For most people, the expression The College Experience engenders images of toga parties, cafeteria food, and late night cram sessions. The concept of college in America has taken on a life of its own. And to be a college student in America is to be a part of that definitive college experience. But that’s just it- can the college experience really be defined? And if so, how do you know if you’ve done college right? In my two years of college thus far, I’ve deduced that there is no one college experience. The only thing you’ll have at the end of those four years is your unique experience. You’ll have debt, a diploma, and a lifetime of memories.
As freshman year got underway, I quickly found myself miserable. I was so focused on having the “traditional college experience,” that I missed out on my current experience. I worried I was not making enough life long friends, that my roommate and I weren’t bonding like we should, and I wasn’t dating
any enough guys. I stayed in my room more times than not, and struggled to find my niche in the community. I felt as though I were wasting this precious, once in a lifetime opportunity, not to mention my parent’s money! How could I not be enjoying myself? Millions of kids would kill for this experience. Combine the guilt, frustration, and lack of sleep, and you get one depressed eighteen year old.
So, after first semester freshman year, I considered transferring. Over Christmas break, I timidly expressed to my parents how unhappy I was, and they reacted with firm compassion. They told me I needed to stick it out until the end of freshman year, and then we could reevaluate. At the time, I was not satisfied with their answer, but looking back, it was the push I needed. So after a Christmas break ‘reboot,’ I headed back for second semester with a heavy but hopeful heart.
And slowly, things began to turn around. I forced myself to attend campus events, which led to new friendships. I applied for a Resident Advisor position for sophomore year and got it, which boosted my self confidence immensely. I took four classes instead of five, cutting down on my stress and anxiety. But most of all, I stopped comparing my experience to the college experience. I stopped comparing my experience to that of my parents, brother, and friends. I stopped worrying about what I thought I should be doing and feeling, and accepted what I was actually doing and feeling.
Many people nostalgically say, “College is the best four years of your life.” Yes, college is wonderful in so many ways, but they never tell you how hard it can be. They say, “It’s your chance to start over, to turn a blank page.” But they often fail to mention that that can also lead to a loss of self-identity. For instance, when you’ve been a passionate baseball player for the past twelve years and suddenly no longer have baseball, it’s easy to get lost. There are two sides to every coin.
So parents, I encourage you to share your complete, well-rounded college stories with your children. Talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly- don’t leave anything out. And students, take the pressure off yourselves! Remember that your experience is personal, there is no wrong way to do college. Whether you look back on four years of toga parties, cafeteria food, and late night cram sessions, or pajama parties, Ramen noodles, and Netflix, you will look back on them fondly because you lived them. Only you can know how special they truly were.