Many students, most likely due to the mythical aura that surrounds college for those who have not yet experienced it – prolonged by the countless Hollywood dramatizations (see Neighbors, Animal House, National Lampoon, etc.) – develop a consequently misinformed and exaggerated idea of what exactly college will entail. They look forward in awe of the drunken, party lifestyle they will live for the next four years, or alternatively dread the moment they are forced to live in a pig-penned hall with drooling and smelly beasts. Either way, the conception is a twisted one – and something that needs to be fixed.
So getting right into the dispelling of rumors (whether this leaves you disappointed or relieved), the atmosphere exhibited via movies like Neighbors and Animal House may be the atmosphere you find yourself in on occasion – two or three weekends throughout the course of the school year. For those that actually live this lifestyle on a regular basis, they usually drop out within the first two years. It’s just not sustainable. So while that element of college may certainly be present and available on occasion, it isn’t the commonly accepted lifestyle. College is not this hedonistic fun zone of unlimited passion and wish-fulfillment. That’s Hollywood.
I had no idea what to expect when I first moved my things into my dorm room. But after two full years under my belt, I now have what I believe to be an adequate way of describing the mythical college experience. College is like the previous eighteen years of your life if both the highs and the lows were more pronounced, more severe in degree. You’ll experience great triumphs and distressing downturns, all of which, at least in my experience, serve to be more riveting and moving than those that came in the years prior.
Why is this the case?
For starters, it is the classic “being away from home” conundrum. Whether it was a best friend, your parents, or a favorite local coffee shop that you went to back home when you were caught in an untimely situation, you become physically cut off from those people and places when you first enter college (assuming you aren’t commuting and move far enough of way). This fact exaggerates the lows you’ll go through in college. You need to find new people to go to, new places to inhabit, and new ways to deal with pain and stress. So at least for the first year, every uncomfortable happenstance seems worse than it did during the high school years. It comes down to sheer familiarity and unfamiliarity.
Then there are the successes. With a newfound independence and personal autonomy and accountability, every little triumph seems to matter a little more. At the same time you become more responsible for mundane, every day decisions – like when and if to do your laundry and what to eat for lunch – that truly leave your personal success, health, grades, and attitude up to you (or at least more in your agency than they were in high school when you had more people looking out for these things). Add to this agency a new set of friends – friends that you live with for that matter – to share with you in the ultimate joy of life, and it is easy to see why the highs become steadily more pronounced as well. It’s a strange mix of isolation and newfound friendship and community that come together for this novel phenomenon.
Of course there are countless intricate little explanations as to why our peaks and troughs of life become more observable and pronounced, not just in college but steadily as we continue to age, but those can perhaps only be efficiently conveyed through experience. This is the outline in its brevity, and though perhaps less exciting than the Hollywood-esque myths painted by our favorite movies, more closer to reality and genuinely more intriguing and fulfilling to live out once we get there. It’s just another step along the way.