A Different College Survival Guide

Even though I’m writing this two weeks in advance (I know, I’m a little crazy that way), this post is going up on my first day of college classes. Which at this point seems so far away to me. I have yet to fully realize that it’s time once again to put on my thinking cap and start studying.

With it being my second year on a college campus, I have a little more sense of what to expect. I’m not going in blind, walking by strangers that I’ll have to greet and probably never see again. I won’t be the newbie freaking out when I have a class on the third floor, not knowing where the stairs are so waiting for the elevator and worrying I’ll be late (yes, this definitely happened my first day last year. Not fun).

I’m also starting in a much different place than last year. The previous summer I was not in a good state of mind, and I held unrealistic expectations for my college experience. That it would be a completely fresh start to reinvent myself and become this brand new person, someone who made tons of friends in the first week and socialized every night. If you couldn’t tell already, that didn’t happen. And setting myself up for those “goals” ended up with me very disappointed and even more depressed than before.

That part of college I never heard about. Feeling out of place and lost. You hear all of those success stories, see the media examples of campus life, and expect to have the time of your life with no effort, the best memories and experiences somehow just falling into your lap. I didn’t enjoy high school ninety percent of the time, and all I heard about college was that it was very different. Well, to an extent.

Throughout all of my education, I had this frame of mind where I pictured myself as somebody who was extremely mature, that I had my life all put together and I was so ready to be an adult. Boy, was I wrong. Every day, I am constantly learning new things. I’m making mistakes. I’m proving to myself that all too often, I have no idea what I’m doing or what I want. I wanted to feel like someone unique and special, but I’m like every other college student who’s clueless and indecisive. And that’s okay. Life isn’t easy. No matter how high-functioning you feel, you will have moments where all you want to do is scream or cry or curl up into a ball. Let yourself feel, let yourself grow. Everyone is at the same place. We all look at each other thinking they’re accomplishing so much more than us, but this comparison just leads to unnecessary criticism toward ourselves. We’re all just doing our best. That looks different for all of us. But we’ll all survive and make it through. The more often we can empathize with each other and share those challenges and successes, the better outlook we’ll have and the more we can appreciate college life.

I go to a college that a lot of people from my hometown go to. Which is something I wanted to avoid, but it just ended up that way. There’s definite pros and cons in that. Most importantly, the people you don’t necessarily care for, you don’t have to see them all the time. College gives you the freedom who to choose see on a regular basis beyond your classes and activities. Choose people who uplift you. And if that means eating meals alone or sitting with a group of people one time and feeling very uncomfortable, do it. Try it all.

I had one of my best birthdays ever this past year, all thanks to finding a great group of friends. It took me some solid time to find my way, but the effort was worth it.

Having this freedom also means you can too easily feel isolated. Or worrying that your friends at other schools are replacing you with new, “better” friends. You have a LOT more free time in college, which can allow those thoughts to flourish. For those of us who struggle in the socializing and making friends department, it might take the entire academic year (or even into the summer) to really find those people who “will be your greatest friends, future bridesmaids, etc.” Unlike being at home, I didn’t have parents around asking about my friends and urging me to get out when they know how comfortable and content I am alone. It’s scary and uncomfortable, but you just have to make that effort. It could even just be having a long conversation in the dorm hallway.

And your roommate won’t necessarily be one of those friends. But it might not be the worst experience ever. You only hear either success or horror stories, but for the most part, it’s pretty mediocre. I really can’t complain with my freshman experience, but turned out my roommates and I didn’t have much to talk about. It happens. I think I tried to hard to force that ideal friendship I craved, but it wasn’t meant to be. The experience will still teach you. For me, I learned how much my living situation affects my state of mind, that although I’ve proven to be able to live with any type of person, if it isn’t someone I truly love or just living alone, I feel mentally drained a lot. Find what makes you happy and roll with it.

It took me the entire year to realize how awesome the newspaper staff are. Luckily I get to spend this next semester working with them.

College also provides opportunities you never even imagined possible. I never thought I’d become so engrossed in writing a weekly column, or that I’d land a great internship my second semester. Heck, I didn’t even think I would make much of a name for myself, but I still don’t think I fully realize how many people I may have left an impression on. So be open minded. If something sounds interesting, try it. Exploration is encouraged, changing your mind multiple times is normal.

So if you’re just starting college or are a returning student like me, we’re all in this awkward phase between childhood and adulthood. We want to be grown up and know exactly what direction to go, but we still have plenty of maturing left to do. College isn’t all blue skies and midnight road trips. It’s your first glimpse into what growing up really means. Embrace it, personalize it, and appreciate every moment.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie


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