A friend of mine recently asked for some advice for a college freshman she knew who had been in school for all of one week, and already was miserable, and itching to break free and try something else. Advice? How about, simma down and let’s not make any rash decisions?
I’m not sure how many people actually like college at first. I didn’t. Ugh, I loathed college at first. Huge chip on my shoulder. And then I met the woman who would become my best friend, and my classes got interesting, and I started attending smart on-campus events, and my roommate and I got drunk together, and gave each other books to read, and I figured out where my classes were located and bingo! And hey... suddenly college was kind of awesome.
But at first, it’s incredibly intimidating. You don’t know anyone, you’re probably feeling all alone on some huge campus, you might have classes with hundreds of people, you’ve been given a syllabus that seems insanely complicated, you’ve gone from probably being one of the smartest kids in your school to just one of many... um, wow. It may also appear that everyone else is making friends, whereas you and your roommate have nothing to talk about, or he/she already has a pack of friends. Meanwhile, it’s your second Friday night on college, and you’re sitting alone in your room Snapchatting with people from back home. (*Insert the losing horn sound from The Price is Right here.*) This is the amazing college experience that the old people talk so emotionally about? *Shifty eyes.*
If this seems familiar, make a decision to turn off your phone, stop texting and Snapchatting your high school BFF, and go find some on-campus events to attend. Go join a language or literature or drama society. Get an on-campus job. Go write for the newspaper, young Woodward and/or Bernstein. Allow yourself to meet people. I promise, I promise on everything that’s holy, that if you permit yourself to overcome your (normal, understandable) insecurities, you will meet cool people, you will make friends who will blow your mind, and make you laugh. You will make your own college memories, and they’ll be pretty awesome. (Awesome to you. I, for example, still remember getting drunk with a dear friend over Thanksgiving, and walking through the streets of Providence singing Whitesnake, and how HIGH-LARIOUS we thought we were... sighs. Oh well.)
But, first step: You’ve got to get out of your room. You’ve got to allow life to happen. Go to on-campus lectures and events, join groups, take weird courses. College isn’t just about getting enough credit to graduate, you know. Your parents are probably hassling you, but if a poetry class, or painting seminar look cool: SIGN UP! Do what makes you happy, since that happiness ensures your success. You can still be an investment banker, or pre-law, or pre-med, and write some poems. The universe inside of you has a hard-on for mixed messages and confusion: trust.
The more you forcibly thrust yourself out of your normal ken of activities, the more interesting you’re going to become, and the more fascinating people you’ll meet. Visit professors during their office hours and introduce yourself: if you can leave college, having become friends with one smart professor who helps you see your world, and potential, differently, boom, you got your money’s worth.
As a coach, the people who tell me, “Oh Carlota, I never meet my professors, I just go to class and go home,” are the same people who have usually dropped out, or are failing out of college, and/or are desperately sad, stuck in desperate dead-end jobs. The whole point of college is to challenge yourself, and learn about new things. The best way to challenge yourself? Learn about yourself. A huge part of that knowledge is interacting with your professors, and letting their life experience motivate you.
I’m just reminding you that yes, at first, college can be very scary. It’s normal to be overwhelmed. There is nothing wrong with you. But give it some time, and you might have wonderful experiences. I hated my college at first…and yet, by the time I graduated, I loved Wellesley. A great deal of that love was taking very different classes then I had originally intended, meeting different people — my best friend was a home-schooled vegetarian from the South, who loved math and the classics... yes, shut up, exactly — than I had every met, and committing to my interests, not to what others thought I should like. I had to grow up, and mature, and appreciate all the opportunities. I had to become myself. The new friends I made encouraged me to take classes that I would never ordinarily have considered. Those emotional and intellectual experiences were the real value of my college education; the diploma on my wall is just a pretty, very expensive piece of paper.
If you’re just starting out, feeling lost and lonely, try not to worry: you will make your own way. You will make your own memories. Be patient with yourself. Allow things to get better. If your parents never let you be in theater or arts or whatever at home, today, go sign up for something fun. You’re the boss of you now.
My concern is that people who expect college to be immediately fantastic, and will drop out if it’s not. Um, you’re kind of setting yourself up for a dangerous standard. Very few things in life are immediately wonderful. Most of life rests on us meeting challenges, and changing and growing. If you need immediate gratification and fun, or else you’re going to give up... you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of despair.
And yes, it is true, that some of you will give 100% to your college, and still hate it. How many college students enroll in schools to please their families, and come to find out that this environment doesn’t suit them? Tons of students. If it’s the end of your first year, and you’ve tried your best and still feel yourself to be in a foreign land, maybe it is time to transfer to someplace more welcoming. My first year roommate, Serena, ended up transferring, and excelled in her second college. No shame in that.
College, after all, is a very strange institution when you think on it. Originally, it was for the elites, and now we’ve decided that it’s mandatory. But not everyone does well in mandatory situations. Not everyone learns best in college. I personally have had friends who were doing great before they went to college, and when they went — to please their parents — they got sidetracked, and lost. They never really recovered that joie de vivre.
I personally have known many very bright people who did miserably in college. I know many bright people who excelled in college, and then hit a crushing wall afterwards. I know a lot of people who became lost in college. College is just one step on your life’s path. Success, or failure, at this stage of your journey, doesn’t really mean anything in the big picture. There are plenty of C students who own companies, and hired the A students to work for them. Your character and determination will always be of far more importance than your alma mater.