18 Things That Felt Like Secrets In College

Photographed by Mark Iantosca.
If you've been to college — or just watched an episode or two of Felicity — you know it can be intense. You're learning about potential career fields, navigating the dating world, making new friends, and discovering the best late-night snack options. For many people, all of it happens while living away from family for the very first time.

Your college years can be filled with amazing memories — spending late nights talking with your roommate, going to parties, and even having a great discussion with a professor during office hours.

But college can also be a time for growth in more serious aspects of life. When we asked Refinery29 staffers to share what they wish they knew before college, the responses weren't all positive. Some expressed regret at the cost of attending college, while others advised incoming students not to ignore mental-health issues.

Ahead, we've rounded up the best advice for college students from Refinery29 employees who've been there. College is an exciting, thrilling, and sometimes scary time. These are the things we wish we knew it would have made that first year a lot easier.
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
You'll likely meet people who are graduating from college early or coming in with credits they earned in high school, from AP courses or dual-enrollment programs. But don't think of college as a race. If you work better by spreading out your course load, whether that means taking summer classes or staying around for a ninth semester, that's a decision to make with your advisor. It's no one else's business. (Of course, if your school has a strict policy about students graduating in a certain time frame, that's not always the case.)
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
Mental illness can hit at any time, college included. Don't be afraid to seek help — your student health center is there for a reason.
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"I wish I had known that organizations aren't just throwing culturally enriching experiences at you for free for your whole life," says one Refinery29 editor. "There was so much at my school — from accomplished authors doing readings or scientists sharing new findings, to politicians campaigning, to concerts — and I took it for granted. I treated it almost like high school: go to class, hang with friends, go to work. I assumed that 'extra' stuff would always be available to me if I ever felt like doing it. As an adult, I see what a gift that would have been to me at that time."
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The person in your 8 a.m. class who looks so polished, or your roommate who goes for a run every morning — it may seem like they've got this college thing down pat, but appearances can be deceiving. Don't waste your time comparing yourself to other people — use this time to focus on your own goals and accomplishments.
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Even if it seems like other people have it together at the start of the school year, they're probably terrified, too. Be brave, introduce yourself to other people, and relax!
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Yes, grades are important, especially if you're applying to graduate school. But they're not the only thing that matters. Earning a degree is an incredible accomplishment in its own right, even if you got a few bad grades along the way.
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"I think I had a bit of a sheltered childhood and adolescence and had never really experienced much conflict with my peers [before college]," says one staffer. "In college, with roommates, boyfriends, [and] roommates' boyfriends, I was faced with so many conflicts and conversations for the first time. I wish I could've handled things by taking a breath and a stepping back, instead of being so reactive."
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
Having a degree is great and it's a requirement for many jobs. But just because you went to college doesn't mean you'll find a job right away. The job market is still competitive, whether or not you have a degree, so you'll still have to put in the effort to find a job.
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College isn't for everyone. It's up to you to decide what the best path is for your life. Maybe that involves taking a gap year, like Malia Obama is doing before attending Harvard. Or maybe that involves going straight into the workforce, without college. Explore your options and do what makes sense for your life — not what other people tell you that you should do.
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"I wish I knew that college was the last time I'd be able to take naps on a regular/semi-regular basis," says one R29 employee. Truth.
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
"I bought these crazy bright polka-dot sheets (I think they might have been from Delia's, although I can't remember or confirm that Delia's even sold sheets) that were honestly pretty hideous — and so not soothing to sleep in — just because the page in the catalog looked awesome," one Refinery29 editor confesses. "That said, I also bought carnation-pink curtains with sequins from Urban Outfitters to cover up the very ugly baby-blue curtains that were already in my dorm room, and I loved those things and continued to use them for about eight more years, even after I graduated!"
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
When you choose to hook up — or not hook up — it's no one's business but yours.
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"The only thing I wish I was able to do was manage my work/college/social life better," says one staffer. "I spent a lot of time in college working — to pay for things like food, etc. — and not doing my own projects/films and learning all the aspects of 'my craft.'"
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
When you first get to college, it might seem like you're living the good life — especially if you don't have to worry about food because of a dining hall meal plan.

But if you're living in an apartment or even on campus, small expenses can add up, fast. Dish soap, laundry detergent, Swiffer cloths, toilet paper — all the little things you take for granted at home cost money. It's not necessarily a bad thing, though — learning to be more resourceful is part of the transition into adulthood.
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
It's natural for some friendships to fade over time, but if you want to maintain relationships with people, you'll have to put in the work — and that goes for post-college life, too.
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"I worked two jobs in college, and if I had any idea how money worked, I would have actually had a savings, versus the debt I ended up with," says one Refinery29 staffer.

And as another staff member noted, it's easy to forget just how much you have to include in your budget. Coffee runs, cover charges at bars and clubs, and late-night pizza all add up.
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"I wish I had known what a real winter coat needed to be like. I'm from Atlanta and went to school in Boston," one R29 employee confesses. "I bought what I thought was a good winter coat before I left for college — this cotton fabric, heavy-looking thing. I got soaked and was freezing in the late October rain. I had to buy an entirely different one — and when I was a financial aid student on a tight budget, it meant a lot of investment dollars down the drain."
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Credit cards can have serious benefits for your credit score, not to mention rewards programs. But don't apply for the first credit card offer you see advertised in your campus quad.

Before opening a credit card, look into the fees and interest rates associated with the account. College can be a valuable time to build your credit history, but don't let too-good-to-be-true offers kill your credit score before you even enter the workforce.
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