I'm a firm believer that the most important lessons are those that are learned beyond the chalkboard, or in today's modern classroom, beyond the projector. That's not to say that I haven't learned anything in the classroom because trust me, I have. I've slaved over flashcards, PowerPoint presentations, and textbooks just like any other student, but when I look back on my college experience and think about what really stands out, it wasn't the A I stayed up all night studying for, but rather what I learned along the way.
Of course I chose my school for its academics, the beautiful campus, and that weird "it feels right" sensation that rushed through me when I visited for the first time, but it's the unexpected moments and lessons in between those deciding factors that have made the past four years unforgettable.
I knew that leaving the south for what most people called "a random school in the Midwest" was a big step, but it was the step that changed my life, and I can't imagine my life without this crazy college town and all of the people and memories that have filled up these years.
Before I turn into a sappy senior sentimental-fest, I figured I'd break down the eight most important things that I've learned in college. My brother is a freshman at The University of South Carolina, and before he left for school, I poured every bit of my sentimentality into a letter for him, telling him to soak in every moment while he figures out who he is along the way. Now, don't get me wrong: I totally recognize that everyone's college experience is different and unique, but I think these eight pieces of wisdom can apply to anyone, whether you're a sentimental senior, an eager freshman, or somewhere in between:
1. Be yourself
Of course this is the cliché of all clichés, but if you stay true to yourself, everything else just seems to fall into place. Don't get me wrong...college is great, but when you're first starting off you'll find that being surrounded by unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar place can definitely be weird. The first month (and at times the first year) of college kind of feels like summer camp, but once school starts to feel like home, you begin to realize what you're all about.
2. Try new things for the sake of figuring out who you are
Throw caution to the wind and forget about what's "weird." If something sounds cool to you, try it. You may find that you've been missing something you've needed all along. Last semester, I tried hot yoga for the first time, and now I go three or more times a week, and having it in my routine has truly kept me sane.
3. Always say yes
This comes with boundaries, of course. If you feel uncomfortable or pressured, step back for a second (and see #1.) But really, step out of the box and do things you normally wouldn't, even if that means going along with "random" plans or hanging out with "random" people. College is filled with endless opportunities, and sticking to the same routine and the same people just isn't worth it when there's so much to learn about who you are and what you like. Plus, those random plans and people may turn into your favorite memories and your best friends. You'll never know until you try.
4. Make your college town/city your home, not just your school
When I first got to Bloomington, I couldn't help but love the campus. I had the same beautiful walk to class everyday, and I'd always love coming home and heading to the dining hall with my friends on my floor. While that was fun and will always hold a special place in my heart, the moments where I made Bloomington feel like home were the moments that have made this town such a big part of my life. When I think about this precious little college town, I'm going to remember grabbing lunch at the local co-op, visiting a local painter's house for a project, and roaming around Lake Monroe. And with that being said, if you study abroad (which you should if you get the opportunity,) make that new city your home, too. You won't regret it, and for the rest of your life you'll have a home in a foreign city, and nothing compares to that feeling. The moments you spend getting to know your surroundings are the moments that bring you a little closer to who you are.
5. Let yourself fall in love
Fall in love with the campus, your friends, the traditions (no matter how goofy they are), and that boy or girl you just locked eyes with. Just dive head first into everything, and know that you're embarking on a once in a lifetime experience. Randomly snuggle with new friends, don't feel weird when someone suggests making a back massage train and ordering pizza, and realize that some of these people will feel like family before you know it.
6. (And with that...) Don't be afraid to get your heart broken
Falling in love often comes with getting your heart broken, and getting your heart broken often brings you closer to who you are and what you want. Yes, it totally feels like the end of the world when everything comes crashing down, but you also realize who your friends are, and sometimes...just sometimes, that makes the heartbreak worth it. Before long, you'll realize you have a team fighting with you and for you, and there's nothing better than knowing you have people in your life who will always have your back. It's never easy to say goodbye and move on, but you're even more resilient than you think you are, and heartbreaks show us how strong we really are. Risk the love, and embrace the heartbreak if it comes along because one day you'll look back and realize how much it's truly shaped the person you've become.
7. Know what you deserve, and don't settle for less
While friendships, relationships, internship offers, and job offers are such a big part of our lives in college, it's also important to remember that sometimes these things will come and go, and we only deserve the best. Don't settle for the girl or guy who repeatedly breaks up with you out of nowhere, and don't take the first job or internship that comes along just because it's an easy way out. Know that you deserve the best, and don't settle for anything less just because it's more comfortable or easy than putting yourself out there again.
8. Enjoy every second of it, but don't hate yourself when it's over
Soak in every second of these crazy, amazing, and enriching four years, but don't cry when it's over. The beauty of college is that it teaches you more about yourself than you ever thought was possible. While entering the "real world" isn't always an easy transition, the memories we make and the lessons we learn definitely make it easier to become a "real person," and for that, I couldn't be more thankful.
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