10 Regrets You’ll Have About College


Your college years are a crucial time in your life. You’ll meet amazing people, discover who you are, hone your knowledge and skills, and make memories that will last a lifetime. But if you’re not careful and intentional with your time, those meaningful years can slip away. Here are 10 of the most common regrets students have leaving college.

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1. Not Starting Active Forms of Studying Early

The first regret students have is not starting active forms of studying sooner.

From grade one through to the end of high school, we are taught to use passive learning techniques. “Read textbooks, listen to lecture, and review your notes.”

But passive learning is extremely ineffective. While reading and rereading still helps, it takes a great deal longer to consolidate key facts to memory than if you were to spend that same time practicing active learning techniques, such as flashcards and practice questions. Plus, there’s so much more to read and memorize in college, to say nothing of medical school, meaning passive learning techniques are unlikely to get you the strong grades you desire.

Rather than simply reading through textbooks or notes, challenge yourself to organize, recall, and apply information through active recall, practice problems, and the Feynman technique.

Passive learning is tempting because it’s a lot easier. It feels more comfortable, so it’s natural to want to take the easier path. As the misinterpreted-effort hypothesis shows, students often think study techniques requiring greater mental effort are less effective for learning, so they choose study techniques that feel easy and avoid ones that feel challenging. To put it simply, when learning feels hard, students give up.

Graphic of Passive Learning Techniques

Active learning feels more uncomfortable and challenging—and it should, because that effort is sparking the accelerated learning.

The earlier you start, the better, as it will take time to adjust your study habits.


2. Working in Short Bursts Instead of Compounding

The second regret is working in short bursts instead of compounding your time.

The compounding effect shows that small inputs or effort repeated consistently yield massive results. It’s most readily understood in finance as small incremental investments with a modest return compounds to yield greater and greater results exponentially, but this applies to all areas of life.

Whether it’s studying, starting your own business, a passion project, or a hobby, build a habit around making small progress every day.

After all, 20 minutes every day is 2 hours and 20 minutes a week, which is over 9 hours a month or over 100 hours a year. That little bit of time every day adds up, and building off your prior work lets the compounding effect work it’s magic. A 1% increase repeated 365 days makes you 3.65% better after a year. But if you let compounding work its magic, allowing your 1% improvement to compound, meaning the 1% improvement is acting on your ever improving baseline every day, you’ll be more than 37 times better after a year.

So the next time you think you don’t have time to reach your goals, ask yourself if you could find 20 minutes of time a day. Repeated small yet consistent efforts will yield far greater results than a single large effort.


3. Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

Next, don’t take on more than you can handle. Pursue excellence, but know your limits.

There’s a lot of pressure on college students, and this is particularly true for premeds, who have to balance many activities and commitments at once. And college has so many opportunities to offer you. The problem is many students take on more than they can handle, which causes burnout and lower results across the board. If you take on too much, your studies will suffer, your relationships will suffer, and your health will suffer.

It will take time to build your habits and increase your overall performance threshold. Don’t set the bar too high on day one of college. Instead, give yourself time to adjust and make incremental improvements over each month and semester.

Finding balance is key. Push yourself, but don’t take on so much that your performance suffers. Do not overcommit and underperform. Excellence across a few commitments is far better than mediocrity across dozens of activities.

With that said, this point is not a reason to avoid trying new things. Put yourself out there, try the unfamiliar, and allow yourself to step outside of your comfort zone.


4. Staying Inside Your Comfort Zone

This brings us to regret number four—staying inside your comfort zone. Yes, it’s warm and cozy in there, but remaining in our safe little bubbles day-in-day-out leaves us little opportunity to grow or make meaningful changes in our lives. College is the time to step outside of your comfort zone and experiment. Staying home and avoiding people does not result in lifelong memories.

College is filled with diverse people, ideas, opinions, foods, and cultures. Take the time to try a food you’ve never eaten before. If you don’t like it, that’s okay. The experience still gives you a better understanding of the world around you and the culture the food comes from.

Continue to experiment. Try new things to see what sticks.

For example, I took guitar classes in college to expand my horizons. I pushed myself physically on a dance team. I joined a design organization to meet people I wouldn’t normally cross paths with.

Experience the richness of college by stepping outside of your comfort zone. Encourage your friends to do the same. Trying something new is much easier when you know your friends are behind you. Even if you don’t like it, you will learn so much more from those uncomfortable moments, and you’ll have those strong memories to hold on to for life.

If you struggle with the unfamiliar, read our guide, which covers the importance of stepping outside of your comfort zone and how to build confidence by trying new things.


5. Treating Your Classmates Like Competition

The fifth regret is treating your classmates like competition or obstacles you have to tackle in order to succeed.

Your classmates are not your competition; they are your colleagues. Your only true competition is with yourself. If you bring other people down around you, you may succeed at bringing those few people down to make yourself look better. But you can’t bring down every student. It’s much more logical and a better use of your time to lift yourself up and focus on what you can do better.

Work on improving your own skills and abilities, not denigrating those of your classmates. Treat everyone with respect and embrace the chance to make friends with people who have similar interests and dreams as your own. Study together, take breaks together, and help each other build the skills you will need to succeed in college and beyond.

Adopting a Machiavellian mindset is corrosive to your mental health and will ultimately hinder your performance. Seeing your classmates as competition is isolating and lonely. It keeps you from making friends, building strong relationships, and honing your people skills.


6. Choosing to Stay In Instead of Making Memories

The next regret is choosing to stay in instead of making memories.

Now, of course, you can’t say yes to everything, and there will be many days you will need to dedicate to studying. But when an opportunity comes up to go to an event or meet friends, seize it.

You can still do well in school while saying yes to events and adventures. We all need breaks to perform optimally, and instead of turning to your phone, make your downtime count. Years down the road, you won’t remember the day you stayed in again to watch Netflix, play video games, or mindlessly scroll social media. You’ll remember the shared moments you had with friends and classmates.

While it’s certainly tempting to veg-out on the couch and text a flimsy excuse to your friends saying, “maybe next time,” this is a major regret you’ll have when you look back on your college years. Use your free time to explore, deepen your relationships, and discover new skills and passions. Say yes more often and see how much more you learn about yourself and the world around you.


7. Not Acting In a Way You’d Be Proud to Tell Others About

The seventh regret is not acting in a way you’d be proud to tell others about.

Cheating, lying, and putting people down either behind their back or to their face may feel good in the moment, but those moments will stick with you. Actions have consequences, and one major consequence is what it does to your self-esteem.

Your self-esteem is the reputation you have of yourself. If you do bad things, you’ll feel bad about yourself. If you want to feel good about yourself, you need to act in a way that earns that. You don’t just get it for free.

If you want to build a reputation for honesty, integrity, conscientiousness, and dedication, you need to be this way, even when you’re alone. American philosopher Aldo Leopold once said, “Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching—even when doing the wrong thing is legal.”

Aldo Leopold quote - doing the right thing

Your relationship with yourself is the most important relationship you have. Cutting corners and being rude or disingenuous will have lasting negative effects on your life. Act in a way that makes you proud of yourself so that you can look back on your college years with pride.


8. Only Reading Your School Books

Another regret you’ll have is only reading your school books.

Yes, college involves a tremendous amount of reading, so the idea of setting down your textbook only to pick up another book might sound perplexing, but reading for pleasure has a number of benefits.

First, reading makes you a better student. The Growing Independence Report found that students who loved to read had higher test scores, were better at logical problem-solving, and had a more positive attitude. They also had better communication skills, showed less risky behavior, had more motivation towards school, and had better relationships with their family.

But it’s not just about your academic performance. To quote Albus Dumbledore, “Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic.” Reading helps you understand universal truths about what it means to be human. When you crack open a book, you get to peek inside the mind of a complex character, real or fictional, and learn from their experiences. What makes them tick? Do you relate to the character in any way? Why or why not?

Reading, coupled with asking yourself questions about what you’re reading, helps you develop your reading comprehension, wisdom, imagination, and empathy—all of which are extremely valuable in and out of college.

If reading isn’t your thing, it’s quite possible you simply haven’t found a book you like. Experiment with different authors and genres to determine where your interests lie. If you think you don’t have time to read for pleasure, the idea of compounding, which we discussed earlier, can do wonders when it comes to reading. Reading for fun 15 to 20 minutes every day adds up, and it’s an ideal activity for your bedtime routine.


9. Being Rigid in Your Thinking

The next regret is being too rigid in your thinking.

It’s important to have opinions and values but keep an open mind. College is a major step toward adulting, but remember to be humble. You’re still very young, and you don’t know everything. Changing your mind isn’t a sign of weakness; it shows wisdom and humility.

If you haven’t changed your mind about something in the past year, you probably aren’t open to change.

Students are forced to choose a path very early on in life. There’s a good chance you will change your mind about your path as you grow and learn more about yourself and the world. Assigning one identity to yourself limits your knowledge and abilities. If you can’t think outside the box, it’s a sign you’re not thinking for yourself.

If you disagree with someone, even if it’s a controversial or hotly debated subject you feel passionate about, seek to understand why they feel the way they do. Ask questions and be open to opinions other than your own. There’s something to learn from everyone.


10. Not Understanding How Valuable Time Is

Lastly, once college is over, you’ll regret not understanding how much time you had and how valuable that time is.

In your college days, you’ll have more extra time than you’ll likely ever have again. You may feel extremely busy, and compared to high school, you are, but you have so much more free time now than you will in your career, in medical school, or whatever other path you decide to pursue.

Time is something you can’t get back. Understand the value of all the extra time you have in college, and use it wisely. Be intentional with every moment, whether it’s work or play.

Prioritize your studies, but also prioritize your passion projects and relationship building. Spending quality time with friends, planning or attending events, and trying something you’ve never tried before are far more worthwhile experiences than that extra episode of television, sleeping in, or wasting hours on social media. Acting with intent is key.

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Balance & Wellness Scholarship - smiling medical student

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