College Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All, & That’s OK: Caitlin Burns’ Senior Column

Finding a topic for a senior column was difficult. I mean, what is there to say that likely hasn’t been said by a million different people in a million different ways? Join activities on campus? Seize every opportunity? Never say no to a party?

When I applied to college years ago, my application essay read of optimism for my upcoming college experience. You know the one. “The best four years of your life!” or “You’ll make the best friends you’ll ever have!” I was so excited to embark on those best four years (or, in my case, three) that everyone tells you about as a high school senior about to move into your first college dorm.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not about to tell you that “the best four years of your life” is a lie and that college was miserable for me. It wasn’t, and I will leave with lots of fond memories of the beautiful campus I got to call home and the built-in family one gains when graduating from a school with such a storied history.

However, it’s been different than I had anticipated. I didn’t go to every party. I didn’t stay up late talking about life with my friends like my application essay so fondly dreamed of. I wasn’t going to bars with friends all the time. OK, the bars one is mostly because I’m not 21.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at Snapchat stories on nights when I’m writing a paper, seeing people out at parties with their friends, and feeling pretty sad. I mean, what was I doing wrong? People would post pictures of their giant friend groups, and I would look at photos with my six close friends. You stare at those pictures and begin to wonder about what you can do to try and achieve Instagram-worthy moments like that.

It’s taken me a lot of time to realize that college isn’t the same for everyone. That seems obvious, I guess. Different majors, different clubs, and different apartments are all things that make each person’s college life different.

Yeah, we’re all different. But my experience in college isn’t any less than that of someone who went to all the parties and had that huge friend group. When you listen to everyone tell you that you’re embarking on the best four years of your life and you’re going to make the best friends you’ll ever have and couple that with seeing other people portray that experience on social media, it’s hard to reconcile with yourself for feeling like you’re doing something wrong.

We live in a world where social media can make you feel less than others because of someone else’s portrayal of their life. Sometimes that portrayal is real and sometimes it’s not. But it’s okay to not have the picture-perfect college experience everyone tells you about.

So, I don’t have a friend group of 20 people. But I do have six really great friends who mean the world to me and make me laugh until I’m wheezing. So, I didn’t go to all the parties, but I went to some, and have great memories from them.

Just because your college experience isn’t the storybook version you heard about doesn’t mean it wasn’t meaningful or that you did something wrong. It means that your experience was different, and that’s OK!

I’ve talked to a lot of people who told me they want to make more friends, that they feel like they don’t fit in, that they feel like they haven’t done “the college thing.” What’s nice is that “the college thing” isn’t just one thing. Everyone will have a different experience, and if you’re feeling down that you didn’t do “the thing,” just know that lots of other people feel the same.

It would’ve been easy to write this column telling you to join activities, to make the most of your short four years, and to be more adventurous. Those are all meaningful messages. But a lot of people I’ve met are afraid to talk about feeling like something went wrong because they don’t have the scrapbook memories that everyone talks about.

The picture-perfect college experience isn’t a one-size-fits-all adventure. Lots of people have that perfect experience, and I’m happy for those that do. But just because your picture isn’t perfect doesn’t mean the memories you’ve captured aren’t meaningful.

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About the Author

Caitlin Burns

Caitlin is a senior majoring in english. She watches "Dance Moms" from the beginning three times a year and thinks she's a barista because she can make one drink from Starbucks. She can usually be found taking a nap or being unreasonably angry at small inconveniences. You can contact her at [email protected].

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