College: What to Expect
February 3, 2016
Filed under Columns
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I’m sick of everyone, including myself, saying, “I can’t wait for college.” As if higher education is a portal to the land of the less sad and stressed, as if all the things you hate about highschool disappear once you step onto a new campus. For those of us hoping to move way out of Illinois, and for those of us moving around the state, our current distress is comforted by the notion that if we escape the black hole that is our life, everything will be so much better. But, as someone who’s had experience living on a college campus while taking college classes, I’m here to burst that lovely bubble.
Over the past three summers I’ve taken writing classes hosted by Lake Forest College, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and, most recently, Emerson College in Boston. While I have met three of my current best friends, one from each institution, at these programs I have also cried myself to sleep because I missed home so much, spent all my money on food, and skipped out on class because there was no one to force me to get my ass to class. The experiences I’ve had are not for the faint of heart; college is not easy. You are responsible for yourself, and for some kids it’s too rough a transition. My roommate at Lake Forest tried to go home at the end of the first week of a two week long program because it wasn’t what she’d thought it’d be. You’re going to long for a place you know, even people you hate; you’ll miss everything familiar.
First of all, classes are challenging. They require constant participation and attention. Julia Dieter, a freshmen at the University of Madison-Wisconsin, advises, “You will have so many more instances in which to make your opinion known, and it is important to cultivate beliefs and convictions before attending a university.” But I know Julia, a passionate and aware individual who enjoys discussing and dissecting topics. Many of my peers, however, do not appear stimulated by conversation. In my AP Language and Composition class last year, kids complained that they weren’t interested in the essay topic, and, therefore, couldn’t write the essay. Michelle Bank, a sophomore at the University of Puget Sound in Washington, says, “I hated high school because I was constantly stressed and constantly working. You spend about seven hours in class, and then you go home only to spend the next seven hours doing homework. In college, the workload might be heavier but the classes aren’t taking up your entire day.” So, even though you have more time to do work, it’s more difficult, and for those of us who lack motivation, even more so than that.
I also interviewed my older sister, Rachel, as she is a quasi-junior at Triton College, and still lives at home, for my peers who are planning to stay put. My sister is almost twenty-one, she pays her own bills, has an office job, and goes to school part-time. I asked her about being independent in college, if it was what every high schooler dreams it to be, and she commented, “It’s difficult at times because you can’t take a sick day or anything like that. It’s not as glamourous. I feel like people expect it to be whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it, but that’s not how it is. You have to live within your means, which a lot of people struggle with…You need to take responsibility because you’re not going to get a second chance. If you fail out of school nobody’s going to give you that money back. It’s on you…School needs to be your number one priority.”
In my time in the classroom, I think my biggest problem was spending. I could get all my work done, have several hours of freedom, roam the city with my friends, watch movies, take naps, catch an improv show, but without an authority figure, and with a wad of cash, I was okay with buying Panera nightly. Five weeks and seven-hundred dollars later, I returned home from Boston with twenty-five dollars in my bank account. I was reckless and I didn’t even notice. When it’s not your money, it goes quickly.
College is not going to save you. You’ll come out different, sure, but the reasons you hated high school will transform to the reasons you hate college. No matter what you’re doing, there are always things that make it bad. It is inescapable and inevitable. So, wake up and, in the words of Dieter, “Chill the fuck out. Don’t just sit around and expect life to come your way. You get nothing if you wait for it.”
I know I’m a bit of a bitch, but in the questions I asked all my college-going friends, they all agreed that college isn’t for everyone. It requires responsibility, dedication, and passion. If you don’t like the atmosphere or your classes after a few months, maybe the college really isn’t right for you.