Coming to College From Boarding School

For as long as I can remember, I have been told that college is the best four years of your life; the most amazing collection of memories you’ll make as a young adult. My perception of the experience resulted from a conglomeration of wild party scenes I’d watched in movies and TV shows, crazy stories I had heard friends’ older siblings subtly boasting about, and the occasional Snapchat story that that one senior I was friends with as a freshman put up in her first few weeks at college. My warped perception was even further skewed when, as a boarding school student, I was continuously told how similar the two places where, and that I would have little difficulty adjusting as I was “already basically in a mini version of college.”

Having completed the majority of first semester, I can firmly conclude that this is not at all the case. This is not to say that the beginning of my freshman year has not been an exciting, enjoyable, learning experience; rather, it is an attempt to reroute the expectations of other boarding school seniors who will soon go into their freshman year of college with the impression that they will not have any difficulty adjusting.

I attribute part of this faulty premonition to the fact that because boarding school and college are so similar conceptually, their differences are actually accentuated. For example, yes, I’ve lived in a dorm for four years already and am used to having to use a fraction of the amount of water pressure necessary to rinse the conditioner out of my hair. That being said, I lived in a dorm environment loaded with rules of every kind: when I was allowed to shower, when my bedtime was, who was allowed in my room, and even when my wifi was turned on and off. Not to mention, I lived with my teachers! Because of this, living in a dorm without an ~actual~ adult and without the presence of all of these rules I was so accustomed to was arguably weirder for me (and other boarding school graduates) than it was for someone who had just spent the past four years living in the comfort of their own home, in a situation far different.

The other part of this perception stems from basing future experiences on past ones. If you went to boarding school, that means you were a part of an extremely close-knit and interdependent community. In addition to being smaller, boarding schools are targeted towards the growth of the child into a young adult; after all, you start there at age fourteen. Many boarding school students meet their best friends in the first month of freshman year, and their friend group remains relatively unchanged throughout their high school experience. If this is your expectation going into college, you’re automatically going to face some difficulties. It’s definitely not as easy to meet people and you have to put yourself out there a little more than you had to on your small New England campus of relatively homogenous faces and personality types.

My main point is to emphasize the importance of managing your expectations. I believe that one of the pitfalls of repeatedly being told how great of a time you will have is that when you get there and don’t have an amazing time the very first week, you feel like you’re doing something wrong. Not to mention, social media only portrays the best parts of everyone’s experiences, so scrolling through your instagram feed to gauge your happiness level against that of your high school friends will only make you feel more isolated. Having spoken to a handful of older college students, my main takeaway is that first semester is not all that great; it’s a time to put out some feelers, figure out your routine, and slowly but surely find your people. While this is SO understandable and seems to make so much sense once someone says it, it’s not at all what you’re told going in. The problem lies there. I think people need to be more open and willing to talk about how first semester is never anyone’s favorite, because this way incoming freshman won’t have as high expectations for their initial experiences. If someone had simply told me that it might take a little bit longer to feel comfortable than it did in high school, I doubt I would have been as shocked when, midway through October, I still found myself wondering why, whenever I went home, college felt like a weird dream that never actually happened.

We are so lucky to be able to live such crazy and entertaining lives now where college might not be the most insanely fun four years in comparison to many other great ones. That being said, it’s still a uniquely transformative and unanimously enjoyable experience, and it is important to give it time to become this.