Lessons I Learned in College Outside of the Classroom

Taking photos for this post on campus a few months ago 

Getting a little personal in today's post, if you're very new to the blog, I recently graduated a semester early from Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania. I originally left home in North Carolina to go to Mercyhurst for their ballet based dance program. And of course, I learned so much in class over the three and a half years. But, I learned a few things that I don't think I would have learned if I went to a state school in North Carolina. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with staying close to home, my second choice was the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. I just think there are some extra life lessons one can learn when they go away for college. Now, none of these are super positive experiences, I mean you don't say you "learned something the hard way" for nothing. But, they are just some opportunities I had to grow up,  gain some independence, and learn something that can't be taught in a classroom.

Performing in The Nutcracker my senior year of high school

1. Your passion in high school may not be a good career option
As I just mentioned, one of the main reasons I went to Mercyhurst was for the dance program. When I was a senior in high school I first looked at schools that had dance programs before I started applications. I also applied to several state schools as backups, and I did plan on double majoring if I did choose a school for the dance program.
I knew going in that if I had a dance career, it wouldn't last for very long anyway and I would dance in small company. The dancers that have the real careers in big companies are ready to go at 17 or 18 and either go to college later, or not at all. I thought the next four years would be training for a dance career in one of those small companies, and I would have another degree for when I was ready to put away my pointe shoes. I just wanted to dance for as long as I could, because I loved it more than anything. My original plan was to double major in Dance and Business at Mercyhurst.

We had a trimester system my freshman year, and by the end of the first term I realized that wasn't a very good plan. I had 6 classes that term, and only one of them wasn't dance related. I was really overwhelmed by that, and the thing that used to make me the happiest just stressed me out. I quickly lost the passion that I had in high school once I was graded in my dance classes. I ended up worrying so much about my GPA when it was based on my physical ability. I still love the art form so much, I just came to terms that a performing career was not realistic, despite how I sure I was, that it was what I wanted months before. I always thought that I wouldn't care that I wouldn't make any money as a dancer and may have to work extra jobs to get by, I just wanted to dance. But after just a few months, as I was loving college in general, I just lost the joy that I could always count on ballet to bring.
I kept up with the major through my freshman year with the intention of dropping to a dance minor for the second half of the year. And by the end of the year, I got an injury in my spine. I performed three times my freshman year: in a community production of The Nutcracker, where I first realized being on stage was not what it used to be; in a Mercyhurst Dance Department performance in February that I so conveniently got a case of strep throat the day before the first performance; and in May with the Dance Department again, right when my back injury was at its worst. So I thought that was God's way of telling me to change my career path.
If I didn't go to Mercyhurst, I would have put dance to rest. Except for a few classes here and there when I could fit them in. And I think I would have missed it so much and always wondered what would have happened if I pursued it in college. So even though it wasn't the best artistic experience, I do not regret it at all. I made some of the most amazing friends in that dance department (including my very best friend, love you Hannah!) and since I changed my major to Arts Management I still would absolutely love to work on the administrative side of a dance company. Which I am doing right now, even though it's just part time at the moment.

My apartment junior year, from Instagram

2. How to live far from home
The Mercyhurst campus was about exactly 8 hours away from home. It isn't too terribly far, especially compared to all of the people I knew there who were from the west coast, and different countries. But, its still by no means a quick trip. My parents would drive me up at the beginning of the year, I would fly home for: fall break (sometimes), Thanksgiving break, Christmas break, and Spring break, and then we would drive back at the end of the year. Even though I went home for just about every break, I always stayed there for long weekends, Easter, and the short break between J Term (1 class for 3 weeks in January) and Spring semester.
I never had the option to go home just when I wanted to, or have my parents come visit me spontaneously, and I think it helped me grow up a little bit.  I'm not saying it's bad to have that kind of option, there were plenty of times I wish I could have just gone home for a good meal, or have my mom help me when I was sick. But I learned how to deal with these kinds of things on my own instead, that would not have happened if I didn't go to Mercyhurst.

Junior year from this post, in a lot of snow

3. How to live in a new climate
It's no secret that North Carolina never really gets any snow, or has much of a winter in general. I think I read once that our average winter temperature is something like 48 degrees and our average snowfall is like 3 inches. Erie, Pennsylvania usually gets about 100 inches of lake effect snow per year (it was the snowiest city in America for 2014, my sophomore year), and rarely gets above 30 degrees for most of the winter. The winter is also much longer there, all things that were pretty new to me.
I can't say I really enjoyed any of this. I learned how to drive in the snow (in about 10 inches of snow for the first time), how to take care of my little car/dig it out of the snow, how to dress to trudge my way through several feet of snow to class (that was never cancelled) in the morning, and even running around in the dark when you're a dumb freshman and don't want to bring a coat to a party. Luckily, the beautiful Mercyhurst campus is quite small, and always lived on campus, so I never had to walk very far in the cold and snow. I'm sure it isn't nearly as dramatic for most people that move to cold places, it was just something I never adjusted to.
Would I have been a lot more comfortable, and probably happier in the winter if I never left North Carolina? Of course! But, it made me really appreciate where I was from. And I never would have experienced how it feels to experience a new climate, or understand when people think southerners are ridiculous when it comes to snow, I mean we got like 3 inches of snow this weekend and everything has been shut down for days. Granted, we also got lots of ice, and not much of it has been plowed because we just aren't equipped for it, because we don't really have the need to be. I also learned that I just don't belong in that part of the country. And as much fun as I had in college, and as much I miss it so much already, I'm so happy I graduated early and I'm not dealing with all of that cold right now.

Traveling home for fall break last semester, also from Instagram

4. How to travel alone
As I said in the second lesson I learned outside of the classroom I flew home several times a year during college. I even made a little guide for the blog about it last year actually. I basically always had some flight issues on these trips, mostly because I usually flew from one small airport to another. From missing connections, having flights turn back around, cancellations from weather, and being stranded overnight, I basically saw it all. My parents have been calling me the "seasoned traveler" since the first few of these events. Again, not really positive experiences here in these life lessons. But, having been alone for almost all of these trips, I learned how to figure it out on my own. Well, usually with some help from my parents on the phone, but still. Another little opportunity to grow up, and gain some independence. Now I know how to stay calm when air travel goes wrong, instead of melt into a mess of tears like I usually did on these occasions. And now if I ever have to travel for business, or just the next time I go on a plane, I will know how to handle some of these situations much better than I probably would have four years ago.

It probably seems like I had an awful time in college from this post, but I really didn't! I loved it so much and these were just some things that happened that I learned from, no entire experience can be perfect. I've talked more about my whole college experience here that I wrote just a few days after I graduated. I was so emotional my last few days up there, and I miss it so much, even though I've only been gone for about six weeks. I even teared up a little while writing this post because it has only really been setting in the last week or so, that I'm all done with college. Especially now that Christmas break has ended and my friends are all back on campus. While I'm still at home sending out resumes for a full time job everyday. But, since we didn't have a fall semester graduation ceremony, I'm counting down the days to go back up to Mercyhurst and walk with my friends! However, I still don't regret graduating early. Its so nice to be out of the never ending Erie snow, and closer to my family and boyfriend. I think I would be so ready to be done if I was still there, fall semester was always more fun for me. I would probably be so ready to get out, and not enjoying the time I had left. But since I left early, I really appreciated my last semester. And it feels so great to not have to think about writing a paper or studying for a test!

 Anyway, anyone else who went far away for college learn any lessons like these?

Thanks for reading!


  1. I love this post Cara, and I can relate to so many things that you listed!! I still think it's so funny how you're an NC girl who went to school up North, and I did the opposite. :-)

    xoxo A

  2. I loved reading this post, Cara! Snaps for you for moving up North and seeing how different it is from NC, I don't think I would be able to do it (way too cold for me!)!


  3. OMG sooo I'm catching up on your posts, and I seriously miss you so much! Also I was cracking up the other that it was 50 degrees here! It would get warm right after you leave HAHA

  4. Nothing like a back injury to make you reconsider studying ballet- I was also a ballet student all throughout my school years, and was actually meant to go to transfer to Mercyhurst to study ballet and pedagogy! I had a similar experience- my last year of ballet (freshman year of college), I dealt with a nagging back injury, stress reaction in my foot, and asthma diagnosis. I still love ballet more than I can say- I work part time at my old ballet school at home! But ultimately I'm happy that my disappointment in stopping ballet lead to my current major, which I love!

    Emily :)