As an incoming college freshman, I remember being told time and time again: “you’ll love college,” “college is the best four years of your life—it’ll fly by so be sure to savor it.”
Coming into my first year at Tufts, I had high expectations. I was going to have new amazing best friends. I was going to enjoy my newfound independence and have new exciting experiences without the actual burden of being a “real adult.” Three months into college, I have had all of these expectations met. I absolutely love Tufts, the new people I’ve met here, and the incredible opportunities that Tufts offers.
However, my relatively short time at Tufts has given me a lot to reflect on in regard to how expectations shape the college experience. I have noticed that whereas students have lower expectations for high school, students have higher expectations for college. Having such high expectations can however be pressuring and misleading.
Reflecting on my high school years, I remember that many students complained about how they “can’t wait to get out,” and how college will be “so much better.” Although the majority of my time in high school was enjoyable, I myself echoed these popular opinions when things weren’t going my way.
On the other hand, it was difficult to hear any negative opinions about college as a high school student. People don’t heavily advertise the fact that you might miss your family while away at school. They don’t tell you that it takes time to find your real friends and that you will feel a bit lonely at some point. The extensive college admissions process that high school seniors go through also reinforces high expectations for college. It takes a lot of research, college tours, essay writing and stress over big decision making to land yourself at your chosen school. On top of this, people encourage you to have high expectations for college. In my 8th grade, my favorite teacher wrote in my yearbook: “you will do well in high school but you will LOVE college.” These words followed me to college and at times in Tufts when I am stressed, tired or miss home, it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like I am failing at living the best four years of my life.
In my first few months at Tufts, I have had my ups and downs, where at one moment I think college is the best thing ever and at another I feel stressed and homesick. In one low moment, I even felt like I made the wrong college choice. It took me some time to realize that Tufts isn’t the source of my unrest. It’s just life with its constant ups and downs. When I was down in high school, I didn’t blame my school for my unrest—I acknowledged that that’s just how life goes.
So why is this so much harder to do in college? When I look back happily at my time in high school I don’t think of the times when my parents drove me crazy or when I was stressed over physics. Similarly, when I look back on my first semester, I think of happy times with good friends and the new feeling of independence that I’ve come to appreciate, rather than my missing home and feeling a little lonely at times.
Loving college doesn’t mean that you have to love every second of it—that would be impossible. I don’t think it’s healthy to look at any part of your life as something that will be a peak. Those kinds of expectations are sure to lead to unnecessary feelings of failure and self-doubt.
So, if you’re like me and felt pressure to be “thriving” in college constantly, just remember that it’s (usually) not the fault of the college itself when you’re in a less happy moment. Life can’t be 100% happy. You can’t have happy times without some tough ones because then there would be no standard of comparison. That’s how college works because that’s how life works.
Although I’m not even done my first semester of college, I am pretty sure that when I graduate from Tufts I will have loved my four years here. I am sure that they will fly by and that I will look back at my experience fondly. However, I hope Tufts is not the best four years of my life. I hope college isn’t anyone’s best four years because I would hope that the next 4, 40, and 80 years after that are also overall amazing. No part of your life should be lived with the expectation that it will be the best because this mindset will just hinder your experience.
With that being said, new incoming first years should forget about their expectations, and face college with a positive but reasonable attitude. You’ll be sure to make some great memories to carry with you into your post-college life. A life where your best years are absolutely not behind you.