Cram For an Exam—Not For College

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Die, pull my hair out and completely give up were three things I never thought I’d want to do when I entered my freshman year of college. But when you’ve been repeatedly told college is the best time of your life, it’s hard to imagine the experience being anything short of perfect. While college serves as the time for self discovery, creating lasting friendships and paving your path toward the future, it’s also a time of great stress and mental anxiety. It only took a week into my first semester at college to figure that out.

Like all bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young freshman, I eagerly anticipated the day I’d move into my 10×12 dorm “room” to escape the watchful eyes of my parents. Gone were the days I had to follow strict school rules of signing in and out of class just so I could use the bathroom or, for heaven’s sake, get a drink of water. As silly as it seems, I felt a sense of liberation knowing I no longer had to carry a pencil shaped hall pass to grab a forgotten textbook from my locker. In college I could leave in the middle of class and no one would say a thing.

After spending more than $300 on textbooks, finding out I had tests and papers due the third week of school and repeatedly hearing how undecided majors (like myself) were failing because my entire life wasn’t planned yet, I saw my original ideas of freedom and release shatter into tiny pieces.

I combated the overwhelming desire to run away crying and screaming at the lies I’d been told about the joys of college life by trying to join every club, including communication clubs and an English club. I spent the remainder of my time in the library decoding readings on ancient Greek philosophers’ arguments about the perfect political state. Though I never quite wrapped my head around Athenian democracy, I knew the state of my well-being was far from ideal.

By the third week, I was running on fumes. Everyday I fell out of my slumber at 8 a.m. to head to class. After class I went to the library to study or attend one of the million club events I signed up for. It would be close to 2 a.m., sometimes 3 a.m., by the time I lugged my tired body to bed only to wake up the next morning and sleepily fall over again.

Then the dreaded midterm exam period started. I had three tests and one paper all due in the same breath. On top of school work, I had to write two articles for a local student newspaper I joined the week before. I knew absolutely nothing about taking tests in college or how to write a newspaper article, but I was determined to accomplish both.

I spent every waking moment studying and frantically trying to source the two stories. As I studied and wrote my articles, I could feel myself periodically nodding off. But unfortunately for me, the bags under my eyes weren’t designer. The pressure of doing well on my exams and papers as an editor angrily breathed down my neck proved to be too much. I convinced myself I’d collapse before I made it to the end of the week.

Whether by shear strength of will or 20 cups of coffee (probably the coffee), I made it through several nights of staying up until 4 a.m., and completed my first midterm exam week and articles. I emerged out of class on Friday on a high. With nothing due the next week, I looked forward to a weekend of going out for dinner and watching movies with my friends seeing as how I blew them off enough times to study. Unfortunately, I found my temporary freedom too good to be true.

I received an angry voicemail from a source who had “concerns” about a story I wrote. Shrugging it off as probably nothing too serious, I called my source back to see what all the fuss was about—big mistake. This person called me every horrible name in the book. When my editor edited my article, he deleted a very key part of the story, and changed the entire context of what the source I interviewed said. Furious the article misconstrued the story, my source told me I was an idiot who had no sense of what it meant to be professional and respectful. Already mentally and physically exhausted from the week I spent agonizing over my exams, I lost it.

I don’t know how long I cried for, but by the time I stopped, the feeling of failure and sadness hadn’t left me. I realized the amount of work I placed on my plate was too much. As much as I wanted to be, I couldn’t be Superwoman. The late nights and early mornings made me horribly sick and, with all the time I spent on my studies and club activities, I spread myself so thin I couldn’t properly accomplish my work. I realized I needed to change. I had to stop staying up late at night, quit trying to be in every club and I needed to be more social.

Although the process wasn’t easy, I put that horrible week behind me. Since then, I learned how to slow down and enjoy college more. While college may grant you more freedom, it also gives you more responsibility. But just because you have more responsibilities doesn’t mean you need them all at once.

The world didn’t end when I completed freshman year still undecided or when I spent time watching movies or grabbing a bite with my friends. While living on your own seems like an exciting adventure, college is extremely stressful at times too. I learned how to create a healthy balance of the responsibilities I carried on my back and how to set aside some time for myself too.

Anne is a sophomore studying journalism and history at University of Wisconsin-Madison. A native Wisconsinite, Anne loves all things Wisconsin including sporting events, the outdoors and its summer concerts.

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