The Best Four Years of Your Life…Or Not

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I came armed for college with a plan. I had a well thought-out class schedule, an assigned roommate and a folder of class syllabi that organized each week’s assignments for the rest of the semester. All my older friends raved that freshman year was the “best year of their lives,” so I’d even created an idealized mentality about the friends I would make and my own future cool-college-girl character. I was going to be a spunky, flannel-wearing, Nalgene-toting, aspiring outdoor-journalist. I imagined myself confidently strutting around campus and making inside jokes with perfect friends at wild college parties.

Despite my expectations, college didn’t magically provide me with new best friends, and it definitely did not *BAM* turn me into cool, earthy and poetic, college girl. My college experience happened to be an adventure in itself full of spontaneity, hits and misses.

The wild parties I’d imagined generally wound up being sweaty, smelly and overwhelming—certainly not life changing. Unlike the hype over these romanticized college parties, most of my college experience actually seemed somewhat insignificant at first glance. However, when I look back, I realize that small and unexpected moments made my college experience quirky and unforgettable.

There was that time when my roommate and I tried to make a snickerdoodle cookie in the microwave but ended up setting off the fire alarm instead. That Halloween when I decided to be a big ole pineapple, while all my friends looked sleek and pieced together in their oddly suggestive minion costumes. That winter when my friends and I spent a week wearing only Christmas sweaters. That stressful night during finals week when my friend and I decided to buy a dozen donuts and proceeded to eat every single one. That carefree night when the same friend and I decided we wanted tattoos, biked to the tattoo parlor and returned with matching, little pine trees tattooed on our ribcages, all within a four hour period.

These spontaneous, goofy moments surprisingly thrilled me more than the crazy, wild parties. They made my college experience remarkable even though they weren’t part of my plan. I can assure you that “be a big pineapple for Halloween” was not on my original college to-do list.

However, I can’t pretend every aspect of my college experience was an unexpected adventure. I always believed I was independent and unstoppable, but there were many unfortunate times throughout my freshman year that challenged this. I was terrified during the middle of the year because I had not found a college “best friend” yet. Some classes beat me. Sometimes I became anxious that I was doing the entire “college experience” wrong. There were periods when I was bad at keeping in touch with my family, and there were nights I cried because I simply missed people from home so much.

Just like the list of bright, cherished memories, I didn’t predict these gloomy days either. They, too, weren’t on my list. They weren’t as fun as fruity Halloween costumes, but the struggles were just as significant to my college experience.

The good and the bad times have both taken me off guard, surprised me and taught me something. Whether it be about my donut capacity or the realization that friendship takes time, each one of these unplanned factors has made my college experience so much more than what I had planned it to be.

Jackie is a junior studying journalism and international studies at UW-Madison. She loves all things outdoors, naps, donuts and cheeseburgers.

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