What Is College Like? Common Myths & Realities

Last Updated on October 4, 2021

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.

For students who are looking to prepare for college and asking that key question—what is college really like?—keep reading to learn about some of the myths and realities and how to fund higher-education dreams.

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 41% of first-time college students (attending full time) earn a bachelor’s degree within four years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Sixty percent of students take six years to graduate, the center reports.

There are lots of legitimate reasons it can take students more than four years to graduate. 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.

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.

Many degrees teach skills that can transfer to a variety of fields.

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 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.

Myth 4: No One Transfers From Community College

Thirty percent of community college students end up transferring to a four-year school, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

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 matters 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.

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.

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.

It’s never too late to switch majors or start interning in a new career field.

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.

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.

SoFi offers private student loans with a quick and easy application process and with no fees.

Students should exhaust federal grant and loan options before considering private student loans. But if they do need further help paying some of the many costs associated with college, they might do well to look into a private student loan with SoFi.Learn more about SoFi private student loans today.

This post originally appeared on SoFi and has been republished with permission.

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