When it comes to college, the four years (if you make it that far) of college can seem like a complete and total contradiction.  They are great years filled with socializing, and also so ridiculously busy that you never have pure "free time" to do much of anything.  They can be some of the best times of your life and some of the worst times all at once, awesome and brutal.  Sometimes you never want them to end, and at other times you can't wait to be finished once and for all.  Some of these truths are about college life, others are about the time transitioning out of college.  These are 5 hard truths related to college that every beginning college student should know about.

Hard Truth #1: A college degree does not mean a job.  This is one of the most insidious and harmful myths about college, in my opinion.  This doesn't mean that a college degree won't open doors or give you opportunities that wouldn't be there without one, but the old belief that a college degree equals a job hasn't been true since the late 1970's or very early 1980's.  And that was painfully true back when I graduated in 2002.  It's only gotten a lot worse, and the sheer number of new graduates coming out in the future is going to outpace job growth at an incredible  basis.

Hard Truth #2: Most college graduates aren't that employable.  This is one a lot of people disagree with, but well it's true in comparison to your competition.  Most college grads think that degree makes them easily employable to whatever the high average numbers on some online website say they are.  But you're competing against hundreds of thousands or MILLIONS of others with the same degree.  And many of those people:

  • Went to better schools
  • Have better connections
  • Have years more experience
  • Have years of skills from those experiences
  • Have much better resumes
  • Can do any job in the market much better than you can

When you truly think about this, it shows just how incredibly important work experience and internships during college are to flesh out that work resume.  Some degrees are much more employable than other, but even 10 years ago a general business degree was considered safe.  Now with tens of thousands of experienced business employees unemployed, a general business degree doesn't look like much.  We won't even get into the classic history degree, philosophy degree, or art degree.

Hard Truth #3: Nearly  1/2 of all students drop out.  Most people don't believe this stat when they first learn it, but 44% of all freshman starting college will drop out within 4 years.  All those drop outs have student loan debt to pay and no degree to show for it.  Some drop out due to emotional issues which can stem from a variety of causes.  Personally I think a gap year or two would take care of a lot of this, but that's another subject for another time.  As a depressing second half to this truth: only half of those who finish will find jobs in their field.  Meaning only about 1 in 4 freshmen starting college will eventually find a career in their field. 

That's a pretty epic ouch.  If you don't know if college is right for you, don't know if you're prepared, or don't know what you want to do then it could be a great idea to take a year or two off to work, travel, and learn all the little things about living on your own so you don't have those stresses while trying to adjust to harder classes than ever, a new social life, new environment, and everything else.

Hard Truth #4: Friend groups change radically.  There are some exceptions to this rule, but for the far majority of students the close knit group of friends from the first few weeks or first semester won't be the same close knit group by the end of college.  This doesn't guarantee a nuclear fallout or anything, but a lot of emotional stress could be avoided if college students simply realized that this fluid change is normal and nothing to be afraid of.  The more you can enjoy the moment and make special times and memories for your friends and let everything else just flow the way it does.  If you want to know why there's no chance of the 40 people you meet week one being your best friends even by the end of the year, look at hard truth #3 and remember that the three classes ahead of you will leave before you graduate and more come in behind you.  Change is just the nature.

Hard Truth #5: College is an emotional roller coaster.  You have thousands of people from different backgrounds put together at an age where they change the most, don't know who they are, want to break free, want to party, and are expected to supervise themselves from the first time while their bodies are still changing physically and chemically.   The same craziness that can make college years so great also guarantees that you will have incredible ups and downs, and by your senior year you will be exhausted and ready to be done.  This doesn't mean you won't enjoy the last year or have plenty of reflective "I can't believe it's almost over" moments, but emotional stability is not par for the course throughout your college years.

Bonus Hard Truth: Graduate school is not the same as college, and not a good way of extending "college life."  Trust me on this one: they're not the same and if you're missing college after a year away, there are much better courses of action than graduate school.  There are also huge arguments about many graduate degrees being huge wastes of money, and a lot of studies bare that out.

This article isn't meant to rain on anybody's parade, but even if knowing "college is an emotional roller coaster" doesn't make the experience any more stable - just knowing this is true can help you be better prepared to weather it out.  Hopefully reading this article won't be a depressing note, but it will help any college students out there to be prepared to really make the most of their time and weather the hard times that will come.