“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” – Robert Burns
This line, adapted from a poem by Robert Burns and the inspiration for the title of John Steinbeck’s novel “Of Mice and Men” also applies to college students attending what they believed would be their dream school.
So you’ve spent months (or maybe even years) pining after one particular school. Maybe your parents went there and are eager for you to follow in their footsteps or maybe you simply happened upon it one day and realized you couldn’t see yourself anywhere else. You research the heck out of the school and soon all your friends and family know they can come to you if they have any questions about the clubs, dorms, academics, or even the dining halls at your dream school.
Then you apply and the gods of college admissions are on your side and you are accepted to your dream school! After some happy tears and congratulations from everyone you know, you put in your deposit well before the May 1st deadline. Everything worked out for your “best laid plans” and now all that’s left to do is pick classes for the first semester and do some serious shopping for new school supplies or for your dorm.
Late August or early September rolls around and you are one of the many smiling faces in the freshman class. You move-in, meet your roommate, find out where all your classes are. Before you know it, you’re ready for the first day!
Maybe it happens slowly at first, eager to see the best in things you quickly brush under the rug anything that’s not like what you expected at your dream schools. Maybe your classes aren’t challenging you (or challenging you too much, too soon) or maybe the social scene at your dream school isn’t what you expected. Maybe you go out for the club you were really, really interested in joining and they do not accept you to be a member. Over time these things get harder and harder to ignore and you begin feeling more and more uncomfortable. You begin to realize that your dream school may not be so much of a dream and that’s where things start to go “awry.”
If you come to this realization, first of all, don’t panic. It’s a small comfort but you’re not the first student to realize this and you certainly won’t be the last. Chances are there’s someone in the same dorm building or even on your floor who’s feeling the same way! So take a few deep breaths, find a quiet moment on your own in your room and take time to really think about your situation and what is making you uncomfortable at your dream school.
Figure out if what you do not like at this moment is a fundamental, non-negotiable part of your college experience (academic based) or if it’s something that you can take steps to fix in the coming semesters.
If there is an academic incompatibility and your preferred major is not offered, you can see if there’s something similar offered or if not, look into transferring to a school with your program of study. If it not based on academics and is based more on the social scene or troubles with roommates, there are places to go and people to talk to if you want to work through these issues and your first step may not be transferring.
Many students get to campus and expect to be part of a huge friend group right away and this often seems like the case when friendships are formed fast and loose during orientation week (more out of convenience than anything else). But then the middle of the semester comes and you’re feeling alone. You’re first impulse may be to decide the school isn’t for you and look into transferring. However, the truth is that freshman year very few people have solid friend groups and you’re going to be lonely some of the time, whether it’s eating alone or seemingly having no one to hang out with on a Saturday night. But there are people, potential friends, out there if you look for them! Join a club or get more involved in something you’re already part of (such as your dorm floor or the commuter group on campus) and chances are you’ll be meeting new people easily. And the more new people you meet, the more chances you have to make friends!
And what happens if you don’t find the ideal club or extracurricular on campus that you were looking forward to? One option is to start your own, with a few members and an advisor most schools will let you start your own club based on your unique interests (just make sure to look into the club approval process since it can be a lengthy undertaking but worth it if you have to opportunity to make the campus better for yourself and other similar students).
What do you do when you realize your dream school might not be for you? Most importantly, take a deep breath and take some time to figure out what is bothering you about the school. Realize that it won’t all be perfect (especially the first semester and your first year) as all the endless pamphlets and web resources from the school likely suggested. There will be rough patches and lonely times but they won’t last forever. Try to make the best of your situation but if not, there is always the option to transfer if something really isn’t working at your dream school.