1. Undergrad work is less like college and more like high school. You'll probably get marked down for poor attendance (regardless of whether or not you learned the material on your own), your professor will spend at least a full day (possibly two) blabbing about the syllabus, rather than expecting you to read it for yourself, and the cafeteria food mostly sucks.
2. The people you were glad to leave behind in high school will be replaced by people who are even worse. I hated the kid in my 12th grade English class who thought everyone was stupid for reading the book, yet still had some stubborn opinion about what the author was trying to say. He didn't make it into college, but now I have to sit through a British Novel class with a kid who read the novel back in high school on his own, and so feels that he is more insightful, as he was drawn to the work naturally, whereas everyone else is just reading it because they have to and so cannot possibly have enjoyed it. This kid is also a major brown-noser, but just like in high school the teacher can't see through it, so he gets extra credit just for showing up, while the rest of us have to slave to earn a 'B'.
3. There are still preppy girls, dumb jocks, and counter-culture losers. I thought the admissions process was supposed to screen these people out and leave me with only hard-working intellectuals who were earnestly interested in discussing the more arcane aspects of baroque music composition, but it turns out that the admissions process only really screens for a GPA, a pulse, and whose mommy can write a tuition check.
4. You will not feel any more competent or enlightened at college than at high school. In fact, you will probably be more confused and feel less capable. I'm told this is normal, and that it only means that I'm learning, but I'm pretty sure the people who are telling me this are starry-eyed idealists who have never stayed up all night beating their head against a wall while trying to figure out why Sappho has any relevance to their life, and why finding that connection should mean the difference between an 'A' and an 'F'.
5. If you go into any creative field of study, people will always offer you their ideas in casual conversation. For example, I am an English major with the intent to become a screenwriter. I have had seventeen separate people tell me to watch Shayamalan's movies (he has such great twists!), read certain books (the 21 Day Movie Method is the best; it lets the movie in your heart out onto the page!), or offer to let me help them write their film (which of course will make me--and them--millions of dollars as well as get a heart-warming message out to the people, who will subsequently learn to get along and eliminate all of the world's problems, not the least of which are these horrible teenagers with their awful hair and baggy pants). If you are a liberal arts major, or even just a particularly ambitious geology major, do yourself a favor and tell everyone that you are majoring in accounting, but that you specialize in South Korean currency conversions (this will minimize the chance that someone will ask you for help with your taxes).
6. An internship is completed as part of college, not after it. Apparently this is basic knowledge, but knowledge that I was not made privy to until I'd applied for graduation and started looking around for internships. Turns out that I was competing against college sophomores and juniors (and even some especially ambitious high school seniors) for the opportunity to copy and collate papers, when I should have been competing with fellow college graduates for an opening in the mail room of those same companies.
7. Choosing what you want to eat and when is fun, but there's a lot of work involved. One of the things I looked forward to in college was cooking for myself. I could have steak seven nights a week, make my gumbo as spicy as I wanted it (no teary-eyed, weak-tongued sisters to complain), and try any new recipe I liked without worry about whether anyone other than myself would like it. All of this was true, but it also meant I had to get a job so I could buy food, and that I had to go shopping for myself, rain or shine. I actually enjoy grocery shopping (retail therapy really works for me, even if I'm just buying Wheaties), but I don't always enjoy carrying those groceries. Utah is pretty cold in the winter, and sometimes I have to park my car very far away from the store. On weeks like that I usually elect to not shop at all, but instead see what I can make with a can of salmon, a cheese stick and some saltines (answer: not much). Needless to say, the dreaded "freshman fifteen" is not a problem for people too lazy to buy food.
8. Technology is actually hindering education, not helping it. I love my little laptop, I love wireless internet, and I love, love, love all the stuff JSTOR has online ostensibly for preservation but really just to help out lazy people like me who don't want to go to the library. Using these things I can literally start a term paper at three in the morning, write it in bed, and e-mail it in the next day without ever setting foot on campus. However, the total number of teachers who will accept an e-mailed paper is surprisingly low. Most of my teachers don't really understand how computers work, and so still hand out photocopies of stuff. The teachers who do understand computers usually go way overboard and post dozens of supplementary materials online. They then expect you to read all of them, possibly thinking that the new ease of distribution has also made learning faster. I've had a total of two teachers who used their laptops and the internet competently and to their students' benefit. The rest just horribly screwed everyone over. I know we're in a transition state, but I wish professors would realize that being able to post their syllabus online is not an excuse to make it three times as long.
9. Your grade point average does not indicate how smart you are, or how much you learned. Based on GPA alone, many people would not consider me a successful college student. However, that doesn't mean I wasn't successful at the ultimate goals of a higher education (learning new information, learning how to explain that information in a competent way, learning how to form your own opinions based on that information, and learning to find new information), it just means that I wasn't successful at following the system the college had in place.
10. Things don't matter as much as people tell you they do. What really matters is if you are happy with the way things are going. If you want to waste time in a water color class, even though it has nothing to do with your degree, do it. If you want to lighten your credit load even if it means taking an extra year to graduate, do it. Constantly racing for validation and approval is silly. Regardless of how much you suck, someone else in your school will suck worse, and no matter how amazing you are, some one else is going to steal the spotlight. In the end, all you're responsible for is your own happiness, even if that only comes down to sarcastic list making.
4 hours ago