reflections on college | university experience

Going to college was, surprisingly, not something I thought about too much when I was younger. I loved to imagine what job I would have in the future, where I would live, the people I would meet – but never what I would study at university. In retrospect, I believe this was an early sign that third level education would not be the formative experience it constitutes for so many. To say that it would have no impact on my life would be an understatement, but it was not to be a period of transformation.

As time went on I became more aware that change was imminent. Having said this, it wasn’t until I was about 15 that I had made (what I thought was) a firm decision regarding what I wanted to pursue in college. I was convinced that I wanted to study psychology, given my fascination with the human mind. My outlook shifted when I thought more pragmatically; i.e. what I excelled in at school versus what made me cry on a regular basis. The latter being anything maths and science related, I veered away from psychology and chose to do a bachelor of arts in languages. Fast forward through exams, results and college offers, I have a place on my course and I’m ready to go.

This is when things go downhill. Sort of. My experience in college has been odd in the sense that I haven’t hated it, but I definitely haven’t loved it. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so indifferent towards something. Academically speaking it’s all been fine, but to this day I feel utterly unstimulated. This combination of indifference and lack of stimulation has not been a good experience. I cannot count the number of times I’ve mentally destroyed myself with regret, agonising over what could have been if I’d chosen a course I was genuinely interested in. Normally this doesn’t last any longer than a day, and I have ploughed on through the very worst of essays and assignments.

The social element of college has also been a mixed bag. I’ve met some wonderful friends over the years, and for that I am incredibly grateful. Many of the people I have crossed paths with in college have restored my faith in humanity, in stark contrast to my experience in secondary school. Having said all of this, the way in which I view socialising has changed quite a lot. If you read my previous post on what constitutes fun, you will know that I’m not really one for parties or going out. Much of the social scene in college revolves around parties, drinking, etc etc. As you can imagine this isn’t something that sits well with me, but it’s no big deal. You can navigate your way around it quite easily.

I would love to say that going to college has been a worthwhile experience, but I’m honestly unsure if I would stretch that far. What I will say is that I have a far healthier relationship with how I view educational institutions; secondary school was downright hellish at times, but I feel as though many of my wounds have healed and I am ready to move on. This wouldn’t have been possible without learning that I could be happy in a school-like setting – i.e. I would still feel terrible if I hadn’t chosen to go to college.

I’ve re-written the end of this piece about six times, but I can’t figure out what the most effective conclusion would be. I don’t even know if there is a conclusion to all of this. If I don’t stop writing here i’ll just end up rambling (because that isn’t what I’ve been doing for this entire piece), so here are a few things I’ve learned from my experience in university. Some ‘reflections’, if you will.

  • I hate working in groups; always have, probably always will. I tried to get involved with society work (we have clubs and societies in most Irish third level institutions), but… it’s a no from me.
  • You are your single biggest priority.
  • Education is important, but it comes in many many forms. Living in this world is an education in and of itself.
  • People can change, for better or for worse.
  • Facing fears is important, but you don’t have to like what it is you once feared. I don’t fear travelling for long periods of time anymore, but I still don’t like it.
  • Routine is essential; much and all as you may dream of days off and lie-ins on a week day while you’re at school, a lack of structure can create all sorts of practical and emotional problems.
  • Disillusionment is worse than hatred. It’s better to feel something than nothing at all. I would honestly say that my worst maths classes were better than some days I’ve spent in college feeling lifeless.
  • It may be true that quitters never win, but quitters also have a chance to move on and try news things. Giving up is not a sign of weakness. So, maybe quitters do win from time to time.
  • The whole ‘you’re only young once’ thing is true, but you can adapt it to your own wants and needs. I may not go out at night all that often, but that doesn’t mean I’m not experimenting with new things.

If you’ve reached the end of this and thought ‘why the f*ck did I read this whole thing when I could have just scrolled to that list at the end’ – you could have, but a lot of the above wouldn’t have made sense. I hope I set the scene appropriately, and that you don’t feel like I did in maths class all those years ago.

If you’re about to start college, or if you’re already wrist-deep into your degree, I wish you the very best of luck in the future. The present is not forever, realistically we’re all gonna be just fine. Or so we hope. It’s all to play for.

Love and luck,

Clodagh X