Opinion: The behind the scenes of the glamorized college experience
The idealized college experience we know of is a myth
We are all familiar with the term “traditional college experience” and how almost every college student is under pressure to attain it. Many people begin college with the expectation that it will be the best four years of their lives due to how often they hear it from others. However, many are disappointed after seeing college is nothing like the romanticized version.
I was born and raised in Turkey. Growing up, I always heard of the well-known reputation of the American college experience. It sounded like it was one out of the movies, where you had infinite freedom and countless opportunities. They called it “a place where dreams come true,” where there is never a dull moment. I was sure that college would be a life-changing experience in the best way possible. From the moment I stepped onto American University’s campus, this was the thought lingering in my head, and I was excited for what the future was going to bring.
The idealized image of college I constructed shattered into pieces in my first few months at AU, leaving me all alone in the harsh reality. I wondered if I simply chose the wrong college. These thoughts ate at me as I was buried in school work every day. What could everybody be doing right that I failed to accomplish?
The word “fun” is associated with the experience, overlooking the amount of hard work one needs to put in. Yes, college is vastly different from high school and you can’t pass without putting in some effort. However, when someone speaks of the so-called traditional college experience, they don’t mention the immense work they have to accomplish during it. It doesn’t include the number of hours you have to spend at the library to get a research paper done or the back-to-back classes you must take to fit in your credits. My planner was filled with many assignments and due dates every day, making me stay up until 4 a.m. to complete them. My mental health was deteriorating due to the amount of stress I was in. It was challenging to give up my procrastination habits and improve my time management skills. This workload comes with great responsibility, almost leaving no space for mistakes. Especially at a competitive school like AU, you’re expected to excel at all times.
I would always hear of the many opportunities the American college experience would bring forth for your future. In the eyes of foreign countries, America is illustrated as the savior that will embrace anyone and everyone. In reality, opportunities aren’t handed to you, you have to work for them. Seeing how AU attracts a specific politically active student body, I knew there’d be many different opportunities here. I didn’t keep in mind the number of students chasing after the same jobs and internships, especially the infamous “Hillternships.” There’s a competitive atmosphere here resulting from the success-driven type of culture at AU. Although I knew of the school’s reputation, I still was startled to see that everyone here had similar interests and plans. It almost felt like I was in a simulation of some sort. The college experience myth doesn’t shed light on the hardships one faces while going after these opportunities. Instead, it seems as if they would be served on a platter.
There isn’t one universal college experience. It is unrealistic to think everyone will live the same life; everyone has different struggles and approaches. We need to be realistic about the college experience. Although the idealization of college sounds pleasant to the ear, it is not beneficial at all to prospective students.
The fear of missing out can be apparent in many college students, causing them to feel extensive amounts of stress, apprehension and unhappiness. It leads students to fail to be in the moment and be stuck in a never-ending spiral. The moment we take the burden off of our shoulders to live up to unrealistic expectations of the college experience and start being present in the moment, we’ll start seeing changes.
Meliha Ural is a freshman in the School of Public Affairs and a columnist for The Eagle.