Think of college the way you did during your senior year of high school. You had seen movies such as "Animal House" or "The Social Network" which present college as a time to party, with the freedom to do anything. Then the thrill heightened with thoughts of studying abroad in Europe, taking pictures next to the Eiffel tower and Big Ben. These images of college are based off of movies and the nostalgic retelling of stories by those who have experienced college already. The summer leading up to move-in day, upcoming freshmen prepare themselves for “the best time of their lives” and walk onto campus expecting the legendary events seen in the movies.
If that is what you think of college, think again. As amazing as college can be, it is journey into the self, along with preparation for what lies ahead. This journey is not a yellow brick road with pure bliss and psychedelia. It is a struggle to find things about yourself that you never knew. If you have not struggled in college, you have not really been to college. College is a struggle, not a party.
I do not want to sound pessimistic and I do not want to crush anyone’s hopes. I simply want to clarify misconceptions about a place that is meant to shape you into a person ready to enter the world. College is meant to be hard. It is meant to push the limits of what was once expected. It is meant to bring change. Such a change can only come with tough days and sleepless nights.
During those nostalgic stories from alumni, there is a sense of forgetfulness that takes over, similar to graduation goggles for a high school senior. College brings new kinds of pressure which push us students further than we’ve been pushed before. The expectations on us are higher than ever, creating levels of stress which have been said to surpass levels caused by finances and relationships, according to the American College Health Association’s National Assessment of College Health. These sorts of struggles are meant to awaken the naïve freshman and prepare him or her for reality.
Along with academic and social stress, there is also a different sort of anxiety that comes with not knowing what comes after college. Coming to college with the mentality that one has things already figured out is a grave mistake. College is the place to figure things out; it is where one begins to think about their future career. Figuring out a major is difficult because it means diving into uncharted waters, not knowing what to expect.
Coupled with the fear of not knowing what career or major to choose, there is also concern about no longer being at the top of one’s class. In high school, many of us were big fish in small ponds. Yet in college everyone starts off on an even playing field. Everyone has the same potential to succeed and no one is necessarily better than the next. This daunting feeling that one is no longer the best can hurt the ego. College is a dose of humble pie for those who once thought themselves to be the best student to ever to live. Rude awakenings like these are easily forgotten or ignored when looking forward to college as a high school student, or looking back on college as a graduate.
Some may see this all as a pessimistic rant by an unsatisfied customer. In a sense I am unsatisfied, but not in my college experience. In fact, my experience has been great thus far, but I resent the idea that these are my best years. My best years have yet to come. It is pessimistic to assume life will no longer be as exciting once I cross the stage at graduation. Life has not fully started. Why rush to label four fast years as the best years of our lives? I want my whole life to be the best years of my life.
Yes, reality kicks in after graduation but so do new and greater things to look forward to, such as starting a family, becoming satisfied in a career, traveling to new places, having new experiences and best of all having dreams come true and hard work pay off. College is more like an investment, and life after college is the dividend paid to the investor.
I am an idealist. I want to be like a mentor of mine from high school, who at age 67 biked with his daughter from Northern Ireland to the Southern Irish Coast. I want to experience the best of my years after graduation, not before it. I want to live life knowing my best years have yet to come instead of thinking they have already passed. Call me a dreamer, but I would rather live with a sense of excitement all throughout my life than with a nostalgic longing for the old days. I’d like to think I’ll be happiest at age 80, holding my grandchildren, or perhaps at age 67 biking through the Irish countryside. I’d rather believe that than the myth that college is the “best four years of your life.”