You’ve heard it.  I’ve heard it. Maybe we’ve both even said it. “College is the best four years of your life!”  Lately, I’ve begun to question the validity of this statement, especially since it’s used in broad terms without much explanation.  Don’t get me wrong–I loved my college experience and I have very few regrets about those four years.  But, I wonder if we’re sending the wrong message to high school students.  Are we sending them off with heightened expectations?  Are we neglecting to share how tough college classes can be and how inflexible professors can be, for example?

I’m not sure all students know that working through the tough times makes them stronger people in the long run, even if it really, really sucks at the time.  For some students, it seems all too easy; if something doesn’t go their way, they can just go back home or call their parents to solve their problems.  But, what happens during those first few weeks, months, or even years of college when everyone is trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be; who their friends are and who their best friends for life will be; or what their current major is and what double-major-plus-a-minor combination they will ultimately graduate with?  How can students be prepared to navigate these issues?

I’m curious about how we can encourage students to become their own advocates. More than that, I wonder how we can prepare them to be able to deal with and overcome adversity.  Part of the problem is that students have seen movies or TV shows that depict a glorified so-called “quintessential college experience” in which the lead characters instantly have 50 best friends, fun social events to go to, and somehow rarely ever have to go to class.  I actually missed my very first college class because I thought I would be able to switch out of the 8:00am section and into a more convenient session of the class offered later in the day that didn’t require me to shed my night owl ways.  In the end, I was stuck in the 8:00am class and there was nothing I, my parents, or anyone else could do to change that.  I just had to deal with it.

I didn’t have instant best friends when I went to college. It takes time to meet people and find true friends in college, especially if you don’t know many people going in.  I remember hanging out with my hall mates in the dorm rather than going to parties many weekends during my first year of college. We were still trying to figure out how we fit into a very different college social scene than we were used to and to understand what we were comfortable with.

In college admission essays, students often talk about perseverance, being resilient, and overcoming challenges, failures, and disappointments.  I think we need to make sure not to sugarcoat what college—especially at first—is really like.  There are going to be ups and downs, and how you get through the ups and downs is what makes you who you are.  You learn things about yourself that you had no idea about and you can surprise yourself with how strong and smart you really are.  College might end up being the best four years of your life, but what about the year you get married?  The year you start a family?  The year you have that crazy adventure when you live in a brand new city and get out of your comfort zone and make yourself happy?  Looking back, my college years have been some of the best of my life so far.  Personally, I sure hope the best four years of my life aren’t behind me already.

By Meredith Britt