Letter to the Editor #1: What nobody wants to admit about college

February 24, 2019

The Review provides a forum for student writing and opinion. The opinions, staff editorials and Letters to the Editor contained herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Headmaster or the Board of Trustees of St. John’s School. Staff editorials represent the opinion of the entire Editorial Board. 

If you would like to submit a Letter to the Editor, click here. This first letter is from Emlynn Smith (’16), who is currently a junior at Trinity University. 

Everyone loves to tout that college will be the best four years of their life. What no one wants to admit is that it can also be the worst. As many of you begin to make your decisions on schools, I’d like to impart some knowledge I’ve learned in my first three years of college.

Leaving the St. John’s bubble can be hard. For me, it was almost impossible. I had spent 13 years around teachers and friends I’d known practically my whole life, accustomed to a community with traditions and practices that I loved. As the clock in Senior Country ticked down to 99 days until graduation, my friends cheered at the prospect of beginning college, but I was silently terrified. I was not happy with how my college admissions process had turned out and found myself faking the excitement that so many of my friends seemed to feel.

I placed my faith in the idiom proclaimed by College Counseling: that wherever I ended up was going to be the right place for me. But from beginning of freshman year, things were already going downhill. Here’s the first lesson I learned: Go to class.

I will be the first to admit that I did not, and sometimes still do not, abide by my own rule. During my first semester in college, I developed new anxieties that I did not know how to handle. I chose to give in to them and spend hours in bed rather than attending class. I was told college professors were not understanding and would not care about me like my teachers at St. John’s had. Depending on where you go to school, this may be the case, but it never hurts to communicate. Thus, my second lesson: Communicate.

Tell your parents you had to drop a class. Tell your professors you didn’t come to class because you were having a panic attack. Tell your advisor you’re overwhelmed in picking the right classes to put you on track with your major. Tell your friends you are feeling anxious. There is no such thing as over-communication. You will be surprised at how many people are in the same boat, so don’t be afraid to be honest.

There are people who will adapt to the college experience perfectly, find their best friends, love their major and never want to leave. I was not one of those people. I felt jealousy towards these people and resentment towards my school and the choices that I had made. I’m a second-semester junior and only finally feeling comfortable in my environment. And that’s okay.

While you will live in a dorm, apartment building or sorority house with hundreds of other people your age, college can be an exceedingly lonely and isolating environment. There were days when I would go from morning until night without a meaningful interaction with another person. During midterms and finals, this could turn into a whole week. So lesson number three is twofold: Either learn to enjoy your own company or force yourself out of your own world.

I found it easier to do the first, but I would say it depends on your community. Going out with my friends every night often felt like disingenuous fun, but staying home and watching Netflix felt lonely and smothering. Find what works for you and stick to it. You’ll quickly learn that in college, you are your own worst enemy. There is no Mother’s Desk auditing your class attendance, no progress reports to tell Mom you’re failing a class, no set meal times filled with an abundance of healthy food. It’s easy to succumb to these habits and create a world of problems for yourself; I know I did.

What is perhaps the hardest lesson to learn is to be your own advocate. Fight for your own best interests. This doesn’t mean you have to get all A’s, have perfect attendance or join every extracurricular. It means that in the face of adversity, you face your problems head-on. Don’t let things get out of control.

Lastly, a piece of contradictory advice. The choices you make now do matter, so make good ones. One too many absences could cause you to fail a class, which will affect your GPA. If you aren’t sure what career you want to pursue, choose a major that interests you. If you are sure of the path you want to take, finish all your required classes before any electives. Plenty of lawyers weren’t pre-law, many businessmen and women were English or foreign language majors. It’s simple advice, but it’s advice I never heard. College is hard and it’s scary and you might not feel how you’re told you should. This is normal. You will figure it out.

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