College was not an easy journey for me. On a day-to-day basis, it could go from exciting to exhausting to grueling to fantastic. I had days where I felt like I was running from meeting to meeting, and nights where I stayed up well past 3 in the morning to finish a paper. I had afternoons where it felt like I had no responsibilities at all, and evenings with friends that made me realize how truly lucky I really was. Those four years were both the best and most challenging of my life so far. Every year had its own strengths and challenges, and each came with its own lesson that helped me get through.

The Lesson That Got Me Through My First Year

My first year of college was tough, especially at first. Between juggling college-level work, being far from home, and eagerly searching for friends, I was stressed out about my place at Wellesley. The lesson that got me through was this: persistence is key.

Though my day-to-day actions didn’t make me feel like I was getting very far or making any progress, I knew that if I kept working and stayed persistent, I would find my place and reach the end-goal one day. And it was true for me; by the spring semester I was in an independent study with my favorite professor, and the following fall I had some of the best friends I’ve ever met (who I’m still besties with today).

The Lesson That Got Me Through My Sophomore Year

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By the time I got to my sophomore year, my life was overflowing with projects and commitments and friendships (oh my!). I was incredibly happy, until the amount of things on my plate started to burn me out. By the second semester, I felt tired and worn, and I didn’t want to get out of bed (much less do any work!). What got me through was the knowledge that self-care is necessary.

In my family, I had been taught that putting yourself first was selfish. As I got older, I learned how important it is to take care of yourself before you can turn to others. It’s like the safety video they show you on a plane. If you can’t breathe, you can’t help someone else put on their oxygen mask!

I learned to start putting my own health and happiness on the same level as my academic performance, and that’s when I started to see real change in the quality of my day-to-day life.

The Lesson That Got Me Through My Junior Year

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I spent my junior year studying abroad at Oxford University, where I had to write three eight-page essays every two weeks. At Wellesley, I had written, at most, six essays per semester, so this pace was entirely new to me. Because I was also living much more independently than I had at Wellesley, I quickly had to learn how to be efficient with my time.

Over the course of my first term at Oxford, I came to rely pretty heavily on the Pomodoro method of time management, where work is divided into 25-minute sessions of concentration. That and learning how to prioritize my tasks helped me tremendously, as did learning a few productivity basics and hacks that I’ve shared here in the years since.

The Lesson That Got Me Through My Senior Year

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Senior year was a bit of a blur to me. I went to a total of four conferences during the year, was writing for three blogs, wrote three (short!) books or study guides, and focused enough on my schoolwork to graduate magna cum laude. What had gotten me there was the efficiency I learned last year, but in order to actually survive and have fun, I had to prioritize balance.

In the past, balance might have meant “take a five minute break sometimes,” but by the time I was a senior, I was focusing on fun and my own happiness more than I ever had before. I needed more than a five-minute break to get through everything I had going on! So rather than planning everything to a T and making sure I did everything as “perfectly” as possible, I did what I wanted. If I wanted a break, or I wanted a trip to Boston, or I wanted to watch North and South with my best friend, I did. And when it was time to focus on work again, I came back feeling refreshed and ready.

These lessons or keywords were able to get me through the best and worst moments of my college years. I’d love to hear from you:

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in college?

The four key lessons that got me through my college years! Read more at College Compass.

Sara Laughed

Sara is the founder of College Compass and an alumna of Wellesley College and Oxford University. She runs the popular blog Sara Laughed. Her greatest aspiration is to live a creative life fueled by love and coffee. Follow her onTwitter and Instagram at @SaraLaughed.