College is an Experience not to be Missed!

Oct 10, 2001 (Updated Jan 28, 2006)

The Bottom Line The college experience is a transition from youth to adulthood. It presents many challenges and many opportunities.

If you’re a high school senior who has already been accepted into your chosen college, then you’re probably curious about what the college experience will be like. You have likely heard many stories from different individuals who have already completed the experience, or who are currently in college. Some people have nothing but positive things to say, while others are completely pessimistic on the college scene.

I went to college in the late 1980’s and I graduated in 1989. My experience was typical in the fact that it was a mixture of both good and bad. Let me share some of my college life with you while I attempt to answer the questions about what you can expect when you go to college.

What’s it Like Being Away From Home?:

Initially, this is probably the main concern of the new college freshman. Most students grow up in one area, often living in the same house from birth through high school graduation. These students are attached to their home, and the thought of living far away could make them feel insecure. For these students, college is nothing more than a temporary “home away from home”, a place that they are living on a part- time basis, with the intent of leaving and moving back to the home base immediately upon graduation. These students often feel a little lonely. They miss their family and friends and they can’t wait to return to their hometown. If they are close to home, they go back on weekends, holidays, or whenever the opportunity presents itself.

For some students, like myself, college isn’t just a temporary place to live, it’s a permanent residence. When the time came for me to enter college, I knew that my college experience was going to be a little different than it would be for other students. I had no intention of ever moving back to my “hometown” again (The reason I place the word hometown in quotes is because I lived in so many places that I didn’t really feel any attachment to any one city. I didn’t feel like any place really deserved to be called my hometown. I will explain more later on) and I knew that I would be living year- round in the area where my school was located. Because of this, I was able to make the transition quite easily. I never felt homesick, like many other students.

What are Academics Like?:

Studying was never a problem for me in high school. In fact, I did very little studying in high school, mainly because it was so unchallenging! I went through the public school system, and I found it to be laughably easy. This set a bad precedent, because it failed to properly prepare me for the studying requirements of college.

Classes vary greatly in their requirements and demands. Some classes, like those in philosophy, required writing a few short papers and taking a couple tests. But the issues were subjective in nature, so they didn’t require that much studying. Other classes, like those in math, engineering, etc., require memorizing long formulas and theories, and they take more of your time.

Whatever your level of academic knowledge, one thing to remember is that the classes in college will require more study time than those in high school. If your high school is an academic joke (like mine was), don’t let yourself develop a false sense of security, like I did. You will be in for a rude awakening, when you enter the world of college academia.

What is the Social Atmosphere Like?:

This varies from one college to another. Some schools have a reputation as “party” schools; others are more strict and controlling and offer very few social outlets. Also, some schools have a solid reputation for division I sports and attending the games is a major part of the social scene.

One of the challenging aspects of college, in the social arena, is the mixing together of people from so many diverse backgrounds. This brings me back to what I mentioned before, about my early mobility as a kid. When I finished high school, I had already lived in about 16 different houses (Even now, I’m not sure if that was the exact number because we moved so much!) in four different states, and I had attended 10 different schools. This was not good, from the standpoint of stability and identity. I didn’t really have any one place that I could proudly call home and I never wasted much time forming close friendships because I knew, as a child, that the next U-Haul day was just around the corner. Why bother making friends if you’re going to lose them each year?

But there is one positive side to this. Because I lived in so many places, I already had a good understanding of diversity. When I met new people in college, I had no problem accepting them as individuals. Other students (who grew up in the same area from birth to high school graduation) had a more difficult time understanding and accepting all of this diversity. They couldn’t understand why people from New York were often outspoken and abrasive. They couldn’t figure out why someone from Pittsburgh was so fanatical about football. They were puzzled by students from rural communities who weren’t very street smart. These fellow students were less tolerant and less accepting of the diversity, and they often stereotyped and shunned anyone who was different from themselves. Because I had already experienced so many different things, I expected (and accepted) the diversity of people.

What’s it Like Having to Take Care of Yourself?:

This is another area that’s difficult for some students, and it directly relates to the availability of money and the personal aptitude for responsibility. For the new college student, entering the dorm marks the first occasion that he/she will be responsible for their own well- being. Some make the transition with no problem, while others cannot handle it at all, and are constantly calling their parents for guidance.

There are many factors to consider when it comes to taking proper care of ones’ self and being responsible. But the primary factor, for myself and many other students, is money. I entered the dorm completely, 100 percent broke, and I knew that I would probably never receive any money from parents or family members, for either tuition or living expenses. I had to grow up fast, if I had any hope to survive.

Most all of my problems as a student could be traced to money. Sure, I had social issues and academic concerns like everyone else. But my primary menace was the lack of money. It affected almost everything else in my life, and it did affect my confidence, to an extent. I knew, for instance, that I didn’t have the money for taking road trips, dating, and other activities, so I would have to decline most of these opportunities. This led to social problems because other students refused to accept the fact that I was always broke. It also prevented me from realizing my true potential. Like Abraham Maslow demonstrated in his famous “Hierarchy of Needs”, an individual cannot really concentrate on reaching the self- actualization level of human development if he/she has not met the basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid, like food, clothing, shelter, etc. I would have made the perfect case study for Maslow. I would have been great to have been more active in school clubs and activities, debating, political movements, etc., but there was no time for that. You can’t concentrate on these types of activities when you’re sitting in your college house, wondering how and where you will get your next meal.

Managing time is also important, and it will require some adjustments on the part of the student. You won’t have mom and dad to remind you to do your homework, or to make you a snack when you feel hungry. All of these things will now be your responsibility. And the way you handle them can make or break you, as a student. If you cannot handle the responsibility, then you might want to consider finding a nearby college to attend and just staying at home. You will miss out on the independence and freedom that living at school has to offer, but you will also eliminate the stress of responsibility.

Final Thoughts:

The college experience is one that holds many good memories for me. I didn’t have much money, but I made the best of it and trudged forward.

College is a different experience for many people. Even within the same school, there are vast differences of opinion. Some students love the independence and the personal responsibility. Others would rather remain a kid for a few more years, and let their parents continue to take care of things. Some enjoy the challenges of academics, the challenge of meeting new people, and the fun time away from home. Others feel overwhelmed by the time requirements for studying, don’t like the diverse people, and long for the safe, secure confines of their hometown.

I found college to be a challenge, but it was a challenge that I was more than willing to accept. It was constantly stressful for me, particularly with finances. But I had my independence, and that’s what mattered most. I successfully made the transition from high school, to college, to the working world, with my sanity and health intact. Considering what I was up against, I feel that my experience in college was an overall success!

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Member: Bryan Carey
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