Four years of college just doesn’t seem like enough when you start counting down the days until you walk across that stage. But graduating early has become pretty common now.
Students come in with college credit galore from any number of programs and graduate in just a few short semesters. Like my friends, I took AP classes and dual enrollment in order to get ahead on my general education credits and save money. I worked so hard in high school that when I got to the University of Florida there was almost nothing left to do. I went in one year, fall of 2015, and now I’m going out the other. I’ve been in college for three semesters and I graduate December 2016.
I have many reasons to be happy. I save a ton of money on tuition by graduating early and I get to start my career immediately. No homework for the rest of my life? Definitely a huge plus. But I also have many reasons to be sad.
After all, I can’t help feeling that my time has been cut short. I don’t want to miss out on the “college experience” by leaving before I even get started. My freshman year was entirely devoted to finding my way. I searched for a minor, stumbled around the huge campus and missed my family more than I thought possible. As an introvert, I struggled to talk to new people and I had a dorm fiasco that ended up being a huge distraction when I had to unexpectedly move off campus due to extra special #roommateprobs. And then, right as I started to adjust, I sent in my degree application. Knowing that I would leave so early after arriving, I found it difficult to get attached to people and my school.
I want to be a songwriter in Nashville and I plan to go there as soon as I graduate. I cannot wait to pursue my dreams—yet very few people seem happy for me. They tell me that I am not ready to be on my own, I’m going too fast, I don’t know what I really want. As a result, I feel unhappy.
Every day I question whether or not I am doing the right thing by leaving school. Many friends have told me to stay, to double major, to network, to get the “real college experience,” but the idea of staying just makes me feel guilty. I know that if I stayed, I would just spend my days stressing over money and yearning for graduation. Maybe I’d get a more “authentic” college experience, but what I really want is life experience.
What is the real college experience anyway? And who is to say that in one and a half years I haven’t experienced it?
The college experience doesn’t have a definition you can pinpoint. There is no common thread to any person’s college journey except that it (usually) results in a diploma. And I am getting my diploma.
A lot of people have made me feel like I am missing out because I didn’t take advantage of everything my school or my city has to offer. I haven’t gone to basketball games, parties, career showcase, charity events or even office hours. It feels like everyday someone presents another activity at UF I did not experience and I proceed to panic because I know there is no way for me to complete the activity before I graduate.
But the truth is, I only convince myself that I need to experience something because others tell me I should. I never wanted to go to any of these big events. I didn’t need to make a million friends. Over the summer, I really looked at my final semester in college. I then made a list of things that I wanted to accomplish before I left. I didn’t listen to what people said I should do and started thinking of what I could do.
The result has been immensely satisfying. Realistically, the chances of me checking off everything on my list are pretty slim. But at least I sorted out what was important to me. For my final semester I began devoting more time to the Florida Players, a student organization full of people I love. I’ve made sure to spend time with the friends I will miss the most through tailgates, impromptu trips to fancy bakeries and board game nights. I also decided to take my final classes with the professors who bring out the best in me, no matter how much reading they require.
Sometimes I can’t help wondering what my one-and-a-half college years could have been. What if I had joined a sorority? Would I have chosen another major? What if I tried different clubs? Still, I’ve learned that wondering “what if” follows you for life if you let it.
It sounds cheesy, but you have to make the most of what time you have and pursue what makes you happy. I cannot wait to start my career in Nashville. I’ll be on my own and pretty far from home. But I know that I belong in a studio—even if I’m just fetching coffee at first. That passion drives me forward, past the regret of spending so little time at my university.
Besides, whether I attended one year or four, I got to be a Gator and that was a truly incredible college experience.