College Might Not Be the Best Four Years of Your Life

If you're anything like me, you've been hearing about college most of your life. “It’ll be the best four years of your life” is a statement you heard constantly. And it's something I truly believed. All 13 years of schooling had led to this. All 18 years of my life had led to this. I worked hard to make it to college and now it was going to be “the best four years of my life.”’ It had to be. Right?

I honestly never thought that I was going to have a rough transition. Call it naive or whatever you want to, but young Chandani never saw it coming. So when it did (and it came strong), she wasn’t prepared. I feel like part of what made my transition rough was this expectation that I was supposed to be having the time of my life even though I moved across the country to a place where I knew nothing and no one. I discovered Wawa and when trying to order, was directly pointed to their self-serve kiosks without a word (if I could put in a laughing emoji here I would). I smiled at people and received dirty looks. My first experiences at Penn and its surroundings were very different from the way things were in California. During those moments, the realization that I wasn't home anymore set in. The following months would be hard. I missed my family. I didn't feel like I fit in. My grades weren’t the best. And I was sad.

Initially, I viewed college as the opportunity to become the person I wanted to be. I would be able to be free of the way people viewed me and expected me to behave back home. College was going to be a liberating time, full of fun, laughter, and happiness. I was going to take college by storm with good grades and the best extracurriculars possible. When I got to college and it didn't turn out the way I expected, I had a really hard time.

One thing that contributed to the rough transition was the pressure I put on myself that came from my expectations of what college was supposed to be like. I was supposed to be having the best time and making the best friends and strolling down Locust Walk with the sun out. So why wasn’t I having fun? Why wasn’t I thriving? Why didn’t I love college when I was supposed to? I put so much pressure on myself to have a good time and when I wasn’t, I felt like I was somehow failing at college and wasting the sacrifices my family had made to get me to Penn. It took me so long to let go of the expectations about college that were ingrained so deeply within me.

The expectation that college will be the best four years of our lives can be damaging when it turns out to not be true. It can make one’s experience feel worse than it really is. It can make it feel like if you're not having the best time ever, you're an anomaly. But you're not alone and it's okay. I really cannot stress this enough. It is okay and it will be okay. I’m someone who hates the fact that being alone is so… lonely. So, it's truly comforting to know you're not alone and to know that these expectations do not have to be met because college will be different for everybody.

It also doesn’t make sense to say that college will be the best four years of our lives if we have so much ahead of us. Many of us start college at 18 years old. And if we finish in four years, we end at 22. Hopefully, we have many decades ahead of us and if so, it is unfair to say that these four years of our youth have to be the best. Who’s to say our 40’s won't be great?! Who’s to say it's all downhill from here? We have a tendency to associate adulthood and aging with negativity. I don't want to get any older. This is something I struggle with too, but we have to stop believing that with aging, life gets worse. We have so much life ahead of us and so much possibility that it would be an injustice to say that all of our peaks occur before our mid-twenties.

College may very well be the best four years of your life! And if so, that’s amazing! But this can be a dangerous norm to perpetuate. No one should feel shame if they aren’t having the best four years of their life or suffer from the added pressure of these expectations. College and life itself is hard enough on its own. Managing expectations can be key to processing one’s own experience as well as taking control of one’s own narrative. College should be something we define for ourselves and romanticizing the idea of it can deter that from happening.