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What Does It Mean to Get the “College Experience?”

todayNovember 9, 2022 31 1 4

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By Celeste Parler
Web Content Contributor

To me, the phrase “college experience” has always been a loaded one. It means so much and yet no one can clearly define everything that entails.

The best way to describe the college experience would be to consider what movies and TV shows make out college to be. You imagine always going out to parties, being with friends, meeting attractive people and from time to time actually getting schoolwork done.

The college experience has always been more than going to an institution to get a degree. It’s about making connections with new people and getting to experience things people never got the chance to do as teenagers. It also emphasizes learning more about oneself and growing into the person someone is meant to be.

However, all of these things are easier said than done. And if anyone is reading this and is either brand new to college or has yet to enroll, know that the concept of the college experience is merely a myth.

If you truly care about earning a degree, no matter what your major is, you will spend hours each week trying to catch up on lectures, homework and major assignments. And you will experience a constant juggling of school, work, maintaining a social life and taking care of your personal needs.

When it comes to my “college experience”, I easily spend at least two to four hours a day on homework and extracurriculars. By the end of my weekdays, I usually end up so exhausted that I can’t prioritize talking to friends, going out or enjoying personal hobbies. And if I do decide to prioritize having fun with friends, it will be at the expense of my schoolwork and my understanding of my classes.

Various school supplies are laid out on a wooden table. There are two open notebooks with school notes and annotating, an open black pencil bag, a green binder, a smaller golden notebook and a pencil and pen.
I spend more time each week in college working toward my degree than having fun with friends.

I wanted to search online to see if anyone had felt the same way I did. Unsurprisingly, there were plenty of current and former college students that believed the myth of a college experience can be harmful. There is too much pressure on students to know exactly what they want to accomplish and then do so while being independent for the first time.

As I mentioned before, the concept of a college experience has always been overwhelming to me. And that has a lot to do with the way I was raised, the values I hold and my toxic habit of comparison.

Whenever I see or hear about people I know enjoying San Marcos nightlife or spending all weekend with friends, it makes me wonder if I am having a good enough college experience. Sure, I’m doing well and enjoying my classes. My mental health has also progressed over the last two years and has, in turn, benefitted my new friendships. But still, I am doing enough to make college worth it?

Starting college in 2020 gives me somewhat of a pass to not have as many fun college experiences as someone who made the most of their freshman year. I didn’t have as many chances to meet new people or have a lot of adventures when the world was most concerned about stopping the spread of COVID-19. I was just told repeatedly by upperclassmen how much more fun college will be once guidelines were reduced.

In the fall of 2021, I began to take advantage of gatherings and events to participate in college life. Live music has always been a love of mine. And now I can experience seeing local bands several times throughout the semester. I’m able to do what I want where I want and on my own terms.

A behind-the-stage view of a band performing at night. A male guitar player, a female vocalist and a male drummer are visible. Blue, green and orange lights illuminate around the stage and performers. Others watch the band from behind.
I’m fortunate to spend time at local shows in San Marcos when I am not completing schoolwork.

Arguably, there are some things I have yet to undergo that some would say limit me from having a “complete” college experience. For example, I have never been to a frat party and never intend to. Any decision I make to exclude myself from certain activities has always been for my well-being, and my friends have always supported the choices I make. I would always rather miss out on something than put myself in a perceived unsafe situation.

Throughout everything, I noticed how much I had changed through my life experiences. It’s been a growing process, but with the help of my therapist and friends, I am learning to only hold onto beliefs and habits that serve me and shed anything that doesn’t. I am probably the most fulfilled and happiest version of myself that’s ever existed. But man, do I still have a long way to go.

Life doesn’t stop after you graduate college. Heck, you don’t even have to graduate to get a semblance of a thriving college experience. As corny as it sounds, a college experience is for an individual to define. No one could ever ask themselves to do everything under the sun to live up to someone else’s expectations of “making the most of college”.

I don’t believe everyone needs a traditional college experience or even to attend college to have a prosperous transition into adulthood. Being surrounded by a reliable support network will do more for living through your early 20s than a piece of paper ever will. For me, I would have never understood what I needed from a support network and what I want out of life without a college experience completely unique to me.

Written by: Hannah Walls

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