The Unexciting Truth About College

Despite the myth built around the college experience, not every semester can be one for the books.

By Jessinta Smith, Suffolk Community College


If “These are the best times of your life” sounds familiar, then you’re probably in college.

Phrases like “This is where you’ll make friends for life” and “Enjoy it while you can” have become the elevator music of the young adult experience. We’re constantly told, in a myriad of ways, that college is the most exciting time of our lives. The corollary implication, then, is that if we settle into the mundane rigmarole of adulthood before having sewn our exploratory oats, then we’ve wasted our time and money on something short of the complete collegiate experience.

On top of all of the standard pressures students face in college, being pushed into making every semester memorable is another unwelcome expecation. We’re somehow supposed to study, get good grades, move out, develop networks, grow up, get internships and become independent in eight short semesters, while somehow also making “life-long friends” and turning those stress-filled months into the “best years of our lives.”

Or what? No student actually knows what post-grad life looks like, so when a rotating chorus of adults continually paint depressing visions of the future filled with lusterless offices, dull marriages, ungrateful children and self-loathing, the pressure to enjoy our time in college only intensifies.

Why though?

It’s unrealistic to think that every semester you’re going to leave with amazing friends, memories and a professor who changed your outlook on life.

Let’s face it: Most semesters all you do is go to class and go to work, with an occasional outing sprinkled in, but even those are pretty run of the mill. Not every night can be filled with parties and hook ups and lifelong memories.

What no one ever talks about is why we’re somehow unable to make memories after college. Why is that young adults get four lively years and then apparently just send ourselves out to pasture? I’ll only be 21 when I graduate, so if you take average life expectancy into account, that means I’m looking at about 64 years of just muddling around till I finally croak. Unfortunately, there’s a history of longevity in my family (one grandparent lived to 98!), so that saddles me with a potential 77 years of excruciating boredom. Why do our post-grad lives have to be so vanilla? Who made this rule?

A lot of these harbingers of post-grad depression attribute the magic of college to living on campus. Since I live in New York City, I can’t live on campus because there’s no room. Nonetheless, living on campus seems to be a basic prerequisite to “getting the full college experience,” and a lot of colleges even require on-campus residence from students, at least for a year.

On the other hand, campus housing is expensive, and commuting to work in no ways denies you the “full experience.” What’s more: Some people hate the idea of sharing a space with an assigned roommate, so they live at home or get their own place. Others love college and their friends so much that they never want to leave, so they decide to live on campus. Both are fine, both are stressful, and both are equally the “college experience.”

Then there are students who just don’t like college in general. I hated my last semester at school. I hated my professor, the people in my class, getting up early, getting hungry halfway through, how cold it was and even the actual subject matter itself. I made no friends. I was focused on transferring so I didn’t even care about that school anymore, and the only part I liked was leaving to go home. As a result, I felt guilty.

I felt like I wasted a key four months of my life, and the collegiate fomo only added to my stress.

The reality is that some semesters are just boring, or have to be sacrificed to achieve something greater. For some people, myself included, going to college was never just about going to college. When you have the luxury to cut loose and be crazy, somewhere in between the studying and the work and commuting, then you should do so. But for a lot of undergrads college is serious business, which makes caprice a luxury, not an expectation.

There are some semesters where you make a new friend in every class and all your professors challenge you and life is perfect, but turning an exception into an expectation is misleading, not to mention harmful.

The misconception that college is the only time people can have fun ironically causes college to be less fun, because what should be organic becomes forced. Your college experience isn’t always going to be exhilarating—sometimes it will be monotonous and dull—but as long as you’re doing right by yourself, then you’re doing it just fine.