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Beware common myth of College Experience

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When you go to college it seems like every person you encounter has some trite piece of advice to offer you, like “these will be the best years of your life” or “make sure you get involved.” My favorite, though, is when people talk about “The College Experience.” What does that phrase even mean? It’s something frequently cited, and it is treated as this American Dream-esque goal that, once you find it, will grant you perfect happiness and fulfillment throughout your college years. An experience shared by students across America breeding stories to tell younger generations about “the best years of your life.” The whole concept of “The College Experience” is flawed from the start, beginning with the fact that there is not one singular way to achieve success and happiness in one’s college years. Every person finds his or her own way, a path that is different from every other student’s who has crossed a campus. There is also fault in calling one’s time in college “the best years of your life,” as if once college is over it’s all downhill from there. There will be some great moments in college and some terrible ones. Moments of complete bliss and of utter devastation, just like every other time in one’s life. To imply that college is a perfect four years of joy, is misleading and disappointing for every student who will find it to be otherwise.

For most students just starting at Carnegie Mellon, this is the first time that have been thrown together with students just as smart, just as motivated, and just as talented as they are. The students here are incredibly passionate about what they do and it easy to feel overwhelmed, overlooked, and left feeling like you some how are not “good enough” to be here. There is a lot of pressure on this campus to do more and to be more. People want to know what you will be doing in the future, how many units you are taking now, and how many activities you are involved in, and will tell you on the next breath how they are doing more.

The stress culture that exists at Carnegie Mellon is not something to be dismissed. Students will brag about how many units they are taking, how little sleep they get at night, and how their day is so packed they don’t even have time to eat, as if starving yourself and depriving yourself of sleep is a sure pathway to success. It is something that is so easy to get swept up in. It is easy to fall into the trap of overworking yourself when you are surrounded by people who are doing the same. You have to take care of yourself. You cannot succeed in anything if you do not first make time to make sure that you are healthy; mentally, physically, and emotionally. Don’t be afraid to admit to yourself that you may need to take a step back or that you need help.

It’s okay to feel lost and scared going off to college; it’s an enormous change in anyone’s life. You need to be true to yourself and take care of yourself. You cannot help yourself if you don’t know yourself. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, honest, and open to the world. It’s scary, especially because before coming to college most students have lived in this world they have known since childhood, surrounded by people who know one version of them, which may or may not be the truest version of themselves. It is terrifying to bear your soul and show the truest version of yourself to the world, but it is the only way for you to discover the person you really are.

After completing your freshman year, you will not have erased every remnant of yourself and be this new person who is unrecognizable from your former self in every way, yet it cannot be denied that college changes you. Those changes come through self discovery. They do not come from throwing away everything that has made you you up to this point, but from embracing the true version of yourself and allowing yourself to grow into that person.

Don’t be disillusioned into believing that there is some formula for how to go through college. There is some truth that exists in clichéd advice people will give you — after all, they are clichés for a reason — but in the end “The College Experience” is not some stock term that can be applied to any student; it is not a crazy fun time the whole way through, nor is it four years of homesickness and loneliness.

College is simply a new chapter in your life that will have some good times and some bad. For most students it is their first time living alone, the opportunity to live as an independent adult. It is an adventure; be open to the journey.