People will tell you that your college years are the best years of your life. This is usually said by middle-aged or older adults who hate their jobs and look back fondly on their carefree drinking years of college (or at least that’s the sense I get). The problem is, when you go to college all set for four incredible years that you’ll look back on with a burning nostalgia, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
That’s basically what happened to me. I started at Brown University in the fall of 2006 with the highest expectations. I was going to spend my days with thousands of smart people who loved to learn. I was going to make new friends. I was going to join a ton of extracurriculars, just like I had in high school. I was going to take advantage of Brown’s open curriculum (Brown has no core requirements. As in, zero. Take whatever you want until you pick your major) and learn everything about everything while my non-Brown friends were stuck in first-year required classes at other schools. College life was going to rule.
College life did not rule.
My plans went sour pretty much from the start. That awesome open curriculum that I couldn’t wait for? Yeah, that didn’t work for me. I was presented with hundreds of classes I could take with no direction on what to do. I mean, I had an advisor, but…well, either I didn’t listen to her advice, or it wasn’t useful. Hard to remember which. So I wound up in three classes I hated and one I liked. I ultimately dropped one of the hated classes because it was really a level too high and I never should have signed up.
By the end of first semester, I was already behind by a credit.
And all those smart people I was going to click with instantly? Didn’t happen. As it turns out, freshmen in college like one thing above all else–drinking. Going along with that, they like frat parties and clubs. Well, as someone who doesn’t like to drink and would rather eat a tarantula than go to a frat party, this wasn’t so great for me. I know there were probably plenty of people who felt the same way I did, but it’s tough to meet other introverts. Introverts don’t really assemble very naturally, as you might guess. We were too busy hiding in our dorm rooms.
(It’s worth mentioning that I met my husband freshman year of college, so I wasn’t totally alone. We were together from the start, I just didn’t have the hoards of good friends I was imagining.)
Then there were all those extracurriculars I couldn’t wait to be a part of. In high school, I did FBLA, the literary magazine, my high school’s chapter of Amnesty International, National Honor Society, and volleyball. I was “involved.” So I went to the activities fair at the start of my freshman year of college, and signed up for things, and went to a few meetings…where I felt immediately awkward because I didn’t know anyone (again, introvert) and never went back.
I’d like to say that my next three years of college were infinitely better than the first, but that’s not exactly true. It did get a little better, though. I realized I wanted to be an English major, not a science/math major. +1. Sophomore year, I got a campus job I really liked. +1. Junior year, my then-boyfriend-now-husband and I got an apartment together. +5.
But I didn’t love it. And the worst part about it was, every other Brown student did seem to love it. Brown students consistently get ranked high on some “happiest college students” list, and it seemed like everyone was happy except me. I still kind of blame myself for this, even nearly four years out of college. Did I try hard enough? Should I have made more of an effort to join clubs and meet people? Should I have sucked it up and gone to some parties, hoping to have a good time?
A low point for my view of the school came late junior or early senior year when I applied for some mentorship program. I can’t remember a word I wrote on the application, but I do remember this: I got rejected. I was practically begging them to guide me, to give me some direction toward something, and instead I got a form rejection of sorts.
I wonder sometimes, if I had been happier in college, would I have found writing sooner? I could kick myself for wasting those years trying to find my niche in academia when really, all I needed was a pen and a blank sheet of paper. I guess it didn’t help that I got rejected three times from creative nonfiction classes, my writing samples never strong enough. The third time left me in tears. I went to the second day that the class met anyway, hoping somebody wouldn’t show up so I could get in off the wait list. But everyone did show up, and I just sat there, watching them file in and thinking, That’s a good writer. That’s another good writer. I don’t belong here.
I did take one fiction writing class my last semester (one that you didn’t have to submit a writing sample for, surprise surprise). The lower level creative writing classes at Brown were automatically “satisfactory/no credit,” so you didn’t have to worry about your grade. I wrote three stories for class which I barely remember now. But I do remember checking my final grades for the year and seeing the asterisk next to my grade of “S”–an asterisk that meant pass with distinction.
Being me, I assumed there had been a typo, because the grad student teaching the class couldn’t possibly have thought my writing stood out. So I ignored the grade and didn’t start writing on my own until almost a year out of college, when I was done licking my rejection wounds and realized I didn’t want to work in food service forever.
It’s been almost a three-year journey now, and I finally, finally feel like I’ve found my people. My writer people. People who can’t bear the thought of giving up writing because it feeds their souls. People who would rather read on a Friday night than go out. People who have made-up characters carrying on conversations in their heads. People who understand me.
I’m here to tell you the truth, if you’re in college now or will be in the future: college may not be the best time in your life, and you’re not weird for that. There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re unhappy–you just haven’t found your thing yet. Whether it’s writing or music or science or art, I truly hope that you find it, because there’s nothing else that will make you feel more at home in the world.