I live in State College, Pennsylvania. In my town, around 85 percent of each high school graduating class attends Pennsylvania State University. The opportunity lies only five minutes from the secondary school. You can easily walk from the high school to the college campus.
College isn’t really an option in my town. Everyone is expected to go.
Pressures surrounding our school district reinforce that assumption of going to college. Furthering your education isn’t valued but expected. Naturally, the opportunity of advanced academia is taken for granted.
It was always a given that Penn State would be my number one option. Growing up locally, State College students rarely pass up the chance to attend a prestigious university that sits right in our backyards. Many parents work at Penn State, receiving a 75 percent discount on tuition for their kids. For some that makes Penn State the only affordable option to further their education.
People in my town bleed blue and white. Parents that went to Penn State move back and raise their children in State College, instilling the Penn State culture from birth. You either love it, hate it or honestly don’t care.
Me? I sat in the middle. I wasn’t born in this town but moved here at a young age. When my family moved, Penn State fascinated me. Growing up, I considered it a prestigious educational foundation, cultivating high-class scholars.
As a child, I thought when you grow up, you move out, go to college and educate yourself to change the world for the better. As I got older, I understood college as more of a social scene than scholarly experience for many. Students go for an education, but the surrounding aspects make it college.
Approaching my upperclassman years in high school, I already knew numerous people that went on to become Penn State students. Many of my closest friends, even my boyfriend at the time, attended Penn State. I soon realized Penn State is much more than academics, but a hosting ground for modern college culture.
My boyfriend at the time joined a fraternity, exposing me to college experiences at a much younger age than anticipated. I saw tailgates, day drinking, frat parties and more drinking; the details parents like to overlook when they drop off their kids on move-in day. I think many of us felt excited to delve into the college scene considering all the action seemed so close to our childhood homes.
I accepted my offer from Penn State without applying to any other colleges. Then I finally experienced Penn State on my own. Unfortunately, my parents didn’t allow me to live on campus or even in close proximity to campus. I commute from home, meaning I’ll spend my four years of college living with my parents. Although I’ll save thousands of dollars, it comes with a huge opportunity cost.
I wake up an hour earlier than everyone else to get to class on time. Needless to say, those 8 a.m. classes feel literally unbearable. I live a good 20 minutes off of campus. It takes me 20 minutes to drive to the commuter lot and then an additional 10 minutes to catch the bus from campus, then another 10 minutes walking to class from the bus stop. This became my routine every day, every semester. I got used to it, I guess.
I became really angry at one point, wishing I had the luxury of dorm life like everyone else. I saw it as a privilege students took for granted, paying thousands per year for housing in addition to tuition costs.
I dreamed of the traditional college experience: parents dropping you off, car loaded with new college dorm essentials. It never came true for me. I would never feel the nerves that come with meeting your new roommate or living on a co-ed floor. Gaining the freshman 15 because you don’t know how to eat on your own is a journey untouched.
When it came to classes, familiar faces popped up everywhere. In a class of 30 people, three familiar high school faces appeared. And while I appreciated the friendly faces, I also wanted to a fresh start. I wanted to disconnect from preconceived notions everyone held in high school, while I developed into a different, progressed individual. Consider this impossible when going to college with nearly 85 percent of your graduating high school class.
For two years, I felt very disconnected from my college experience. I didn’t feel like I belonged or earned my position at the university like others did. Living at home felt isolating. I struggled to make friends and make those iconic college memories. Decorating a dorm room, living with a roommate, ordering late night food, even lugging around a shower caddy, it all sounded like everyday college life. But it was only a dream for me. As much as I wanted the typical college lifestyle, I came to the realization I would never get that. So I decided to innovate.
I needed to take an initiative of my uncontrollable conditions if I wanted to feel happy. I joined clubs and organizations to get me out of my comfort zone. I stopped relying on the students from my high school to get me through college. I needed new people where I could create an alternative personal identity.
A year later, I can successfully say I disconnected myself from my high school. A year ago I felt like no one. Now, I feel like someone. I feel capable, self-motivated and worthy.
Growing up in a town where I attended college allowed me to perceive the university in a different light. Now I’m beginning to understand the intersectionality of life.
And I am grateful because I had to overcome. Not only did I overcome the inconvenience of living at home, I also adjusted my lifestyle and schedule. I overcame the social isolation, the remembrance of high school on a daily basis and the struggle to become a new self.