The College Story

See, I'm not the only one.

I wish I could spin you the story everyone wants to hear.

That story has a whole cast of predictable characters, and many trunks’ worth of familiar props. The friends, the neat dorm rooms, the beer, the photo collages, the inside jokes, the cute frat guys, the walks by the lake, the hot chocolate, the study sessions, the mentoring professors, the sorority mixers, the coffee dates, the giggly all-nighters, the risque one-night-stands and the whispered confessions to friends in class the next day.

Sound familiar? That’s the College Story. You’ve seen it in every glossy brochure, TV show, Seventeen magazine article, and back-to-school commercial.

But that’s not my story. It never will be. Because the kind of person I am doesn’t get to live that story.

Halfway through my college career, it’s time to admit this to myself.

My story? Sure, it has some bright moments in it. Most stories do, and mine hasn’t been that awful. But then there’s all the stuff nobody wants me to talk about–the weather, the loneliness, the way guys at Northwestern treat me (to be precise, like a thing), the rich, preppy students that I’ll never resemble, the hours spent laboring over essays that professors barely even read (and then unceremoniously slap a B on without further explanation), the expectation to be a walking, talking, drinking/fucking/studying machine, the not-so-subtle bragging NU teaches us to perform, the bottles of anti-depressants lined up on my shelf, the many nights I spent considering transferring, asking for a quarter off, dropping out of college, or dropping out of life.

I played with my little sister today. I do that every day when I’m home, but today it was different because I was acutely aware of the fact that I’m leaving again in five days. I hugged her and my heart broke all over again. I hate that I’m not here to see her and my brother grow up. I hate that nobody at Northwestern loves me the way these two do. I hate that my little brother took one of my blankets to sleep with because he misses me while I’m at school. It all feels so wrong to me.

I’ll feel better once I’m actually there, I know that. Despite what it may look like, making the best of things is a skill of mine. Once I’m there, it’ll be easier to make myself forget the loving family I’ve left back in Ohio and to pretend that home isn’t where I’d always rather be. Sometimes I’m even able to get myself to believe that I somehow matter at this huge institution of higher learning and that it, or at the very least, the lives of some of the other people in it, would be noticeably different if I had never existed.

The truth is that I’m paying $200,000 and a lot of my own sanity for a stupid piece of paper saying that I’m qualified to go get a PhD and actually learn something relevant to my life, because all I’ve learned these past two years is how to act smarter, richer, and more well-adjusted than I actually am. Call me an idealist, but I hoped that college would be more than this.

I’m compelled to apologize for this. To apologize for hating college, because it goes against everything our culture dictates that I do. I’m supposed to love it.

Well, I’m sorry. I wish I could tell you that I do.

The College Story

14 thoughts on “The College Story

  1. 1

    My girlfriend read this post and sympathized wholeheartedly. She struggled a lot when she first came to UVic for grad school, but things are getting better now that we live together, because we have a built in support system.
    When I was growing up, people always told me things would be better in college, the people would be smarter, the conversations deeper, the relationships more meaningful, and that I would make real friends. Lies lies lies. I enjoy certain parts of college, but I enjoy the classes and the essay writing and the free time I spend reading. I do not enjoy my classmates, the degrading work-study jobs, and the hordes of people who are there purely for lucrative degrees who think it’s funny to call people in my major “DYFWD” (Do you want fries with that)

    1. 1.1

      Oh, ew. I’m sorry you have to deal with that. At the very least, my major (psychology) gets slightly more respect, though not much, since people claim that it’s “easy.”

      But it sounds like our schools are similar in that people are very status-obsessed. I don’t understand that. Sure, it’d be fun to have a ton of money. But ultimately, I only want to make enough–enough to support myself, to have some nice things, and to travel occasionally. That’s all.

  2. 2

    Is there a reason why you went to Northwestern and not, say, Oberlin College (I know, students there are also loaded, but at least brains are valued)? Maybe another place is a better fit. I see a lot of students at my institution (private, medium size, not to far away from where you are) that transfer as juniors and feel better adjusted.

    1. 2.1

      Sadly, there is indeed a reason–my parents refused to even let me consider any school that wasn’t a “brand name,” and I, knowing little about how college works, was terrified that I’d get screwed for life if I went to a school that isn’t well-known.

      My best friend goes to a school very much like Oberlin and has been helping out with research and TAing since freshman year. I don’t get to do either of those things. Of course, my parents blame that on me and not on the school I go to.

  3. 3

    I would say as a form of encouragement, that if what you’re at school for is purely education, than you’ll probably like grad school more. Talking to my friends in grad school indicates that the overall experience is better, more focused, and more in tune with what the student wants to get out of learning.

    College is more of a social status symbol and a four-year course in how to write coherently than really a chance to pursue KNOWLEDGE in its most pure form. It’s full of people who are both using it as training wheels for the real world and those who are using it as as a stepping stone to bigger and better things (you fall in the second category).

    What’s needed is two responses. For yourself, I’d focus more on the parts of the experience that are meaningful to you and do those as hard as you can. From an SJ point of view, we as a country need to have a long, hard talk about what the point of education is and how it shapes society.

    1. 3.1

      That is indeed a helpful way to think about it. I realize that my problem is mostly one of cultural expectations–although college is useful to me in many ways and the experience isn’t THAT bad, our culture has set it up as this ultimate amazing funfest and it’s hard to override the years of indoctrination with that belief.

  4. 4

    I know you probably don’t have to much money, but take advantage that you are in Chicago, and try to find your own niche. And though Northwestern was not a good fit, I just wanted to let you know that not all college students are like what you find there. You are not the only one who doesn’t conform to norms. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you are not “weird”, in the sense that your classmates and your college experience might make you feel.

    1. 4.1

      Thanks, Prof. 🙂 (since I don’t know your real name, I’m going to call you that.) It’s especially nice to see some positivity from a professor, because most of what I read from professors is quite disparaging towards college students. Apparently we’re all lazy and entitled and whatnot. Hey, don’t look at me, I’m just here on scholarship…

      1. Not all professors post or share the opinions of College Misery, trust me. I always ask the students to whom I become closer why did they chose the institution where I teach. Many say because his/her father, uncle, etc came here, so it’s a family tradition. Others because they like a few specific programs. Or because they got a good financial aid package. A lot of students, though, say that they came here because they didn’t want to be force to drink and party as a way to be cool (there are plenty of those, too, but there is less peer-pressure).

  5. 5

    You reminded me of this quote by Joseph Campbell

    “You enter the forest
    at the darkest point,
    where there is no path.

    Where there is a way or path,
    it is someone else’s path.

    You are not on your own path.

    If you follow someone else’s way,
    you are not going to realize
    your potential.”

    It seems to me you might be on someone else’s path?

    1. 5.1

      That’s a really nice quote, thanks for sharing it. A counselor I saw at NU actually told me a similar thing, and it was really helpful.

      The difficulty is knowing that I’m stuck on this wrong path for the next two years, and possibly longer, if graduate school is anything like this.

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