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6 Things to Learn Outside the Classroom During University

University Life

We’re going to let you in on a little secret: most of what you learn in university you’ll learn outside the classroom.

Sure, the research professor you’ve spoken to twice is going to fill a great spot on your reference list. And, okay, I guess it is kind of nice to have a degree so you can do the thing you want to do for the rest of your life.

But the lessons learned about Anglo-Saxon coins in your Old English class will pale in comparison to the moment when you realize that your Old English professor is actually cooler than anybody else in the class. (Thanks for the pub night, M.J.)

In the end, the things you remember about university life will almost always occur outside of the classroom. Here’s a list of things to learn outside of the classroom during your university career.

1. Who to go to when you need help

So, you had a terrible day. It’s inevitable. You failed your midterm, you missed the bus, or you got splashed by a car on the way home. Maybe it’s even worse, like the guy you were seeing won’t answer your texts, your brother is in the hospital, or you feel desperately homesick. You need to vent.

Christmas CatBut your roommate is busy complaining about a ten-page research paper that’s due in the morning. Your parents aren’t answering your calls. (Why doesn’t Mom ever charge her phone?) Even the cat that used to visit your house is nowhere to be seen (just because you tried to dress him up like Santa for Christmas that one time . . .).

Where do you go?

It’s important to learn who to go to when you need help. Go to your friend who will always listen, not the one that’s always too busy to hang out. If that’s not enough, there are endless resources that nobody talks about. Most schools have student health services, and most will be happy to book an appointment for you. Even if there’s a waiting list, they should be able to provide you with a helpline or a group class.

Use every resource you can get your hands on. Book a yoga class. Try meditating at home. Keep a journal. Just know that you are never alone and that somebody, somewhere, will be able to help you.

2. What to do when you don’t know what to do

“Oh no, I should have taken biology. Why the heck am I a double major in vocals and political science?” This battle cry of confused students can be heard in schools everywhere. This is bigger than academics—this is your entire life! What do you do when you don’t know what to do? How do you decide?

Flip a coin. (No, I’m joking. Sort of.)

Make a list of everything you like to do. Make a list of everything you’re good at. Cross out anything that won’t support you financially.

Do you not have a list anymore? Welcome to adulthood.

Again, I’m joking!

Here’s the real secret: very few of us actually know what we’re doing. Anybody with a plan is really just hoping that plan will actually work out. Most people with a career path had a simple passion and chose a related field.

Nobody gets through four years of vocals and political science without some sort of desire to do so. Maybe you love something in there. Maybe you’re good at something in one of those fields. Maybe you thought you’d make a fortune being the world’s first operatic lawyer.

If not, then it’s time to regroup. Pick something you love, that you’re good at, or that will make you financially stable. If your choice happens to fit more than one of those categories, then great!

In the end, you might choose a path that you’re not totally certain about. Could it hurt you in the future? Might you regret your choice? Sure, of course. Eventually, though, you’ll just have to flip a coin. If all else fails, at least you tried something, and you won’t know you don’t like it unless you try it first.

Aha! Your mother was right all along. So maybe you will like broccoli when you get older. You just have to give it a chance.

3. When you’ve reached your limit

It might be drinking an entire mini-keg yourself on St. Patty’s Day. Or it might be taking on five classes, four clubs, three roommates, two part-time jobs, and the meanest professor in the world (in other words, the worst version of The 12 Days of Christmas ever). Either way, you’re going to wake up regretting biting off more than you can chew.

Recognizing your limit is the sign of being a grown-up. If you don’t think you can handle four clubs and two part-time jobs on top of all of your classes, drop something. Drop three things. Do whatever you need to do to stay happy and healthy. You are not Superman (and you don’t need that whole bottle of wine to yourself).

4. Where to get anything and everything cheaper

Surprise! It will often feel like your school wants to take all of your money. (I know, don’t fall over in shock.) Sometimes, the bursar’s office can feel like that bully on the school ground that shakes you by your shoes even though you only have three dollars. Just take my three dollars, and leave me alone, right?!

Used BooksWrong! Those are your three dollars. Yours. Spend them like they are magic beans.

Plant one in your local used bookstore and find your course books cheaper than a box of Ramen. The owner has probably already set up a bookshelf containing everything on your syllabus because he or she is expecting your arrival. Plant one in an off-campus clinic to get a discount on medication prices for students (and beauty products that are cheaper than the ones on campus). Plant one in a shared Netflix account with your roommates. Sure, you could just give them your password, but if you all split it, you’ll only pay a fraction, and you’ll get more magic beans in return to spend elsewhere.

See? Now you’re working the system. Time to climb that beanstalk!

5. Why your ridiculous roommate does the things he/she does

Maybe your roommate showers ten times a day. Or uses an entire roll of toilet paper every time he goes to the bathroom. Or refuses to share his frying pan with you and only speaks on the phone at three in the morning. Maybe she’s never held a broom, takes a cab everywhere she goes, and, you swear, only slams the cupboard doors to make you angry.

It’s so annoying that you can barely focus on anything else. You tell your mom about her antics every day. You and your roommates are going absolutely mad, and nobody knows what to do. She does all these terrible things!

But do you know why?

One of my past roommates was from a place where cleanliness was very important. She could only make phone calls late at night because of time zone differences. She cabbed everywhere because, back at home, it wasn’t safe to walk at night.

Okay, there’s no need to use an entire roll of toilet paper or scream so loudly on the phone. Still, understanding why somebody can be so frustrating is the first step to forgiveness. (Closing the cupboard doors more gently wouldn’t hurt anybody, though. Just talk to her about it!)

6. How to thrive looking less-than-cool

You’ll never have more fun than the time you wear a light-up Rudolph nose out to the bar for Christmas or the time that you and your roommates dress up as giant birthday bags for Halloween (even when the costumes melt off in the rain). Looking like an absolute fool is the first step to having an excellent time all throughout university, guaranteed.

People will stare at you. People will talk about you and roll their eyes and make faces. Guess what? It’s because they’re mad that they’re not having as much fun as you are. Ask them if they want to join you! If not, just keep doing you. That Rudolph nose your roommate bought you at the dollar store is going to be carefully stored with your other prized possessions, and nothing anybody says can ever destroy the fun you had that night.

So go to everything you can, and try to be the most ridiculous person there.

The guy who gives out Mardi Gras beads at the bar, the Stormtrooper riding a unicycle on the busiest street in the city, and the girl with the giant horse painted on her face at the big football game? Those people are always the ones that have the most fun.


Truly taking care of yourself during this wild time in your life is important. In the end, only you know what it is that will help you. If dressing up your roommate’s cat as Santa will bring you Christmas cheer, then it’s just going to have to deal with the jingle bells.

What’s important is that your university life be a series of ridiculous moments that you remember for the rest of your life.

Don’t focus only on classes, or you won’t notice when a life lesson speeds by you on a unicycle.

Image source: thelester/, Henry Lorenzatto/, Freddie Marriage/

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