I started my college journey in 2005, right after high school and enlisting in the Army Reserves. In high school, I made decent grades easily but never really needed to push myself. I understand now that failure isn’t always a negative word, experience comes from failure. College presented more of a challenge than I expected and I started making some very poor decisions. I learned these lessons the only way I know how…the hard way.
Pay attention in class and do your homework
This seems so simple and obvious, but skipping class proves the gateway to bad habits. First semester, I went to every class, did my homework, studied and did well. Straight As. It seemed easy! That spring I traveled to Germany for training with the Army and there I made the decision to try alcohol for the first time. With no concept of “genetic predisposition to alcoholism” then, my grades started to suffer almost immediately upon return as I now started to care more about drinking and partying than I cared about going to class or studying.
Keep partying within reason
Almost as much a part of the college experience as overpriced textbooks, understand that alcohol and other substances affect us in more ways than we can imagine, especially in the long term. You would be surprised how fast your priorities can shift, spinning you into a situation you never imagined. By my third semester, I knew that I could not finish school. I spent more time at home drinking than I did in class. I gave up. I marched down to the Army recruiting office, switched over to full-time active duty, and shipped off to Fort Bragg. I didn’t worry about school anymore. My Army career took me to new and exciting places, though problems with alcohol followed me throughout.
Manage your time (and expectations)
Just as important as managing your time, you need to manage your expectations. It took me years to realize the true amount of time and effort it takes to complete a college course. After serving five years active duty, I finished my time in the Army, returned home to Pennsylvania and re-enrolled back at Penn State, convinced this time would turn out different. I vowed to attend all my classes and do all my homework. I failed to manage my expectations. After a regimented military lifestyle, freedom went straight to my head. I went even harder into even more substances, stopped going to class, lost my GI Bill, got evicted from my apartment and my truck got repossessed. Luckily, my friends swooped in to save me.
Spend time with people important to you
When I lost my apartment and wound up nearly sleeping outdoors, it was through the grace of friends that I got saved. Sleeping on a mat in a basement sounded better than sleeping in the streets. I moved back in with my parents for a while and worked various jobs before making it out on my own again. By age 30, I got myself clean and sober and decided I wanted to finish what I started. With a contingent of supporters and cheerleaders telling me that I made the right choice and lending me support, this helped me realize something.
It’s never too late to give it another shot
Most students will find college a big reality check. College goes beyond what you study and learn in class. It’s about sticking out the long haul, keeping committed to a goal, and building networks and relationships with like-minded people. When I re-re-enrolled, for the third time, I felt apprehensive but determined. After the Army, I drifted from job to job for years with no goals or motivations. Even after I got sober, it took years to really find myself and figure out what I wanted to do. Now, for the first time, maybe in my entire life, I am following a calling: something that I know I want to pursue professionally. Life threw another curveball at me and I suffered the loss of a very close friend only just last year.
This only hardened my resolve to see it all through to the end.
I explored college for longer than most, experiencing the unorthodox. This summer, I plan on finally graduating at the tender age of 36. I plan on pursuing a full-time writing career. Ideally in the video games journalism sphere, writing feature scripts or on a staff for TV production.