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College Doesn’t Have to Be the Best Years of Your Life

Let’s reframe the way we view our college years

With the holiday season upon us, I find myself hearing my relatives repeating the phrase:

“College is the best years of your life, enjoy it while you can”

Of course, they mean well when they say this. Maybe it is the advice they would have liked to have heard when they were my age. Yet, every time they say it, it never sits quite right with me. Don’t get me wrong, I love college. I love living with my best friends, learning about the things I am passionate about, being part of a vibrant campus community, and watching myself grow into the person I am becoming. I recognize and appreciate this time for what it is, but that should not mean that this is my peak and everything is downhill from here.

One of my problems with this narrative is that it does not take into account all college students’ experiences. Mental health struggles, financial insecurity, stress, and pressure are not uncommon on college campuses. Promoting the idea that college is the best years of a persons’ life may alienate students experiencing these pains, making them feel like they are wasting away time that is meant to be enjoyed. Oftentimes, I do not allow myself to complain or wish any part of my experience were different because of this narrative. And when things are going well, I put pressure on myself to “soak it all in” or try to make things perfect. I am living for an idea more than I am living my life.

Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to rewrite this story that college will be the best years of my life. It starts with recognizing that hindsight is 20-20. I find it important to recognize that my college years are a unique period in my life, and for this alone I am grateful. When my relatives advise me to enjoy it while I can, I no longer think I need to have the best stories to tell of all the exciting and fun things I do. Instead, I think practicing gratitude for all of the little things in this chapter of life, whether it be a walk to class on a beautiful day or making dinner with a roommate, is what they wish they would have done more of. I aim to make the most out of each day, even though that looks widely different everyday. 

Secondly, the past is often looked at through rose colored glasses. I am sure my relatives are not thinking about the days of stress they felt leading up to an exam or the hurt they felt when they fought with a friend. I remind myself that their experience wasn’t perfect and mine doesn’t have to be either. Frankly, this helps me to realize all of my worries and problems are not really that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. 

I know that my college years are ones that I will cherish forever; however, I also know that after this temporary phase passes, I will still love and cherish the life I live. Each phase we go through is unique and temporary, and the best we can do is appreciate it to its fullest while we are in it. As I continue through college, on the good days and the bad, I will embrace exactly where I am supposed to be. I am grateful for this season and the next and for the ability to experience the journey that is life.

Jenni Rowe

Wisconsin '24

Jenni is a sophomore at UW Madison majoring in Elementary Education with a certificate in Disability Rights and Services. She enjoys being outdoors, spending time with friends, and learning as much as she can about herself, others, and the world around her!
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