By Bailey Bowthorpe on May 16, 2016

Starting college is overwhelming. In fact, the word ‘college’ often conjures up slightly unpleasant thoughts of long lectures, late night studying, excruciating finals, and too much ramen. Of course, it’s also a lot of fun. It doesn’t matter what college you attend, you’ll learn more than you ever thought possible, not just in the classroom, but also as you get involved on campus

After graduating with my master’s degree a few weeks ago, I’ve been reflecting on all of the lessons I learned as a student. Inside the classroom, I applied communication theory, learned speech writing techniques, nuances of public budgeting, and toiled over proper research methods. However important and interesting these subjects were, it was my involvement outside of the classroom that I believe supplemented my education and allowed me to learn and grow more than I ever thought possible.

Here’s three of the most important lessons I learned through getting involved and how you can get the most out of your college experience:

1. Leave your comfort zone behind. When you get to campus, resist the urge to just go to class, go home, watch Netflix, and repeat. It doesn’t matter if you are a student living at home or living in the dorms, get outside of what’s most comfortable and find a fun intramural team, a club to join, or an interesting campus event to attend. College is the perfect time to take risks and explore and discover what you love. During my freshman year at Southern Utah University (SUU), I decided to take a risk and apply for an international student conference in Dubai. This was very much outside of my comfort zone and frankly, terrified me, because I didn’t feel experienced enough to contribute. A few months after that, I was in Dubai, interacting with college students from all over the globe, riding a camel in the Arabian desert, and visiting the tallest building in the world. That experience was worth the risk and provided me with a unique perspective to the rest of my college years.

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Get outside your comfort zone-it’s worth it!

2. Remember college is about creating yourself. In my second year as SUU student government Vice President, it surprised many of my friends to learn I was never involved in student government in high school. To me, one of the most exciting aspects about college was the chance to create myself and really discover who I was. This is easy to do: try everything. Get exposure to all your campus has to offer, learn what resources you have available to you and use them! Seek out an internship, join the choir, chat with a professor during their office hour, or study abroad. You don’t have to be exactly who you were in high school. Create your own path and be open to new ideas.

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Me in student government? Never would have guessed it a few years ago.

3. Make meaningful connections. The more I got involved on campus, the easier it became to make connections with some incredible faculty, staff, and students. Besides acting as a great support system throughout college, these people assisted in the development of my leadership, communication, and professional skills that I needed to prepare me for a job after graduation. Make sure that as you get involved, you cultivate real and genuine connections with the people you associate with. These people will end up becoming lifelong mentors and friends.

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The connections you  make in college are invaluable.

Freshman year of college can be overwhelming, but making the choice to get involved always pays off. Find what you love to do outside of the classroom and explore beyond your Netflix playlist. I can guarantee this is where you’ll learn the greatest lessons of college.

Bailey is currently the Student Regent for the Utah State Board of Regents and just completed her Master’s in Public Administration from Southern Utah University. You can find her on Twitter @baileybowthorpe.