Every year, you walk into your local office supply store and are met with deals and discounts on every school supply you could imagine. Fifty percent off flash drives! Buy one notebook, get one free! Need a scientific calculator? You’re in luck—they’re on sale, too!
This yearly routine never fails to get the gears turning in your head. You’ve thought about hitting the books and embarking on your own college career. But even with all the bargains in the world, there’s no denying that college is a significant investment in both time and money. Before you commit to going back to school, you want to be sure college will be worth the effort.
Earning your degree can certainly pay off by providing you with the credentials you need to advance your career, but college isn’t all about book smarts. The college experience can also offer you plenty of invaluable life lessons you’ll leverage for years to come.
7 life skills you’ll learn as a college student
The things you learn in college go far beyond what you’ll find in a textbook. We asked these college grads to weigh-in on the life lessons you’ll learn while earning your degree.
1. You’ll become disciplined
“The biggest lesson college taught me is that I'm fully responsible for everything that happens to me and my success is almost entirely dependent on myself,” says Benjamin Houy, creator of French Together. Houy adds that students of online programs need to be especially self-motivated since you won’t have in-person interactions to keep you on track.
No one at your college is going to force you go to class or make sure you turn in your assignments on time. That’s all up to you—and that means being seriously disciplined. That discipline won’t go to waste once you’ve got your degree in hand. Employers love seeing motivated employees who can keep themselves on task without requiring constant supervision.
2. You’ll take charge of your own learning
“One of the life lessons l learned while in college was learning new skills on my own,” shares Marcus Kusi, Business Analyst and Blogger at Our Peaceful Family.
Kusi wanted to continue earning money while going to school, but he didn’t want to spend additional time away from his wife and two young children. His solution was to start his own online business, which he did entirely through teaching himself the skills he needed.
“It was not easy and required a lot of research and trial-and-error,” Kusi explains.
College places you in situations where the answers don’t always come easily. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to take your learning into your own hands and find a way to acquire the skills you need to turn your dreams into reality.
3. You’ll become a time management whiz
Juggling school, work and family isn’t easy. College life is a crash course in efficient time management.
“School is important, but it's critical to rest and have fun when it's time,” says Stacy Roberts, Founder and Executive Coach at SMR Leadership Solutions. It takes hard work to earn your degree, but you can get through college with less stress if you stay organized, keep a schedule and remember to make time for family and the activities you enjoy.
“It will be difficult to complete school if you're burned out and your personal life is falling apart,” Roberts adds.
4. You’ll become a pro at navigating tough conversations
College is filled with interactions with others, such as professors, teammates on a group project or a supervisor at an internship. You want your communication with others to be pleasant, but disagreements or tricky situations will probably arise a few times during your college career.
Kusi recalls a time when certain team members weren’t pulling their weight on a group project. “l had to find a way to have difficult conversations about their work effort with them,” he says.
Though the conversation was certainly uncomfortable, the end result was a team with stronger communication and a better final project.
“Because of this experience, l am now able to have difficult conversations with other people without stressing myself out,” Kusi says.
5. You’ll gain perseverance
College won’t always be easy. From difficult courses to stress from balancing work, school and family, there will likely be times you feel like giving up. Scott Layson understands that struggle well. He earned his degree by attending school during his days off while serving in the Marine Corps and, later, taking night classes while working full-time during the day.
The perseverance he gained while earning his degree was a key factor in making it through the difficult early days of starting his Tennessee real estate agency with his wife.
“I attribute much of our success to those early (and tough) years when my good habits were formed, and I was powering through 16 hours a day of work and studying,” Layson says.
6. You’ll learn how to ask for help
Taking ownership of your own education doesn’t mean you’ll be alone through your college journey. Professors, classmates, friends and family are all there to support you when you need it—you just have to ask.
“Make sure you have a supportive circle around you that knows your vision and goals,” Roberts says. “If you need assistance, don't understand an assignment or feel overloaded with school or your personal life, ask for help.”
Contrary to what you may think, asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It means you know how to find the support you need without burning yourself out—a skill that will come in handy throughout your professional career.
7. You’ll strengthen your integrity
Furthering your education may test your limits. At times, you may even be tempted to cheat or take shortcuts to lighten your load. College gives you plenty of opportunities to strengthen your personal integrity and stay true to your values.
Roberts warns that bad habits like cheating or cutting corners will follow you into your career. Luckily, you’ll be able to rely on your discipline, perseverance and help from others to get you through the tough times and earn your degree the honorable way.
Go beyond the books
College may give you the knowledge to take the next step on your career path, but don’t underestimate the valuable life lessons you’ll learn while you’re there. That's one payoff you can’t put a number on.
It’s true that your college journey will be an investment. But you can save time and money along the way with our article, “How to Finish College Faster: 6 Ways to Get on with 'Real Life' Sooner.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in June 2012. It has since been updated to reflect information relevant to 2017.
- Are Online Classes Harder? And Other FAQs About Going to School Online
- 6 Common Concerns of Adult Learners (And Why They Shouldn’t Worry)
- 13 Top Tips for Excellent College Note-Taking