We hear from our parents what college is like: frat boys-turned-fathers wince with chagrin when asked how their freshmen years went—memories of pledging flitting through their pregnant consciences like so many suds-soaked ping pong balls. Mothers, once the daughters of free love and feminism, will reminisce with an all too indulgent smile.
We learn from the media what college is supposed to be like. We are fed the tired conceptions of the Ivy League in its entire stuck-up splendor and the community college, overcrowded and under-appreciated.
We flip through colorful brochures that would have us believe every campus is continually sunny and that each student is allocated a tree under which to read. We get glimpses and caricatures of this separate world, but rarely an honest look at what college life is really like. Graduating high school seniors are inclined to think of college as some promised land, one keenly yearned for after four grueling years in the desert of social confidence we call high school; we envision college to be everything we wanted out of high school, be it a more intellectually rigorous atmosphere or a party school, but we rarely anticipate the reality of the matter.
Coming into the close of my freshmen year, I think I can comment on my small experience, though I cannot pretend to be imparting any sage wisdom. College is neither the bookworm introvert, nor the incorrigible carouser—neither the quiet night in the library, nor the one you can’t remember in the morning: it is both.
Like all situations you’ll find yourself in, you choose how you spend your time; like most situations, it is important to find balance. The beautiful thing about living away is that wherever you find yourself, you have the option to do both. There is as thriving a social scene at any ivy or small liberal arts college as there is an intellectual core at a large state or community college. What’s more, no matter where you end up, you’ll have to actively participate in both spheres in order to get the most out of your education. If you don’t maintain your average, you’ll be expelled, and if you don’t maintain a social life, you’ll be miserable.
Not much actually changes from high school to college, save a broader span of personal freedoms and a more diverse swath of peers. What makes freshmen year especially exciting is the prospect of learning greater self-sufficiency while at the same time meeting people that make you think more deeply about the world around you. In short, college is the door by which most people enter the real world—it is the liminal stage between adolescence and adulthood where you are given many of the advantages of independence with little of its responsibilities.
How one decides to take advantage of this is a matter of personal preference. You can choose to skate by on a 2.0 and wreck your liver just as easily as you did in high school; you can choose to triple major with honors and never see anything but the inside of the library; the only difference is that you don’t have your parents to come home to every night, judging your decisions. What you do rests on your own shoulders. You must reap the benefit or suffer the consequences of your actions in a more direct way than before. It is an intimidating prospect, but one that can be wonderfully freeing.
This article is sponsored by a generous donation from M&S of Pawling. http://www.mandsofpawling.com/