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What I thought I was getting into when I went to college…and what it’s really like

Five months ago I was a ball of nerves about to be kicked into the big field of college. I was excited to experience all the wonder of new adulthood and college student-ness I’d been promised, but dreading that I wouldn’t fit in with the aura.

I simply didn’t know what being in college was really like. Which means that all my worst fears and preconceptions were running amok in my head as I arrived at orientation. Fortunately, it wasn’t all that bad. Here’s a rundown of what I expected college to be like versus how it actually turned out.

First of all, I was afraid that all the students there would be stuck-up prep schoolers with serious study habits and picture-perfect GPAs. And although most of the people at my college probably are prep schoolers with stellar GPAs, they don’t talk about it because it’s not important. If you’re in, you’re in, and nobody honestly cares where you went to high school or what kinds of grades you got. Besides, every other freshie there was just as nervous and excited as I was; on the surface we were all trying to strut our stuff because we all had the same fear, but beneath that they were interesting and unique people.

The trick is do make friends with the people who are confident and comfortable enough with themselves to drop this mask. As my cousin said, in college somehow all your classmates are cooler than you, wear cooler clothes, have cooler attitudes, cooler things to say, endless amounts of small talk and endless cool career ambitions, but once you go some places and are given some respect by people you will realize that a good deal of your classmates are…well, full of it. So just hang out with the ones who aren’t.

As orientation came to an end I was still pretty sure that my professors would turn out to be what the students weren’t: Strict, inflexible and business-only. Well, let me tell you that any good school simply can’t afford to keep professors like that. To be sure, there are some horror stories on campus, but the few professors with apparently unreasonable demands really are nice people otherwise. They joke, they make mistakes, they talk about things that would be considered inappropriate the year before (in a strictly academic sense, of course). Don’t be afraid of them! They don’t want to see you fail! They are happy to talk with you about a random idea that popped into your head during their office hours (aka visit-your-professor-time) or make an appointment if you need some help. They might even ask you in just to make sure you’re feeling all right. Just ask around to steer clear of the horror-story names during registration and your professors will be fine and friendly people.

After the first week I was slightly confused: Where was all the big, scary college work that I’d been warned about? And then it hit me two weeks later: A paper! The next week, nothing. Then a week later: A reading guide!

Believe it or not, this is a typical early-semester workload pattern. Everything is assigned and dated in advance, and depending on how many labs and writing courses you have, the hard work can seem like few and far between.

DO NOT LET THIS FOOL YOU! Assignments have a tricky way of sneaking up and attacking from behind…particularly on Sunday night. They are fewer, but also harder and more important to your grade. They almost always take longer to do than you think they will, and all your extra college free time? Lost to the winds – but only if you let it. Truthfully, the hardest part about doing work is making yourself do it. Self-control and focus should be your first new best friends. Can’t do it alone? Get a friend in and make a deal to check up on each other.

Believe me, college is a wonderful place full of wonderful classmates, wonderful professors and wonderful distractions…and maybe even wonderful work. So don’t be scared by the anxious worst-case scenario in your head. After all, adults everywhere swear it was the best time of their lives.

Posted: Jan 12, 2011 by Alison Ryland

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