“College is the best four years of your life. You’ll make your best friends there!”
I remember when I came home from my first semester in college and it felt like it hadn’t even happened. It had gone by so unbelievably fast and yet so painfully slow. Everyone wanted to know: Was I having the time of my life? Had I made lots of friends?
But nobody seemed to be asking me the other important questions. Are you struggling? Are you managing the transition? Do you even want to go back?
I wish I had known how hard college would be, and that not every day, especially as a first-year student, was going to be perfect. I experienced a level of academic rigor that forced me to work harder than I had ever worked before. I remember earning a “D” on an exam and wondering if I was smart enough to succeed. Was I in over my head?
I made friends fairly quickly and had an active social life, but still felt lonely when I thought about my friends from home. It’s a weird feeling when you first realize that the “best friends” you’ve made in college, you barely even know. Even the fact of eating lunch alone on a weekday for the first time in years was an adjustment. I looked around and it felt like I wasn’t having the “typical” college experience.
When you watch any college movie, scroll through your Instagram feed, or listen to an admissions counselor speak, you are presented with the idealistic image of what college is. Frisbee on the quad, deep conversations, and fun house parties. What you don’t see is the struggle. There will be times when you are in a class and you feel like you can’t handle it. There will be times when you feel lonely and miss your friends and family. There will also be times when you wonder if you made a mistake, and don’t belong at that school after all. This is the typical college experience, but it’s the one they don’t talk about in the admissions presentation, or what your friends post on their Insta stories.
Slowly but surely, things got better for me. A lot better. But not before I had submitted transfer applications to other schools. I figured that if I wasn’t having the perfect experience, it must be the school’s fault and that I’d be happier somewhere else. Ultimately though, I decided to stay. I knew deep down I had made the right choice as a high school senior, that I was in the right place, and that I was just going to have to work through my struggles. Things did not magically get better, or just fall into place. Socially, I stopped feeling the pressure that everyone you meet was destined to become your best friend, and learned that not everyone will be with you through all four years. Classes were still difficult and at times overwhelming, but I adapted to the academic rigor by changing the way I studied and by working harder; ultimately found my groove. It never became “easy,” but it not longer felt impossible. I now can look back at my college years very fondly. I did end up making incredible friends, and succeeding academically. The struggles I had were not unique. Choosing to work through them instead of giving up made the experience even sweeter and equipped me with tools that I’ll have with me the rest of my life. You’ll likely struggle too, and that’s okay.