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Undergraduate Students: What Are Their Regrets?

Looking through the lens of high school students, the undergraduate years of college are often imagined as another four or five years of education that could feel like an eternity. For some, it will feel like a daunting commitment, while others will anticipate it as an exciting adventure, a chance to gain freedom, and the opportunity to pursue goals and fulfill dreams. For non-traditional students, the undergraduate years can involve various sacrifices, including maintaining or stepping back from a full-time job and juggling family demands, all of which can increase the pressure of attaining a college degree as quickly as possible. Every prospective student must make multiple decisions about which subject to major in, which institution to select, how to attain funding, whether to relocate or not, and the decision to study online or in-person. Once everything is decided upon and the first week of classes finally approaches, the journey of a lifetime begins.

These undergraduate years are filled with new ideas, new friends, new mentors, and loads of self-discipline. A college education not only occurs in the classroom but also transpires when meeting new people and understanding different perspectives. New personal philosophies about the world develop. Relationships with new friends and trusted mentors become reassuring. Adapting to rigid schedules, frequent deadlines, and new responsibilities offer new challenges. Students can often manage these demands efficiently but sometimes encounter some struggles. Before they realize it, however, graduation finally arrives and students begin experiencing many of the following emotions:

  • Elation: “I did it!”

  • Confidence: “Watch out world! Here I come!”

  • Relief: “Whew, I never thought I’d survive!”

  • Gratitude: “I’m so glad I passed that last class!”

  • Stress: “How soon can I pay off my loans?”

  • Relaxation: “Now I’m just going to rest for a few weeks and figure things out.”

  • Shock: “How did I finish so quickly?”

  • Sorrow: “I’m going to miss my friends and professors so much!”

  • Conviction: “Now I can get a new job or start my own business!”

  • Fear: “The real world is here.”

  • Panic: “I don’t have a job lined up yet!”

  • Joy: “Yay! I’m starting a new job in a few weeks!”

  • Pride: “Now I can get that promotion they guaranteed.”

  • Wonder: “Should I take the leap and consider graduate school?”

  • Contemplation: “Maybe I should have done things differently.”

  • Regret: “I wish I would have…”

That last emotion, regret, is complex. Through the years of listening to and speaking with people who earned their bachelor’s degree, the utterance of regret is quite common and can come in all shapes and sizes for those who graduated…and for those who didn’t. For the graduates, the regret is not about having earned a college degree, rather, it is frequently about how those undergraduate years were spent. Soon after graduation, new plans become the priority, but once the plans are implemented and a new and familiar routine develops, various questions often arise. The following questions tend to recur:

  • “Did I learn enough?”

  • “Should I have double-majored or added a minor subject?”

  • “Should I have transferred to another institution and graduated from there instead?”

  • “Did I get to know everyone enough?”

  • “Should I have majored in a different music subject? Or in another field?”

  • “Should I have applied myself more?”

  • “As a music major, did I take too many extra classes?”

  • “I wonder if I could have finished sooner?”

  • “Did my degree actually provide me with what I had hoped for?”

Considering this last question, individuals often don’t fully understand the complexities of degree plans and how these programs can vary between institutions. This point is even more crucial when searching for graduate school programs and making plans to dive deeper into a specialized area. Truthfully, degree plans are often overlooked for a few reasons. Students are solely fixated on the size or location of the institution. Students have to weigh financial considerations. Family members graduated from that institution, so the tradition must continue. Friends are going to attend there, so it “must be” a good choice. With any of these factors, students may fail to carefully examine the degree plan and just assume the institution of choice will offer everything needed. Furthermore, students often don’t realize what a degree plan really is and focus only on the title of a bachelor’s degree or presume all degrees provide the same experience.

Being better equipped to understand degree plans, what they cover, and what their actual timelines are will help students make wiser decisions. This is where the importance of asking the right questions and doing the most effective research will best serve any long-term goals. Students (and their parents or guardians for that matter) need to find a place to ask for guidance beyond a high school counselor or a college admissions consultant. Indeed, these two types of professionals are key players in helping a student get to the next level, however, the high school counselor is not going to be able to speak about the degree plans with intricate familiarity, and an admissions consultant will not be able to help a prospective candidate compare degree plans from other institutions. This is why it is imperative for students to consult with a professional who is versed in the industry. It is also important for students to select a professional who can be neutral toward different institutions and is not pressured to recruit for a specific college or university. Students truly need to know what they are committing to, what will be expected of them, what the institution is going to offer specifically, and how all of these variables will align with their motivations and future goals. Again, realizing what questions to ask and what to examine are both extremely important. Having the opportunity to enter into the undergraduate years with more foresight, confidence, and reassurance about their program of study will help students minimize any unforeseen surprises along the way. Knowing that expert guidance was sought and multiple factors were assessed, will provide these important years with a positive learning experience and reduce any potential future regrets.


Do you feel you knew everything there was to know about your degree plan when you attended college? Why or why not?

Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently during your undergraduate years?

Please share your thoughts in the comments.


Are you preparing to enter an undergraduate or graduate program? Do you need help figuring out what to research? We invite you to review our services and sign up for your initial consultation. The support you need is readily available.

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