Beware the College Quarter-Life Crisis

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At this point in our lives, we’ve all probably witnessed at least one mid-life crisis.

I remember when my dad turned 50 and he bought a dirt bike. At 50. Though the purchase seemed odd, there were no tears. He maintained a career, raised three kids and stayed happily settled down. Mid-life doesn’t sound too bad.

But the extremely real “quarter-life crisis” fails to get noticed. Nearly every college kid experiences it at some point—if not multiple times—even if they didn’t know it had a fancy label. It happens to me far more than I would like to admit. Basically, you experience a mental and emotional breakdown from thinking about your future, occurring between the ages of 18 and 25. This turning point into adulthood brings on the stress and creates an easily shattered mental state. The first step: admit you have a problem.

1. Deep Thinking

You know what’s dangerous? Thinking about your life for too long when you need to live it, too. Typically, when you face a decision/failure/change you think until your brain implodes. Sounds logical, except when that decision/failure/change could completely change your life. Then it becomes hazardous. Things like picking a college, declaring a major or failing a test can lead you to dig deep into your thoughts…too deep.

2. Anxiety

After thinking so hard, panic slowly sets in until you begin questioning your entire life. What am I doing? Do I really want to become an environmental biologist? What do they even do? I just really like the ocean and puppies. Am I wasting my education? I should’ve just gone to community college. Will I ever pay off this loan debt? The eternal questions with no answer.

3. Irrational Anxiety

After the initial worry your thoughts begin to wander. You no longer begin panicking about the initial cause of distress, or anything related to it. Yeah, so what if you failed a test? Now all of a sudden you’re concerned about your single status. Aren’t you supposed to meet your future husband in college? Did you make a mistake breaking up with your ex? Maybe you could’ve learned to deal with his prior convictions. Maybe you should call him. (Hint: you probably shouldn’t). This train of thought lacks logic, but in the moment seem crucial to the trajectory of your entire life.

4. The Tipping Point

Now you reached the full-on breakdown. Often tears and strange sounds ensue. You might call your mom or your best friend, or maybe you just keep to yourself in the corner of your closet. At this point, your thoughts and actions aren’t coherent. You can no longer comfort yourself and you just have to let the emotion rollercoaster ride itself out.

5. Refocus

Eventually you calm down. Maybe the new season of New Girl lifted your spirits. Maybe your tear ducts just dried out. Maybe you had a few beers, which isn’t recommended but really can speed up the cycle of crisis. Things went back to the status quo even though you may not have necessarily settled anything, but life goes on even through this particular quarter-life crisis. Rest assured, another comes soon enough and the cycle repeats.

There’s a common perception, at least from the outside looking in, that college is some grand time with loads of parties and football games. But the QLC can occur at any moment. It has no consideration for where you are or what you’re doing. In class? Doesn’t care. At a party? It might prey on vulnerable, drunk you. Just maintain your cool until you’re in a safe space to cry, panic or cope however you want to.

The future terrifies us, and college should prepare us for it. Only we are plagued by the constant fear of what happens when its four years later and the party’s over.


Sophomore at my home under the Dome, AKA the University of Notre Dame. Love running, water skiing, writing and watching Christmas movies all year long. Dream date is Seth Cohen circa 2004.

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