Though it feels like I arrived in the sweet town of New Paltz just a few months ago, apparently it’s been two years and I’m now just months away from graduation. The hindsight of my time in college is still not entirely 20/20 and probably won’t be until several years down the line, but so far here are the things I wish I realized about New Paltz and college in general before I began.
It’s So Normal to Not Have A Friend Group Yet
On average people find three people in life who feel like forever friends. If you don’t meet those people in your first years of college that’s totally and statistically normal. But one thing that makes not having close friends even harder is the belief that everyone around you has already met their future friends for life and you’re the only one who feels lonely. My first year of college, I remember people telling me they really didn’t clique with the people they hung out with — but the people telling me were the same people whose posts with their friends having fun had previously given me FOMO. We’re all just faking it until we make it, but it causes so much isolation when we think nobody else is faking it.
It Does Matter Where You Go
The ages-old saying, “It’s not where you go, it’s what you do with your time there” is so clearly tone-deaf. Everyone thrives more when they go to a school that has a culture that aligns with their own, whether what you need is a work hard, play hard culture; an outdoorsy, slow-paced culture; or culture culture, ie. an HBCU or non-PWI.
The phrase is most commonly used to say that you can find success regardless of how prestigious the school you attend is, which is true in many ways. But it also glides over the fact that you will have to work harder to find opportunities when you graduate from schools that are less well-known. In a society as classist as America, you will often have to present a stronger application to earn the respect that ivy league kids may get off the bat. A more appropriate phrase would be “You can find success wherever you go, even though you’ll have to work harder.”
But It Isn’t Worth Paying for A Name
Especially if you’re going into a field that may not be immediately lucrative enough to comfortably pay back all your loans, or a field where the name of the school you went is less important than the real-world experience you got.
There’s No Universal Checklist of Necessary Social Experiences
If there’s one thing I can promise you, dear reader, it’s that despite what they’re saying in your group chat right now, you do not have to go to that frat party. I can promise you, you’ll be okay. They’ll play Sweet Caroline next week, too.
So many people don’t love parties (or the kinds of parties they’re going to) but keep going because it’s the only thing they can imagine doing on a weekend or a Tuesday night. Dare to think bigger. Parties are an exception to the idea that the whole is better than the sum of its parts; dancing, music, drinking, getting dressed up, friends, overcrowding, bars, going out and meeting new people don’t all have to go together all at the same time. You can still make friends outside of the bars and the frat houses if it’s just not your thing, I promise.
You Really Don’t Need A Bookbag
My life improved so deeply when I left my bookbag at home and started bringing my favorite tote or Telfar. It might seem like just a fashion change (as if there’s such a thing as something just being a fashion change) but it’s actually a mindset change. You can go from class, to a job interview to a work meeting or even just to a café to do work and pretend you’re five years older than you are and working at your dream job, even though you may just be doing homework for class — and that versatility is empowering.
But I must say, I’m also just really not sure what people carry in their bags. How many pens do you need to bring to a class that you type your notes for? And how many notebooks do you need on a day you only have one class? Maybe the bookbag-wearers of the world are onto something, I just simply can’t imagine what you’re filling your bags with.
College is a Luxury
It’s quite possible to get through college without learning. You can choose a major that feels easy to you and only choose classes that are easy A’s, take whichever general education classes are left, cram before tests instead of absorbing the information, opt out of any extracurricular activities that have a time commitment or workload and avoid new social situations. But the thing is, tuition costs the same amount whether you take full advantage of college or not. The loans are going to hit you the same too. You don’t have to take advantage in any specific way, just in a way that you know you’ll feel proud of years from now. It’s a privilege that most people know people who wanted but couldn’t get so it feels irresponsible to not bask in it.
But You Don’t Need to Go
College isn’t the best option for everyone, but you don’t always realize that if going to college is a passive decision for you. There are so many options beyond a four-year college that aren’t often taught but are really worth looking into. I benefitted immensely from taking a gap semester and coming to college with work experience and a stronger focus on what I needed to do to get to my ideal career. Anytime we do something just because we think we’re supposed to, we’re denying ourselves the chance to do the best possible thing there was to do.