As I sit here in the form of a wise nineteen year-old college student (please tell me you sensed that sarcasm) watching our high school interns go through the admissions process and our freshmen writers go through the college assimilation process, it brings me back to all the things I wish I’d known just 1-2 years ago.
And here it is for all of you.
Dear 17 year-old Lily,
1. You will be totally, 100%, absolutely fine. Chill out.
2. Where you go to college says nothing about your life trajectory. Plenty of Ivy League kids have amounted to absolutely nothing, and plenty of community college students have been extremely successful. And there’s a whole spectrum in between those two bookends. Measure success on your own terms, not somebody else’s.
3. Thank goodness you never read that cesspool, College Confidential. It’s a hot mess over there.
4. People will not know what Wesleyan is. That doesn’t make it a bad school; it just illustrates that people are ignorant about higher education. That’s on them, not on you. And it’s always all right to educate people.
5. People say this but don’t really think about it: College is what you make of it. Reflect on that before you go.
Dear 18 year-old Lily,
1. As the great Seneca said, you take yourself with you wherever you go. However, as the fantabulous Joss Whedon said, don’t just be yourself; be all of your selves. Putting these two great pieces of wisdom together, remember that you take all of your selves wherever you go. Just because your surroundings change doesn’t mean all of your problems will be gone. If you’re an angry, negative person, moving somewhere else for college won’t change that.
2. Building on that, going to college isn’t a panacea for your life’s ills. You will still have moments of unhappiness, anger, disgrace, confusion, exclusion, and a Pandora’s box of other emotions. There is no magical elixir; there’s only hard work, self-reflection, and a willingness to keep moving forward. And remember the importance of self-advocacy. People can help you with 100% of the problems you tell them about; they can help you with 0% if you don’t speak up. It is not the University’s responsibility to intuitively know when you’re upset; but they should most definitely be able and willing to help you if you reach out.
3. Despite what pop culture tells us, college is not great all of the time. People are still people, and therefore they can totally suck at times and be absolutely wicked awesome at other times. There will still be nights of loneliness and moments of sorrow (cue me playing Ingrid Michaelson’s version of “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” whilst crying in my room at 1:30 in the morning). But that’s not because college is hard; that’s because life is hard.
4. Understand the difference between having issues with a college and having issues with yourself. Too many students think of transferring because they “don’t like their school”; however, upon further investigation, the problems they have with their campuses are really just internal issues. Not liking your college’s academic environment is a reason to transfer; being upset because the people in your single dorm hall are jerks isn’t.
5. Every college has problems. The grass will always be greener on the other side until you actually get there and realize that the administration is in fact spray-painting the grass to make it look green. Underneath, it’s really just as brown as the previous grass, only in different places.
6. Everyone in college will be just as confused, tired, and freaked out as you. That’s not an opinion; that’s a fact. You are never quite as alone as you think you are. Talk about how you feel. You’ll be surprised at how many people open up when you do.
7. Feeling uncomfortable and feeling unsafe are two completely different animals. Don’t confuse the two.
8. College is the first time when you feel like you have choices. Choose to be happy. The rest of the decisions you need to make become a lot simpler.