I don’t mean to throw shade at my high school. I actually loved my high school experience. But it just didn’t prepare me in the way that I thought it would.
I identified three major components, specifically, that really overwhelmed me my freshman year: academics, self-care and “adulting.”
First, the sheer amount of work involved with college classes thoroughly surprised me.
In high school, I considered myself a “smart kid.” I enrolled in AP and honors classes. I played in the band, orchestra and worked with the stage crew for the drama club. I even dual-enrolled at a local community college my senior year to earn college credit. I juggled a lot of things, but I managed it well.
I knew college classes would seem more intense than high school courses, obviously, but I didn’t realize by how much. Maybe my high school classes weren’t as rigorous as I originally thought. Or I just didn’t need to put as much effort into them. I don’t know exactly, but I do know I struggled.
This was partially due to the switch from year-long classes to the quarter system. For anyone not familiar, the quarter system lasts 10 weeks (11 if you count actual finals week). You typically take three or four classes in that timeframe. You can take midterms as early as the third week. And, in some cases, professors schedule a second midterm in week nine, right before finals.
Plus, the workload is highly impacted. Major assignments and projects dotted my schedule just about every week. Readings averaged 500 pages per week. Have you ever tried reading an entire book in a week? Yeah, me neither.
The change of pace definitely shell-shocked me. And I never saw it coming. I couldn’t keep up with the workload and didn’t feel like I had enough time for anything.
This led into the second major surprise: I was shocked to see the lack of self-care among myself and other students.
I don’t know how everyone else was in high school, but I can say I took care of myself well. I kept a schedule and stuck to it. If something didn’t get finished within that timeframe, I didn’t shift the schedule. It simply got sorted into the next day’s work. I didn’t compromise my sleep or the little free time I could enjoy.
College was the opposite. My parents and high school teachers were right when they said I would have a lot more time to myself to do the things I wanted to do. No one told me where I needed to go or what I needed to do. I just did things.
Well, that’s a lie. The problem came in when I wasn’t doing things.
For example, I was ecstatic I only picked up three classes a day. I get so much time to study and then I can go out with friends! Wrong.
With great freedom comes great responsibility and I realized I wasn’t all that responsible.
I didn’t use my free time to study. I used it to do anything but studying like binging Netflix, exploring L.A., sleeping and mindlessly scrolling through Instagram for hours. Basically I did anything that didn’t involve me sitting at a desk and reading.
For the first time, I experienced procrastination on a large scale. Assignments and even final exam papers would get done minutes before they were due. Not because I was busy with something else but because I couldn’t manage my time effectively anymore, so much so I barely managed to sleep or take good care of myself the first year of college.
Now I was comprising my self-care.
What floored me even more was that I wasn’t the only one. And I wasn’t the worst by a long shot. Within this total lack of self-care, there seems to be two ends of the spectrum: those who study hours on end, never sleep and camp out in the library and those who don’t ever walk into a classroom their entire college career. Both of which are equally unhealthy in their own ways but I don’t think I met anyone who wasn’t in one of those categories at some point in college.
I think these two extremes come from the larger and final point. I was surprised by the amount of stress I would endure in college. Stress, expectation and pressure seem to rise exponentially in college.
My high school was fairly competitive but never in the way that college was. Kids weren’t so much competing against each other but rather trying to outdo themselves. It seemed like you were only as good as your last success.
College set the bar extremely high.
Part of it was because we were now treated like adults.
That was a big thing in high school. All our teachers would tell us senior year that college professors would expect a lot from us and treat us like adults. But they never mentioned what it was like to be “treated like an adult” especially since they didn’t follow that mindset in high school.
With that expectation came reality. My parents weren’t with me all the time to help with “adulting” things like going to the financial aid office to do paperwork, cooking, laundry, taxes, paying bills and more. It was my first real experience doing most of this stuff on my own and there was no easing into it.
I hit the ground running pretty much day one and didn’t stop, working through a variety of issues I never dealt with in high school.
I know this is a very common college experience. I was just surprised by the amount of things I really didn’t know how to do.
Why hadn’t high school taught me to do taxes and budget my (non-existent) money? Why didn’t I know how to pay medical bills or what insurance I had? These all made great life lessons, but I didn’t realize I would drown a little before I could swim.
I really don’t mean any of this in a whiny or salty way. My high school did a lot of great things for me. It provided me with great academic and personal resources, helped me with SATs, gave me life-long friends and so much more.
But for me, the transition from high school to college was more difficult than I anticipated. A lot of gaps needed to be filled in and everything was time sensitive. There were a lot of expectations riding on me to do well, especially having gotten into a prestigious school. It felt like I needed to do well at all these things or else I’d somehow fail.
Thankfully I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. And there is power in numbers.
Now in my senior year, I’ve definitely adjusted and adapted well. If I could give any advice to a first year or a transfer student, it is going to be trial by fire for a little bit. Ask for help if you’re struggling. It’s harder than it sounds but colleges have so many resources to get you the help you need. So reach out.
And for the love of God please get some sleep at least some point in your college career. Trust me, you’ll need it.