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What It’s Like to Be a College Student: Know Before You Apply

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

Preparing for college can be hard when you don’t know what it’s like to be a college student in the first place. Knowing what college life is like can really help make your application shine – whether that’s in your personal essay or during a college interview. Below are a few thoughts on the college experience that are useful to know for your college admissions process.


Academics will take up a big part of your time in college. What courses you take and how many you take is largely dependent on your specific school and its requirements. Some schools will require you to fulfill general education requirements and a certain amount of electives. Doing an online search of “insert school name” followed by “course requirements” should lead you to useful online resources that give you a glimpse of what a college-level course load looks like.

The major you choose in college often dictates the types of classes you take, and these classes tend to dive into specific subjects with far greater depth than what you may be used to in high school. Each school’s online website will once again be a useful tool for you to use. For example, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has an academic page on their website that will let you further explore specialized academic pathways and related courses to take for certain majors. Getting a grasp of what you might want to major in now will help make your college application shine because you can write about your interests more specifically and vividly. For more on deciding your major, you can also read College Torch’s blog post series on selecting majors.

Student Life: Clubs and Organizations

Aside from academics, student life is another major component of the college experience. Being a college student means having the chance to become involved in all sorts of activities, whether that’s joining a sports team, pursuing artistic interests, or joining a professional club.

Each college will have its own unique set of clubs for you to join. Doing a web search with “college and/or university” followed by “clubs and organizations” will give you a good sense of all the groups you can join as a student. For instance, UCLA has an entire page on its website dedicated to its various clubs and organizations. By perusing this page, you can begin to get a feel for what sort of things you want to get involved in on campus.

Envisioning yourself as a student and thinking through what clubs you’ll want to join will make answering the commonly asked college application question, “Why this college and/or university?” much easier. Don’t forget to write about those specific clubs in your essays! By preemptively thinking about your life on campus, you’ll naturally get a better idea of why you want to apply to certain colleges.


Research can be an important part of your college experience if you choose it to be. Researching alongside faculty experts in an area you’re interested in is an excellent way to further explore your own academic interests and passions. Research opportunities come in both formal and informal opportunities. Many universities and colleges will have undergraduate research programs that you can apply to, where you can even receive funding from the school to carry out your research. More informal opportunities may be through your connections with professors or teaching assistants of a course you particularly enjoyed.

Keeping this in mind, when you go to write your college application essays, you can talk about research opportunities you’re excited to pursue at the school, effectively tailoring your application to the school. This will help make your application stand out. In order to find what each school has to offer in terms of research opportunities, be sure to scan their website thoroughly. The undergraduate research page and information will likely be included within student life, campus life, or student academic online pages.

Finally, being a college student means engaging in many exciting opportunities that cover all sorts of different fronts like academics, campus life, and research. The better you are able to get a sense of what being a college student is like at the specific school you are applying to, the more unique and genuine your application will be. College is an exciting chapter of your life with many opportunities to take a hold of. Embodying this in your application is sure to let it stand out!

Want to find the perfect college to achieve your goals? Download my completely free College Research Guide to get a leg up in the college search process:

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