The hidden benefits of going to college

three students stretch out and talk on a green CSU oval

Beyond the degree, the internships, and academic achievement you’ll find in college, there are some more-elusive things you might pick up along the way. Emotional intelligence, personal growth, and even friendships and connections are some big (but often overlooked) benefits you’ll get out of a college education. Here are four to keep in mind.

#1. Networking and meaningful connections

College is a naturally collaborative place, bringing together students, educators, researchers, and professionals from nearly every industry. You’ll likely make personal connection in study groups, residential halls, classes and labs, and even in any of CSU’s 450+ student organizations. When it comes to networking, you might be surprised at the variety of ways you can connect with academics and professionals in your professional interest areas. There are opportunities in some CSU majors for internships, undergrad research work, and part-time work in the community. Some programs have optional summer field schools or study abroad opportunities that get you out into the world to learn alongside professionals. In a less-formal way, you might just meet a professor or advisor who can connect you with a local business or professional looking to employ a student. And, some CSU courses leave campus to learn beyond the classroom, doing wilderness research at the CSU Mountain Campus, mentoring youth in STEM programs, coordinating and catering events, and beyond.

#2. Self-discovery

Going to college can be one of the biggest transitions you’ll make in life, and, often, it’s the first big move to adulthood, living away from home, and being fully responsible for yourself. It’s no wonder, then, that a lot of growth and change can happen during this time. You’ll be asked to choose an academic path and dedicate your time to it, which will require some exploration about what you really want, what you hope to do after college, and, ultimately, who you want to be. You’ll be introduced to people with entirely different lives and experiences than you, challenging your previous perspectives and observations about the larger world. You’ll have opportunities to try new things in classes, through clubs, Greek life, extracurriculars, and even through CSU’s events. Exploration is a huge part of self-discovery, and it’s a winding path you just have to walk without a map.

#3. Empathy

How and why we develop empathy is a debated topic among psychological researchers, and there’s no definitively proven theory on where it comes from. But, many agree that empathy is both an emotional and cognitive experience, emerging over time through relationships, modeling, storytelling, communication, playing, and patience. These kind of experiences don’t stop at childhood; in college, your relationships, communication, and even storytelling abilities can get thrown into overdrive as you meet new people, join new groups, and build both personal and professional relationships across campus. Embrace as much “new” as you can, we say. Someday you’ll wake up with better communication skills and a developed emotional capacity that can only help you as you navigate the world.

#4. Inner strength

Like empathy, “inner strength” can be a debated, elusive concept that’s hard to quantify. The dictionary has several definitions of strength, one of which simply says “having moral or intellectual power.” But how does one develop this strength, and why can college be a key moment for this kind of development? Some think that challenges and/or adversity are the catalysts to the growth of inner strength, requiring us to reframe stress or hardships into moments of ingenuity and innovation. Think back on a time when you overcame something you never thought you would. How did you feel in that moment? Going forward, you’ll never believe you can’t do it again. You’ll likely have moments like this all throughout your college experience: classes can be incredibly challenging, both academically and, sometimes, to your values and beliefs; you might have to move homes or change roommates several times, or leave friendships behind that no longer serve you. No matter where you look, you’ll be hard pressed to find a college grad who doesn’t think their college experience made them stronger.

Still feeling a bit antsy about what college holds for you?

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Prairie Smallwood

Prairie Smallwood is a writer and content creator for the Office of Admissions at Colorado State University. She is passionate about education and exploration, and knows that going to college can be both an adventure and an overwhelming experience. She aims to create content that helps students through that journey — the wonderful, the scary, and everything in between.