Ever since a young age, I couldn’t wait to start college. I heard from so many people that my time in college would account for some of the best memories in my life. This notion that college must act as an incredible experience brought about many expectations. I wanted to join a bunch of clubs, study hard, make new friends and explore my newfound independence in an unfamiliar city. Little did I know, my expectations quickly met their match: reality.
Although I started college with strict plans and goals, things change. Now, however, I feel okay about it.
A little over three years ago, I stood as a naïve freshman eager to start my first semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I enrolled in classes that would put me on the right path to graduate with a degree in biology. After graduation, I wanted to go to medical school. I never really thought about any other career path; I wanted to help people. After all, what better way to help others than through medicine?
On the first day of classes, I felt completely overwhelmed. I swear my heart was pounding out of my chest as I maneuvered through a lecture hall of nearly 300 students. I always anticipated how big the university would feel. Until you walk into a full lecture for the first time, however, you don’t really know what to expect. The professors wasted no time and got right to teach material on the first day, something that I was not used to. I planned on walking out of the class ecstatic about what I learned, but I left feeling defeated, confused and scared.
High school remained the only thing I could compare college to. Therefore, when I predicted what my time in college would consist of, I thought of the workload I experienced in the past – I was extremely wrong. My first week of chemistry involved nearly everything I learned in a full semester at my high school. I struggled to keep up in class and write notes. I felt like I was falling behind my peers and didn’t deserve to go to college. I had to find a completely new way to study for exams (cramming one day before like you did in high school does not work, trust me). Everything seemed so large and unmanageable as I tried to navigate this completely new territory.
My expectations for college seemed out of reach when I realized that I didn’t enjoy my classes. Although that plan went awry, I thought I could still join some clubs. I decided to attend my university’s organization fair; there I discovered that you could find a club for just about anything you like. I probably signed up for 20 different organizations that day. Signing up, however, felt like the easy part. Now I had to find the courage to attend meetings with complete strangers.
As an introvert, I tend to get extremely nervous in social situations. Combine that with a foreign environment and I felt like I was living in a nightmare. Most of the emails that I received for club meetings went ignored, the butterflies in my stomach signaled to me that I should probably stay home. Yet, one club in particular stood out to me. Although it had nothing to do with my major, I found enough willpower to attend a meeting for an online magazine. I didn’t know it at the time, but this club helped me find my true passion: writing.
By joining a club, I also hoped to tackle one of my biggest college expectations: meeting the people who would make the years so memorable. I opted to stay in the dorms during my freshman year, however I did not meet as many people as I planned. Instead, I spent my nights in an extremely small, hot dorm room and studied. Trying to stay up to date on assignments and learn new material took up most of my time. Finding the right people did not come as easy as I hoped.
The Truth About College
Since we all want to make the most of our college experience, we tend to think that everything needs to happen all at once. We feel a huge pressure during our first semester to figure everything out, like who we should become friends with, what clubs we should join and what major we should take on. In actuality, college proves itself as a time of self-discovery. When you get thrown outside of your comfort zone, you get a lot of time to understand yourself better.
You may start college and dislike the major you always dreamt about. I did, and it took a while to come to terms with. However, I am beyond happy with where I am now. You might make some great friends in your first semester, yet they might not stick around throughout your entire time at college. It wasn’t until my junior year that I met a great group of people who I spend nearly every day with now. During that time, I also found some of my favorite clubs.
For some people, college just might end up as the best four years of their lives. For others, maybe not. However, you do not need to accomplish all your goals in the first semester, despite the pressures that may tell you otherwise. Take the time to learn more about yourself and what makes you happy. This period in your life will bring about a lot of changes; one of the biggest things I’ve learned is to welcome it with open arms.