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I Changed So Much In College, And Here’s Why It’s A Good Thing

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Texas chapter.

Entering my freshman year of college, there were so many mountains that looked impossible to climb. I was coming off a senior year of high school entirely online, first of all: my world had been reduced to my parents, my sister, and my dogs, and I was terrified of the idea of living on my own. I remember when I was dropped off, I hadn’t even done a visit to UT before and was shocked I would now be living in the middle of downtown Austin. Who was I going to talk to if I couldn’t go bother my mom or sister? How would I destress after homework without petting my dogs? How would I even feed myself without my mom’s cooking? 

As a peer mentor, I work with freshmen just settling themselves into college life, and it always makes me reminisce. If my freshman-year self could meet themself just two years later, I think she’d be shocked, but also proud.  

I’m on track to graduate in May, and it has me feeling bittersweet about what I’ll miss, but there’s also so much to look back on. So here are some of the biggest things I’ve learned and done — things I couldn’t have dreamed of my freshman year.

I gained the closest friend I’ve ever had — and lost them too. 

Entering college, I had an expectation that these years would make friends that would last me a lifetime. This was a whole lot of pressure I placed on myself, but for a time I was sure I had actually accomplished it. 

When I actually did meet the person who would be my best friend, we didn’t click instantly. I actually spent a lot of my first semester alone. But come spring, something had shifted, and it was like we’d known each other for a lifetime. We were inseparable — sleepovers, trips back home, and our interests intertwined so much that sharing it with each other was more fun than whatever new thing we had thrown ourselves into. We had plans to know each other forever, and I felt so lucky that we had gotten to know each other so well, to the point that they sometimes knew me better than I knew myself.

So you can imagine how I was when it all fell apart.

I’ll spare you the details, but here’s something I didn’t know would be true at the moment: I did survive. I got my heart broken, and I didn’t get closure after it all, but I found my happiness again.

I thought losing that friend would nearly kill me, but since then, I’ve probably had the most new experiences for the better: I have new friends I never expected to find, I’ve gotten myself out there romantically and had new relationships with different people, and I learned that I don’t need to intertwine the things I love and how I love them with someone else for them to be worth loving.

I can just be me; I don’t have to bend to fit the mold of what someone else wants from me. I don’t need that friendship that was so important to me back anymore, but I’m glad I was able to learn that lesson that I probably wouldn’t have discovered for a long time otherwise in the fallout.

Every single one of my career plans changed, and I’m so much happier for it.

I’ve always been an overachiever, so my initial career plan probably isn’t much of a surprise. I used to spend hours staying up endlessly reading pre-med forums and comparing myself to them. There was always a better grade I could have been getting, clinical hours I was missing out on, and a prestigious experience I could add to my resume. I felt endlessly behind and not good enough, no matter what I did, but part of me did love it: I’ve always wanted to help people. I listened to guest speakers who were in medical professions and felt inspired by their stories, I shadowed an OB-GYN and witnessed a birth, and I was hooked. This was what I wanted; I was certain.

 Then last fall, I took organic chemistry. 

The hardest class I’d ever taken in my life was throwing new material at lightning speed. Combined with a mental health intervention that took over that semester, it felt like all I could do in my free hours was study for o-chem; all other classes were thrown to the wayside, and no matter how hard I studied, it felt like the stuff I didn’t know was just piling up, impossible to understand and ready to take down my grade. 

I had never considered another career path for myself. Even when I was little, growing up as the child of a Mexican immigrant from a high-achieving family, there were three classic paths: lawyer, doctor, or technology. It didn’t help that I was the darling of the cousins, especially academically — if any of us were going to follow the path expected of us, it was going to be me.

This ended in me sobbing — literally, sobbing — over my 3rd exam review the night before the test. I wanted to quit and go home, and not just o-chem, but all of it. That version of me that had wanted to be the perfect pre-med student was panicking. O-chem was hard, but medical school was supposed to be harder, and I wouldn’t be a fully licensed doctor until my late 20s. Had I just locked myself into a path that was going to burn me out before it even started?

It took months of back and forth with myself, but I went back to what I had always known: I wanted to help people, and that didn’t need to take the form of being a doctor. That same semester, I’d had multiple psychology professionals listen to me like I mattered and meet me where I was even when I was in the throes of a life-threatening mental disorder, pulling me out of it in what was nothing short of a miracle. So why couldn’t I lean into the psychology degree I was pursuing so I could one day do the same?

With each new psychology class I take and the more I learn about how the entirety of the profession’s research and clinical practice is so dedicated to helping people in the best way possible, I’m more and more convinced that I made the right decision. The graduate school path is more flexible than medical school, and I can start working earlier and have a better work-life balance. Though I had a lot of guilt to work through for not going for the most rigorous and highest-income career, a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and I feel true to myself. 

So what now?

There are many more things I can list that I discovered in college, but I think it’s clear that there’s a common thread to every single one — learning to be true to who I am and kind to myself. I’ve always believed experiences are so important, and with each new lesson I learn through the whirlwind that is college, it rings more and more true.

It’s true that this is the last year for me, but there’s still a whole year left. And I can’t wait to see what I get to do next.

Raissa Cady is a writer and assistant editor for the Her Campus at Texas chapter based at UT Austin. In their second semester with the magazine, they love to write about media she's interested in, including television, film, music & pop culture events. She will also write about topics she is passionate about such as mental health & queer culture, and contribute the occasional personal essay. Beyond Her Campus, Raissa is a 3rd year psychology major with a creative writing certificate. They are the service director for Always Texas, a UT inclusive spirit group, a peer mentor for incoming freshmen, and a research assistant for Project SEED, which works with Mexican children who translate. She will be graduating in the spring and plans to go to graduate school for mental health counseling. In their free time, Raissa loves to spend time with their 3 dogs, go to aerial sling classes, and write fiction, especially her work in progress novels. She's an avid concert goer and weekend movie marathoner.