I don’t know if anyone has ever phrased college in this way, but it’s probably the best way I could ever describe my experience: a four-year, serious relationship that takes a lot of emotional, mental, and physical effort (for both good and bad reasons) and which takes you on a series of roller coaster ups and downs. And like all great relationships, I came out of it changed for the better. Not all college experiences are like this, but maybe you’ll be able to understand this “relationship.”
Year One: The Honeymoon
Everything is new and exciting – the people, the environment, the culture. It’s scary but worth it. You don’t feel a pressure to focus on the future, you take the time to look presentable (and dare I say attractive?), you are up for any adventure, and most importantly, you’re just happy.
Year Two: The Reality
Coming back from summer break, you’re excited for the year ahead and the potential it holds. You had such a great first year and you’re hopeful the second one will follow suit. Which it will. But not without bends in the road. Change is in the air and reality is setting in. Suddenly you’re aware of how accomplished others are, you’re aware of “the future,” and the “what ifs/should haves/wish I’ds.” You have to deal with these things head on so that they don’t compromise your happiness.
Year Three: The Fixing
Now that you’ve come to realize the things you wish you could change to improve your situation, it’s time to act on those. You have a new wave of determination to not give up and to fight for the life and experience you want. So you try, try, and keep trying. You join new activities, find a new place to live, go to events. And it works out. Taking the time and effort to fix things instead of giving up on them has its merits.
Year Four: The Bliss
Everything is fixed and your happiness is as great as can be, and even better, it’s a deeper happiness than you had during the “honeymoon stage.” It’s a happiness that you worked hard to get and feel. A happiness rooted deep inside you. You amplify this even further by solidifying friendships, passions, and goals so that they’re strong enough and true enough to stick around for the long haul. This is your victory lap. Enjoy every minute of it.
I don’t believe that all good things must come to an end (in fact I believe the opposite), but I do recognize that this is true for college. Enjoy every minute of it because four years goes by quicker than you’d think, and at the end of it, this is what happens: heartbreak. It hurts to leave. It’s scary to leave. And it hurts even more knowing that “it’s time” to leave because it acknowledges that subconscious understanding that you and college just weren’t meant to last forever, no matter how much you loved it. It’s going to hurt for a while, and all you’ll want to do is reminisce and live in the past. But the farther back you reminisce, the farther you are from healing.
So then you remember everything great about your present life, and you remember that the friendships and memories you made in college are yours to keep forever. You remember that the real world doesn’t have as much homework, that the real world gives you the freedom to do what you want, go where you want, and be who you want to be. You remember that your family and friends love you, and that you love who college turned you into. And bit by bit, reminder by reminder, you start to truly feel that YOU CAN DO IT. You can survive this heartbreak and even better, you can learn and grow from it. College is four years of your life, but the impact it has on you is indefinite. Remember that. Be thankful for that. Cherish that. YOU WILL BE OKAY.