Many people argue that college is the best four years of your life.1 For most, it’s the first time an individual truly gets to experience independence, but without all the responsibilities and obligations of the ‘adult world.’
For those very reasons, many people look back on their college years with a feeling of yearning or wistfulness. Maybe it’s because you miss the people you used to spend every waking minute with or the professors that had a profound impact on your life. Or maybe it comes from a form of regret for something you wish you would have done differently.
We at Grand Canyon University (GCU) know that college is a pivotal growth period for individuals. That’s why GCU’s partner, Grand Canyon Education (GCE), set out to survey college graduates on their perspectives looking back. Would they change any of the classes they took or the organizations they joined if they could go back and do it all over again? To learn how graduates feel about their college experience in retrospect, and to gain insight on common college mistakes to avoid, continue reading for our findings!
We conducted a survey of 1,017 college graduates around the U.S. The survey ran for seven days during March of 2022. Questions covered everything from study habits, campus involvement, relationships and more.
If College Grads Could Have a Do-Over
Whether you spent your college years counting the weeks until you receive your diploma or living in the moment hoping your graduation day would never come, there are likely a handful of moments you never want to forget. Many college experiences are once in a lifetime moments, from finding your best friends in a campus organization to experiencing another culture via study abroad.
On Greek Life
Many college students opt to join a sorority or fraternity to expand their personal and professional networks while being introduced to new opportunities and experiences. In fact, for the 8.46% who did join a Greek organization, they enjoyed their experience with no regrets. But Greek life is not for everyone, including the 59.3% that did not join Greek life and don’t regret their decision. For those who aren’t interested or don’t have the option to these organizations, many students find comparable college experiences through other campus events, such as joining a club or sport. No matter what you choose, avoid falling into the 2.65% of students who reportedly regret their decision not to join the Greek life.
On Studying Abroad
For some students, studying abroad is a defining component of the college experience. On the other hand, those who didn’t participate in this coveted college experience are more likely to say they wish they had. For example, 42.3% of respondents say they did not study abroad in college, but they wish they had. Studying abroad is a powerful cultural experience, but for those eager to branch out and not able to take a full semester away, many colleges offer several on-campus learning opportunities.
On Attending School Sporting Events
Studying abroad isn’t the only area where many college graduates regret not participating. Another 16.6% did not attend sporting events but if given the chance to do it over again, they would attend a few games. Sporting events are a great way to build school spirit and meet new people, even if you aren’t invested in the final score. As they say – you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!
Of all the college experiences that respondents wish they would have done in college, travel takes the cake as one of the biggest regrets. Nearly half (42%) of the graduates who were interviewed did not travel during college but wish they had. At the time, students may have been faced with time or monetary restraints that made adventuring difficult. Luckily, there’s time to travel throughout the rest of your life, so rest assured the world will be waiting for you when you’re ready.
The good news is that the majority of respondents don’t have many college regrets. Over half of people say they either enjoyed what they did or don’t regret not participating across all areas. So, if you’re a current or prospective college student, try to get as much experience as possible while staying true to yourself and you’re sure to be satisfied with your college engagements for years to come.
Dating While in College
When it comes to relationship regrets while in college, graduates have differing opinions on the value of dating during school. The largest percentage of respondents (50.4%) say they do not regret dating in college because those relationships allowed them to grow. Another 8.9% have no regrets in this area because they married their college sweetheart! While dating during college can be a lot to juggle, having a partner by your side make studying more bearable for some.
Although, not all alumni share this sentiment as 17.6% say they do regret dating in college. This could be due to a large variety of reasons—from the person they were dating to how they spent their time. Similarly, 15.7% say they wish they would have studied more rather than spending time pursuing potential love interests while earning a degree.
Surprisingly, 23.1% of students say they didn’t date at all during their college years. Roughly one in 10 (9%) say it’s because they were too busy studying or working and have no regrets because of it. You have your whole life ahead of you to find your person, so it’s certainly not the end of the world if you skip this part of the college experience.
Hitting the Books and Looking Back
Speaking of studying, our next research area centered around all the prep work graduates did for their classes. Of course, there’s a lot more that goes into getting an education than simply attending classes. Students must dedicate hours of their time outside of the classroom to learn the material to succeed in school. But just over a quarter of alumni say they wish they would have studied harder for their classes and exams.
Beyond the requirements of coursework, another 45% wish they would have gained more career-specific experience via internships, mentors or other avenues. Internships are fundamental for networking, personal growth and becoming career-ready, so we aren’t surprised to see such a high value here.2
Some respondents regret things on a bigger scale—such as the university they attended or the major they studied. Thirty-seven percent of graduates wish they studied a different major and 14% wish they added more to their schedule by double majoring. Twenty-seven percent also say they would have attended an entirely different school if they were to go back and do it again. While they can’t necessarily get a ‘do-over’, a master’s or doctoral degree at GCU is a great way to gain new experience through additional education.
One notable finding is that there are very few things that college graduates did that they wish they hadn’t. A very small percentage of students who joined a sorority or fraternity, studied abroad or attended sporting events say they wish they hadn’t. With that said, if you’ve been wanting to try something new, savor every opportunity – you won’t regret it!
It’s hard to know exactly who you are and what you want to do with your life when you’re applying to college. That’s why students are encouraged to explore different courses of study through classes, internships and extracurricular activities throughout their time. If you do that, and put your all into everything you commit to, you’ll be more likely to graduate regret-free.
One thing you will regret is not trying. If you’re looking to start your education journey, Grand Canyon University has a beautiful campus with a wide variety of extracurriculars to give you a satisfying and memorable college experience. GCU offers 295 programs, including over 130 degree programs, over 125 emphases and 35 certificate programs.3 Connect with us today to get started!
1 The Cold Wire, Is College the Best Time of Your Live? In March 2022.
2 CollegeStats.org, The Importance of Internships for College Students in March 2022.
3 As of June 30, 2021
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.