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Feeling Let Down After Romanticizing College? You’re Not Alone

As high school graduation creeps closer, one thing many students fantasize about is college. A daunting and exciting period, college brings the freedom people dream of in high school yet still allows the space to figure out what the hell to do in life. It’s the perfect little bubble between childhood and adulthood — something people constantly tell younger generations to savor.

So, after hearing how amazing college is from older friends and relatives, it’s natural to romanticize the experience a bit. It’s easy to think of college as the happy ending to your coming-of-age movie: A beautiful dorm, tons of friends, lots of parties — and, oh yeah, a bit of schoolwork. And it’s just as easy to feel let down once you start school, realizing it’s a lot more complicated than the movies.

After graduating high school in 2020, I certainly lived through this in my two years of college, and I feel myself doing the same thing as I start my third. It’s like I’m forgetting about all the annoying, difficult parts of college (ahem, 8 a.m. classes). And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way

On TikTok, college students have made a trend out of sharing that they’ve romanticized college only to be hit with a wave of stress come October. The TikToks come in many forms, but most start with a student expressing their excitement to return to school, followed by a statement or photo about how stressful school actually is. Some users have made a second, similar trend using Monsters University, joking that they don’t remember Mike and Sully enduring such annoyances in the movie.

This phenomenon is just as strong for incoming freshmen, if not stronger. Even when older students warn first-years about some of the struggles they may face, it’s often overshadowed by an exclamation of how fun college is. This leads some freshmen to feel surprised when they encounter struggles like living in dorms far away from their classes, or finding it hard to make friends.

To all the college students who are guilty of romanticizing college, only to arrive at school and realize it’s not what they pictured: I feel you. The truth is, a lot of college is stress, hard work, and newfound annoyances like errands or bad roommates. It’s no wonder that, in a 2019 study by the American College Health Association, 87% of college students said they feel overwhelmed by all of the tasks they need to complete. Also (and there’s no sugar coating this one), college student anxiety rates have been rising at hundreds of colleges across America, according to a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders that examined students from 2013 until 2021. 

So, how do you overcome romanticizing the college experience? Remember to not take class too seriously. For a lot of students, the degree is all that counts — but after spending the week huddled over your notes, it’s okay to take a couple nights off. And if classes are tough, it’s important to make sure you’re enjoying your major to some degree. All of these factors can help you return to the idealistic vision of college you’d once imagined.

You’ll never be in this in-between stage again, so may as well take advantage of being a student while it lasts. In a lot of ways, there’s no fault in romanticizing college — when else will you be in close proximity to the majority of your friends, having the freedom of an adult but not all of the responsibilities? Trust me on this one: Your time in college will go by in a flash, and you’ll miss every moment once it’s over.

Abby is a National Writer for Her Campus and the Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus at Waterloo. As part of the Wellness team, she covers topics related to mental health and relationships, but also frequently writes about digital trends, career advice, current events, and more. In her articles, she loves solving online debates, connecting with experts, and reflecting on her own experiences. She is also passionate about spreading the word about important cultural issues such as climate change and women’s rights; these are topics she frequently discusses in her articles. Abby began producing digital content at BuzzFeed, where she now has over 300 posts and 60 million overall views. Since then, she has also written for various online publications such as Thought Catalog, Collective World, and Unpacked. In addition to writing, Abby is also a UX and content designer; she most frequently spends her days building innovative, creative digital experiences. She has other professional experiences ranging from marketing to graphic design. When she’s not writing, Abby can be found reading the newest Taylor Jenkins Reid book, watching The Office, or eating pizza. She’s also been a dancer since she was four years old, and has most recently become obsessed with taking spin classes.