Although traditionally students head to college for a “four-year degree,” many of them take more than four years to graduate. In reality, only about 33.3% of students attending public colleges and universities earn a bachelor’s degree within four years.

Nearly 60% of students at public universities and colleges take six years to graduate.

There are lots of legitimate reasons it can take students more than four years to get a degree. Some may change their major and need extra classes to meet their new major requirements. Others may take on a minor or a double major that requires extra classes. Adventurous students might take time to study abroad, which could potentially slow their progress.

Others may decide to transfer schools or might have to work to pay their way through school, which could lead to finishing required classes at a slower pace.

A student may simply need more time to master the coursework. Taking your time to make sure you get the most value from your education and accomplish everything you want matters more than following a strict timeline.

💡 Quick Tip: Some lenders help you pay down your student loans sooner with reward points you earn along the way.

Myth 2: Your Major Will Determine Your Career Path

Some students know exactly what career path they want to take and choose a major accordingly. Others may need more time to discover their passions and interests.

There is a misconception that you have to major in a subject that relates to your career path. Many degrees teach skills that can transfer to a variety of fields.

Philosophy and history degrees can teach perspective. English literature degrees can enhance the art of critical thinking. Majoring in graphic design may lead to a career in marketing.

The bottom line is, if you focus on the skills you learn while earning your degree more than the specific subject matter, you can apply those skills to many different career paths.

Myth 3: You Have to Live on Campus to Have the Full Experience

Here’s a fun fact for students who are debating whether or not they have to live on campus to get the full college experience: Only around 22% of university students live in on-campus dormitories. Living on campus can be convenient, but can also be expensive and a big step for students fresh out of high school.

Even if students don’t live on campus, they will still have access to on-campus resources and perks such as clubs, events, libraries, and gyms.

Choosing to live on campus is a personal decision and needs to be one made based on a student’s particular financial, social, and educational needs.

Recommended: How to Find Affordable Student Housing in Your College Town

Myth 4: No One Transfers From Community College

Around 30% of community college students end up transferring to a four-year school. Attending community college has multiple benefits worth considering. Students can receive a high-quality education for a fraction of the price by taking their general education classes at a community college. Taking these classes at a cheaper tuition price can give students more time and leeway to experiment with subject matter they are interested in.

Attending community college has multiple benefits worth considering. Students can receive a high-quality education for a fraction of the price by taking their general education classes at a community college. Taking these classes at a cheaper tuition price can give students more time and leeway to experiment with subject matter they are interested in.

For those who have their hearts set on prestigious universities, it can be easier to transfer to one of those schools from community college than it is to be accepted straight out of high school.

Some community colleges have deals with local universities that can guarantee admission to your dream school if you meet certain qualifications. It’s known as a transfer admission guarantee, or TAG.

In California, six University of California campuses offer guaranteed admission to students from all California community colleges who have completed at least 30 semester UC-transferable units.

And in Florida, state community college graduates with an associate degree are guaranteed admission to one of the 11 state universities (except to limited access programs, which call for additional admission requirements).

Major College Realities

If you’re looking for a dose of reality before you start college, consider these tidbits. Knowledge is power, after all, so it can’t hurt to know what to expect.

Reality 1: Anyone Can Get Help Paying for School

Let’s start with some good news. Almost any student can find help paying for college, no matter what their financial background is.

While students from more privileged economic backgrounds may qualify for less federal student aid such as grants, both colleges and private businesses offer a variety of merit-based scholarships and grants that students can apply for.

It’s worth considering all of your aid options before you foot your entire college bill by yourself.

💡 Quick Tip: Would-be borrowers will want to understand the different types of student loans that are available: private student loans, federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans, Direct PLUS loans, and more.

Reality 2: Follow Your Passions

You’ve heard it from your teachers, you’ve heard it from your parents, and chances are you’ve heard it from countless other adults who like to reminisce about the good ol’ days: Your time spent in college will be some of the best years of your life.

College is a unique time when young adults can follow their passions. Even if you choose a major that doesn’t align with all of your interests, there are many elective classes you can take and clubs you can join that will help you foster your passions.

Learn Portuguese, take a class in 3D printing, hit the stage for some dramatic arts, or simply explore the library archives. Take advantage of this special time in your life to learn more about what interests you.

Recommended: How to Get Involved on Campus in College

Reality 3: You Can Change Your Mind

You’ve known your whole life that you want to be a doctor. Or a lawyer. Or a beekeeper. Or so you thought. One of the many joys of college is that you have the time and space to learn and grow.

You may discover after two years of being a psychology major that the statistics classes you had to take were more interesting than your clinical psychology classes.

It’s never too late to switch majors (that extra year of sticking around campus will be worth it) or start interning in a new career field.

Some students may find that the college they chose while they were still in high school isn’t a good fit. Guess what? You can transfer to a new school if you wish. You can change your mind about what you want to study and what career path you want to take, too.

Reality 4: Partying Can Take a Toll

For some, college parties are a rite of passage. For others, they are stressful and distracting. If the party lifestyle is something you’re not interested in or is something you know you’ll get swept up in, it’s OK to stay home on a Friday night.

Focusing on your studies is why you’re at college, so don’t let peer pressure or societal expectations make you feel bad for prioritizing that.

Another Reality: Financing College

As mentioned, students can apply for scholarships and grants to help pay for their college education. But if a student needs a little more help in the funding department to supplement their college savings, grants or scholarships, chances are either they or their parents will consider student loans.

Students can apply for federal and private student loans. Federal student loans often have lower interest rates than private student loans do and don’t have to be paid back until a student graduates or leaves school. If you qualify for a subsidized federal loan, you won’t have to pay any interest on the loan while you are in school and for six months after you graduate.

Private student loan lenders may require the borrower to begin paying back the loans before graduation day. That said, private student loans can help with college costs that federal student loans may not completely cover.

If students consider private student loans, they should research each lender and review the terms and rates offered. Also keep in mind that private loans may not offer the same protections, such as income-based repayment plans, that come with federal student loans.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

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