I didn’t exactly do college the “normal” way. I did go to Purdue at 18; however, due to unfortunate circumstances (A.K.A., I didn’t study), I dropped out my junior year. Fast forward a few years, and a husband and kids come into the mix. A few years later, I found myself going back to college online. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2021, and this July, I will graduate with my master’s degree from Arizona State University. I would say I have a unique perspective on life and graduation compared to most other college students.
Here is what I learned along my journey:
1. Absolutely no one is ever paying attention to you.
When I started college, I convinced myself that everyone was paying attention to me; they cared what I looked like, what I was wearing and saw every little flaw. Then I thought about it and realized that I never notice anyone. You have to be a six-foot-tall person in a clown suit with a rainbow mohawk screaming in the street before I noticed you. I am not exaggerating. Think about it— are you really paying that much attention to the people around you, or do you give more attention to your own imperfections?
2. It’s okay to be wrong, and if you are, don’t argue about it.
It seems that I suffer from an issue where I either want constant reassurance that I am doing things correctly or feel the need to argue that everyone else is wrong. In my experience, neither of these produce favorable outcomes. When I persistently ask teachers or supervisors if my ideas and work are good enough, it sounds like I completely lack self-confidence. Also, people don’t want to hire someone who doesn’t seem to know what they’re doing. As for my argumentative self, who wants an employee that constantly tells their supervisor why they already know everything and don’t need feedback? It took me a while to realize I just needed to take a second to breathe and think before trying to prove my point rather than just listening.
3. No one will ask about your GPA when you graduate.
I spent my entire bachelor’s degree acting like a neurotic mess. I would not settle for less than 100% on any paper I wrote. (Not kidding). If I did, I would argue with my instructor as to why I deserved that grade. When they did not change it, I would email the head of the communications department. Psychotic perfectionist doesn’t begin to describe my intensity. Then comes graduation. Apparently, my GPA from my transfer credits (I barely passed) gets factored into my total. I did not even graduate with honors. However, it was enough to get into grad school. After applying for jobs after graduation, I realized that all employers cared about was that I had a degree. I am happy to say that I may graduate with a 4.0, but this time around, I have yet to threaten any professors over an imperfect grade.
4. Always have a dog.
From dropping out of Purdue to getting my bachelor’s degree and nearing the end of grad school, my pups have been with me through it all. I will always appreciate everything my friends and family have contributed to my life and support me on this journey, but Peanut and J.P. are there for me in a way only dogs can be. They sit with me during all-nighters. They patiently lie next to me while I cry from all the stress. They give me a reason to leave the house and take a break. They are always here for me, no matter what. I could not have done this without them.
5. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
This sounds like I can’t say “no.” Actually, I will happily tell you “no” if I don’t want to do something. I would describe myself as somewhat addicted to opportunity. Essentially, if I see an opportunity, I go for it. I never think about how it might affect my life, my schedule or my sanity. Volunteer opportunity? Absolutely. Internship? Of course. Part-time job? Yeah, that will fit in here somewhere. Unfortunately, it turns out that all of this can sometimes be too much. I sometimes get so overwhelmed that I miss due dates, appointments or meetings. Oops!
6. You will never look at your notes again.
I promise. I kept every single notebook from my freshmen through my senior year just in case I might need them again. I didn’t. I organized them perfectly and knew what was in them; I even had the research papers for each class printed in folders next to them. Yeah, I know. I went overboard. My point in all of this? Unless I planned to get a job as a researcher in the communications field, I wasted a lot of time and space. So sure, I really enjoyed the theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Will I ever use this theory in my future as a writer? No.
7. Take care of yourself.
I could argue that this is potentially the most important thing on this list. If I did not do this, my life would absolutely fall apart within a week. I feel that I should note that at Purdue, everything I did was the opposite of taking care of myself. Hence, the 21-year-old college dropout disaster. In the two years since I graduated with my bachelor’s and now nearing the end of my master’s, I can’t begin to explain the amount of time and effort spent on my part working towards my mental and physical health. I wouldn’t trade any of the difficult parts for anything because my better self is why I am where I am
8. Be financially independent before getting married.
Yeah, I know, this seems random, but hear me out. As I said in the intro, I did college in my own special way. By that, I mean after I dropped out of Purdue, I took a break, got married and had kids. By no means do I regret any of this. However, I regret not being financially independent before doing these things. If I could go back, the one thing I would change, graduation or not, is being able to depend on myself before I got stuck depending on someone else.
9. If you don’t like what you’re doing, change it before you get stuck.
The good news here is that you can get “unstuck.” Unfortunately for me, I stayed stuck in a mundane job that I knew I didn’t want to do for the rest of my life for seven years. In a stroke of good luck, though, the store I happened to work at went out of business, and I made the decision to go back to school to do something I really wanted. To make this relevant to you, unless you majored in something really specific, like marine biology, I noticed when I was searching that most jobs care more about experience and the fact that you have a degree in general. They never seem to care what that degree is in. If you don’t like your first job, don’t get stuck there for seven years like I did.
10. Wear Comfortable Shoes to Commencement
You won’t trick me again, shoes. I agree that you perfectly matched my black dress under my gown. Unfortunately, for a pair of what seemed like practical black wedges, the pain I suffered because of you led to me going barefoot to my celebration dinner. Lesson learned: this July, you can find me walking across a stage at Arizona State University wearing flip-flops. Okay, probably not flip-flops, but I can guarantee I will not remove my shoes for the after-party.