You Can Relax if College Hasn't Been Your #BestFourYears

"No, don't get me wrong, I've had a lot of fun, but I've had some of the worst times in my life during college." 

I was floored. Ashley* was the first person I had ever heard admit to having a hard time during college. I was a sophomore at the time, and Ashley was a senior. She was a proud sorority member, but I knew her from another student group. Her social media presence suggested that she had plenty of friends and attended costume parties and other Instagrammable events. I was surprised to hear that she had had "some of the worst times of her life" during college. 

However, Ashley's experience is not uncommon. In an article for Psychology Today, therapist F. Diane Barth notes that among college students, a desire to present a self-confident version of themselves to their peers can make it hard for them to share their struggles with one another. Barth notes that this only hinders students' struggles, increasing feelings of isolation and difference. 

When I had this conversation, I wasn't exactly having the time of my life. I had felt like I was somewhat outgoing in high school, only to find myself in college with just a small fistful of friends. Instead of going out on the weekends, I mostly just did homework and watched Netflix with my roommates. And these feelings of social isolation were just a side dish on top of struggles with anxiety and the stress of paying rent and tuition. 

However, just as Barth notes, the desire to present yourself as #thriving makes it difficult to discuss college struggles with others on campus. And though a simple Google search can reveal dozens of other stories from students who have had difficult times in college, it's easy to feel like you're alone amid the Instagram montage of gameday pics, frat formal photos, and spring break posts. 

If your college experience hasn't been shaping up to be the best four years of your life, however, you're not alone. College forces us to grow up in just a few short semesters and take charge of our lives. For many of us, it's the first time we juggle school and a job. For most of us, it's the first time we are away from the support system we enjoyed at home. And even when college is amazing and transformative and even just plain fun, it's also stressful, emotionally draining, and just plain difficult. 

In the years since my conversation with Ashley, I have taken steps to improve my college experience. I have sought therapy to manage my stress and anxiety. I pushed myself to join a sorority, which both increased my confidence and my connections on campus. Though these steps have greatly improved my college experience, it doesn’t mean I stopped having bad days or bad months or bad semesters. That doesn’t mean that college has been my “worst four years” instead of my best. That doesn’t even mean that college hasn’t been my best four years. What college has been for me, and I think what college has been for most of us, is a time of utter transformation. But transformation is not just taking your dream date to sorority formal or staying up late laughing with your best friends. It’s crying because you didn’t get your first-choice internship and getting your heart broken and fighting with your roommates. And ultimately, it’s this transformation that keys us into what’s missing from the social media portrayal of the college experience: a portrayal of real life.

*Names have been changed. 

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