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What to Do When College Is Not Like The Movies

As a freshman at Vanderbilt, my experience thus far does not align with expectations. Throughout my life, I have carried a pessimistic ritual of “expecting the worst but hoping for the best.” I used this to constrain my tendency to romanticize everything in my life, as these high expectations would always leave me disappointed and discontent. So, why had I allowed the premise of college to change this mindset, and why did it take me so long to understand why I felt disappointed after every weekend that failed to live up to the extreme expectations that I held? 

It comes down to the pressure placed on college to be the best four years of our lives. The repetition of this sentiment made me believe it. I am not saying that college will not be the best four years of my life, but I am saying that this made me design an image of the ultimate experience right away. I was completely naive to the different factors, within and outside of my control that complicates living this utopic college experience.

 For me, college offered an opportunity to reinvent myself and present myself as the person I have discovered I want to be but was too scared to do. Again, college does serve as this opportunity to be someone else, but I found the pressure to reinvent myself and pick a new identity to shift into just as stressful as upholding my high school one. I also underestimated the work of harnessing the courage to explore the person you want to be. 

So, to ensure that this is not confused with a dissertation on the ways Vanderbilt is a disappointment, I want to offer some advice to others that could be dealing with the same self-inflicted disappointment that I faced in the first two months of college. First, do not allow your expectations to get in the way of appreciating your experiences. Just because what you imagined your college experience would be like fails to match your lived experiences does not make those experiences any less valuable and worthy. Secondly, I suggest not discounting the real and sometimes scary actions it takes to change as a person. We view self-development and identity exploration as occurring without human agency. I have learned that it takes work to change who you are and to achieve the identity of who you want to be. It is important not to discount the effort, as that effort will make the final achievement of your best self much more satisfying. 

If you are like me and have found your first few months at college are not what you have always dreamed of- be patient and understand that you are probably living the reality that is right for you. 

Reagan Tyler

Vanderbilt '26

My name is Reagan Tyler, I am an Elementary education and English major. My hobbies include reading, yoga, and finding new coffee shops.