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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    University experience is not at all universal

    If you’re a freshman who’s had a difficult first year here at the UA, take it from me: You’re not alone, and it gets better.

    My freshman year was not the “college experience” I always thought I’d have. So many people talk about college like it’s some intangible entity, more of an impractical ideal than an environment in which you spend four years of your life.

    The “college experience” is not viewed by most as the subjective, unique experience it really is, but as an objective time in which every student has to meet certain expectations.

    We’re supposed to instantly make friends who will always be there for us, friends who will be in our weddings, throw us baby showers and affectionately embrace us while saying, “Remember when…”

    However, reality is a bit different. Currently the UA’s full-time freshman retention rate is approximately 78 to 80 percent. A fifth of freshmen don’t return for their sophomore year.

    Personally, I think the idea of the “college experience” is at fault for some of these students not returning. This vague, grandiose concept only sets students up for disappointment.

    For starters, the experience is supposed to take place strictly in a dorm setting. While I’ve enjoyed living in residence halls, the dorm environment isn’t right for everyone. Living in close quarters with your peers can help you learn about campus and make friends. However, it can also be socially overwhelming for some and financially burdensome for others. You shouldn’t feel that you’ve automatically failed college if you prefer to live in an apartment or at home.

    Regardless of living arrangements, our culture underestimates how truly difficult fitting in can be. We’re taught that college is when we develop our passions, define the rest of our lives and have a healthy amount of “Animal House”-esque fun at the same time.

    As a result, when a first-year student struggles in the beginning, they may feel like an outsider. I remember thinking, “Everyone else has a great time in college? What’s wrong with me?” If you’re a freshman who feels similarly, know that you aren’t alone and you don’t have to give up.

    Contrary to the images portrayed by most movies and television shows, adjusting to college, like anything else in life, takes time. The message that college is a universally glamorous and easy experience is wrong. The “college experience” is more of a learning process than anything else.

    Finding your niche in one or two semesters is a tall order, and having to search around a little is completely normal.

    Struggling to fit in can be unpleasant, regardless of the situation, but the difficulty is magnified by the pressure to have a memorable, wonderful college experience all the time. As a result, having a hard time in college ceases to simply feel difficult, and starts to feel like a crushing disappointment.

    High expectations can make a student adjusting to college feel they are different, and therefore inferior to everyone else. The truth is that they’re probably completely normal.

    True self-discovery and progress happens amidst obstacles, and having a difficult freshman year is not necessarily indicative of how the years to come will be.

    At the end of the day, college is no different than any other part of our lives. It won’t be perfect, nor should we expect it to be.

    For the fifth of freshmen who may be planning not to return to the UA next year, I suggest you reconsider. If giving college a try for one more semester is at all financially or personally feasible, it is worth a shot.

    We have to remember that we are individuals, and that we all adjust at our own rates. If your freshman year hasn’t lined up with your popular, but probably unrealistic, expectations for college, don’t think you are some sort of anomaly. In fact, the real college experience should be defined by our differences. College gives us the freedom to make our own choices, and we can start by not being so hard on ourselves.

    — Brittany Rudolph is a sophomore studying art history and English. Follow her @DailyWildcat

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