My first sibling went off to college when I was in sixth grade. I couldn't wait to make the three hour drive over the Pennsylvania border to visit him, because I thought college was just the coolest thing. My brothers and step siblings filed off one by one to their respective schools and I watched them in awe as they packed their duffles and decorated their dorm rooms. They were sculpture majors and education majors and everything in between. When my eldest brother decided college wasn't the place for him, I wondered why. I was halfway through boarding school, mulling over this question: Why? Everyday I got a new brochure from a college, growing more and more excited with each one. A year passed and I was a junior and had to start seriously considering this process. The 'why' question was thrown in a pile of questions pertaining to my own college experience: Where? What scores do I need? Will my grades cut it? My senior year came around and I had gotten into my dream school, and everyone was excited for me without questioning why my dream school was the University of Kentucky (which was a much appreciated gesture.) My stepsister had graduated with honors a few years before, my brother had finished art school the previous year, and my youngest-older brother was graduating the following spring. Patrick, my eldest brother, had moved across the country and was doing well with his career. Everything seemed to be falling into place for us.
The summer after my senior year, I bought my comforter for the double XL beds Kentucky had, by which everyone, including my dad, was intrigued. I purchased my textbooks from the school store-- a rookie mistake. I got my pens and my highlighters and set up my planner, and I couldn't have been more excited to start college. I knew where, I knew what scores I needed, I knew my grades cut it, because, well, here I was.
Halfway into my first semester, I noticed that college was a lot harder than people told me it would be. The first few weeks of my 101 classes were easy, but come midterms I had a wakeup call. Still, I was thinking about that one question: Why?
Now I'm nearing the end of my sophomore fall semester. I'm doing a little reflecting on that whole 'Why?' thing.
Handling college is hard. It's okay to acknowledge that. Sometimes there's a professor that assigns 120 pages of reading per class. Sometimes there's a professor who talks so fast during class that you can't even finish copying down the first bullet point on the slide before he moves on. Sometimes you have really, really great professors, too!
I've learned some things along the way in the last (almost) three semesters I've been doing this that kind of address that 'Why?' question. Although they don't directly tell me why I'm here or why I'm doing what I'm doing, they help me through every single day until I can finally answer that question for myself. It can't hurt to share them, because everyone in college is usually just as confused as you are.
Last year, I made a teary-eyed phone call to my brother. I was sitting in a corner of our library on campus with books spread on a table in front of me, at least 30 things listed in my agenda, and three-day-old hair. Why is college so hard? I asked Patrick, hoping he could give me some words of wisdom, maybe even some advice on how to make life a little easier. He gave me a straightforward answer that I think about every time I get overwhelmed: They're not expecting you to do all the work, they're expecting you to learn how to prioritize. That professor that assigns the 120 pages of reading will probably understand if you read the introduction, the headings throughout, and then the conclusion. They know you have other classes. They don't want you to fail. (Most of them, anyway.) Prioritize the most important, the due-tomorrows, the 12-page-papers, the big stuff. Do the other things when you have time.
2. Make time for yourself.
Lauryn wrote a wonderful article about this (which you can read here) in which she talks about how best to take care of yourself. That's absolutely necessary! I mean, did you see the Shining? All work and no play makes you want to murder your family! (Whoops, spoiler! (That movie is 37 years old, so if you haven't seen it by now, you can't complain about a spoiler.)) My boyfriend encouraged me to start reading again in the spare time I have, and I'm forever grateful for that. It calms me down when I'm feeling anxious or completely overwhelmed. Find something that works for you.
3. Take care of yourself.
From my recent experience, I can't stress this enough. I am just now getting over a cold that I had for three weeks. However, during the early phases of that cold, before it manifested itself into a sinus infection and bronchitis, I set a new record with my running. Make sure you're exercising, eating as well as you can, and get some sleep.
4. Go to office hours.
I know that a lot of people disregard the header of each and every syllabus they get. I'm here to tell you: don't. They put their contact info and their office hours up here for a reason! They want you to come talk to them. Even if it's just a crazy conspiracy theory you have relating to their class, that time is set aside for you. I've become well acquainted with many of my TAs and professors by going in one time and telling them a little about me. They notice you in lectures and, quite frankly, are more careful about grading your stuff when they know there's a person behind that submission.
5. Find your people.
I cannot stress this enough. Your people will always be there for you, regardless of the situation. I am so grateful to have found Lauryn, Yeinye, Noelle and everyone else with whom I've become close. I mention this point and these people in almost everything I write. Even when you all get busy, at the end of the day, you might allot time to sit down and watch a TV show together. They'll encourage you, make you laugh when you need it, and make sure you get a good meal in at least once a day. People are important.
College can be difficult to navigate, especially in your first year or two. It's important to become well acquainted with your surroundings and yourself. I've been dealing with college in one way or another since I was in sixth grade, and I'm still figuring it out. Be patient with yourself and with others, and never stop searching for your 'Why?'