Thrive on Campus//

College May Not Be the “Best 4 Years of Your Life” and That’s Perfectly Okay

Here's how we can dispel the myth that college is our peak.

Courtesy of Charles Deloye / Unsplash
Courtesy of Charles Deloye / Unsplash

Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

By Sydney Gray

For those of you like myself, 2019 means one major thing: We’re graduating college. How exciting! The moment we’ve proclaimed ever since we first stepped foot onto our campus years ago. For some of us, we never knew when this day would come. Many late nights studying, strictly fast-food diets, and bad-hair-days later, it’s finally here. While college has been said to be the “best four years of your life” (courtesy to those who attended way before we were born), what I have realized over my time as an undergraduate is that not everyone considers college to be their “best” time. As many of us know through our involvement with Active Minds, many college students experience various mental health concerns that affect their overall experience.

Take myself for an example. I came to college bright and eager, ready for this new chapter of my life to begin. All the depictions of college I saw in movies and television shows were finally going to become my reality. I was ready. I had heard only positive things about college, so naturally I expected to only experience positive things. While this way of thinking is helpful in having an enthusiastic approach to college, it can also be hurtful when expectations do not live up to reality. A month into school, I started to realize my experience did not seem to be like my floor mates, my classmates, or even my friends who went to other universities. I had random people on campus asking me, “Are you okay?” which made me even sadder, because I now knew what I was feeling inside was visible to everyone else.

But wait, this was my freshman year. You know what they say about freshman year, right? It’s the best year of college, you have no responsibilities, things are just perfect. So why wasn’t mine the case? Had I done something wrong? This type of discord between what I wanted and what I was experiencing caused me to find myself in therapy, weeks before it was even Halloween. Every week, I met with an amazing clinical psychologist at my university’s counseling center (I encourage you to check to see if your school has a counseling center for mental health services, many are extremely accommodating to students). We were able to dive into the nitty gritty of what was causing my depression, and how the very act of being in college was enhancing these sad feelings. Throughout my months of attending, I began to learn more about myself and realized I was not the only one going through a tough transition period.

First year was tough. I was lonely, angry, and sad that I did not experience the “college” everyone else was talking about. I hadn’t joined Active Minds until my sophomore year, when I had time in my schedule. It wasn’t until joining the organization that I finally felt comfortable enough to open up about my experiences to people other than my therapist. I believe that often times students, just like myself, tend to shy away from discussing their college experience if it is not the typical version we are used to hearing. What I want differently is for students to start becoming more comfortable with being uncomfortable. I want college students to learn it is okay if you have a different college experience, and if you don’t consider it the “best” four years of your life, that’s perfectly fine. In my opinion, trying to live up to the discourse of college having to be the best time of your life is actually more difficult, because we feel as though if we are not having fun or having a good time, then we are doing something wrong. You’re not. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to do college, and we all have varying experiences.

Take it from someone who has had four years to reflect on her experience, and I am sure you all will have your own personalized reflection when you graduate as well. My therapist told me something that still sticks with me to this day. “See the world as it is, and not how it should be.” Your college experience “shouldn’t” be anything. It can be anything. And that “anything” allows for us to experience college in its entirety, the good and the bad, the positive and the negative days, or even the happy and sad times. To me, that’s what I consider to be the best.

Originally published on the Active Minds Blog on January 15, 2019.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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