An Open Letter To Underclassmen: Don't Wish Your College Years Away

Dear underclassmen, 

As the semester comes to a close, I can imagine that you’re feeling overworked and most likely nervous as finals week approaches. Whether it’s a cumulative exam or semester-long project that you’re stressing about, take it from me — a senior who has been in your shoes time and time again — you’ll probably do just fine. 

I know how it is, though. In the meantime, you’ll spend these next few weeks dreaming of warmer weather and summer break, wishing that you could just hit a fast-forward button and be done with school for the year. 

But be careful what you wish for.

You’d think that having less than two weeks of school left ever would be something to look forward to. After all, who wouldn’t wish for this exciting milestone after so many years of hard work? Yet here I am, on the brink of graduation without concrete plans for the future, or any certainty of when I’ll ever see my college friends again, wishing for nothing more but to rewind the clock.

student carrying books Photo by Javier Trueba from Unsplash

Yes, it’s cliché to be told time and time again that your college years will be some of the best of your life and to not take the experience for granted. It’s been drilled into my head repeatedly, too. Whether the advice is given from older relatives, or friends that have already launched post-graduate careers, it’s all the same.

What no one seems to talk about, however, is how to actually put this advice into practice. Especially when life away at college can become difficult and/or even excruciating at times. How do you live in the moment when you’re so desperately wishing for a moment to pass?

I remember dreading the thought of living on campus as a freshman. Now, given the COVID-19 restrictions implemented on so many campuses across the country, I can’t even begin to imagine what the class of 2024’s experience was like in light of social distancing and mask-wearing. In this regard, it can be hard to find a light at the end of the tunnel.

But the way I see it, that’s the very beauty of college: for the most part, these four years are almost entirely what you make of it. So no, I don’t sit here years later and long for the communal bathrooms I shared with more than 20 girls on my dorm floor or wish that I could be dining at on-campus buffets again.

Coming to this realization isn’t immediate. Having a shift in mindset or reframing your mentality is much easier said than done, but I’ve found that relying on my coping mechanisms, confiding in friends, and even calling my mom on the phone sure makes the tough times a little more bearable. As a writer, I’ve always kept journals throughout my time in college, so now I can look back and measure how my current life is different from where I was years ago. If you’re not a writer, perhaps going on a run, taking up a new hobby or throwing yourself into schoolwork will bring you solace, or at the very least, distract you from the negative emotions you may be feeling.

Now when I pass by my old dorm, I instead think about all of the “firsts” that my roommate-turned-lifelong-best friend shared. In retrospect, I’m thankful for those uncomfortable circumstances freshman year. In fact, every single experience — the good, the bad, and even the ugliest ones — have led me to where I am today. 

It feels like yesterday that I was in your shoes, trapped in the confines of a small dorm room and being utterly ready to upgrade from communal bathrooms. It feels like yesterday that I trudged to the dining hall for every meal, only to be disappointed with the soggy chicken and flavorless pasta that was served daily. It feels like yesterday that I patted myself on the back for surviving my very first year of college. 

People sitting at table with laptops and laughing Photo by Brooke Cagle from Unsplash

Throwing yourself into a new environment, with new people, and facing new challenges will not always be comfortable. But I can almost guarantee that doing so does get easier in time. 

As you embark on the rest of your college years, don’t wish this time away. Savor every night spent in a sweaty frat basement, remind yourself that it’s okay to take a break when pulling an all-nighter for an exam, and most of all: spend time with people that make you feel supported and happy. Don’t wish for this time to pass too soon because before you know it, you’ll be walking across that graduation stage.