The golden years—isn’t that what college is supposed to be? The prime of our youth. The periods where our minds are most malleable and receptive to change. The endless landscape of opportunity for us to pursue anything our hearts desire. As a first-year student coming to the tail end of his first semester in college, I can already validate all of the above statements. In my short three months at Tufts, I’ve been bestowed so many incredible opportunities to push myself, to stretch my perceptions of my own limits, and to dabble my feet into basically any extracurricular, class, or social event I’d even the slightest interest in.
That said, not all is as rosy as it seems. College, despite all its wonders, is hard. But perhaps not in the ways you might be thinking. Sure, college-level academics may be challenging but they really aren’t that much different from the content we encountered in high school, simply taught to a more comprehensive and specialized extent. It’s perspective-broadening undoubtedly and the autonomy we are given to choose the fields we want to study makes learning a far more enjoyable process, in spite of the slight shift in difficulty.
The biggest challenges I’ve faced in college thus far can be broadly classified into three categories: freedom, transformation, and adulting.
1) Freedom is challenging to grapple with.
This is something I didn’t expect coming into college—realizing how big of a task it is to manage my own time. College, unlike high school, is very much free-form. While the classes we take and clubs we are a part of form a basic framework for our weekly schedules, we have a ton of gaps in between which we are fully in control of and thus accountable for. It’s your choice whether you want to spend your pockets of time between meetings having a meal in the dining hall, catching up with friends, going over class material, churning out a problem set, having a quick pump at the gym, or if time permits, even going into downtown Boston. The possibilities are literally endless, which has turned out to be a boon and a bane.
On one hand, I am thriving on this freedom. I love having the ability to control what I do with my time and to allocate the (admittedly, rather scant) time I have to the things that make me happy. On the otherhand, planning my daily schedule can be immensely stress-inducing. There is always so much to do on campus that every choice you make constitutes a massive dilemma. It’s an inevitable process that you will have to go through many times throughout your college career, and you will get better at it. I’ve room to grow still, having only reached the tail-end of my first semester at college. What’s important is always keeping your priorities in check, making sure you’ve done what’s expected of you whilst simultaneously taking time for self-care. A seemingly intuitive balance that is deceptively hard to attain.
2) Transformation takes time.
One of my senior friends from high school told me in the weeks leading up to college that “College will be the four most transformative years of your life.” A semester into college, could I honestly say that I have transformed significantly? Perhaps not. But that’s okay.
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe some things about me have changed. I have become more independent, having to balance clubs, classes and the little things in between that make me a reasonably functioning human being. I have also become more explorative and curious in my learning. But that said, I do still see traits in my personality and character that have followed me from high school that I’ve yet to change. And I know many of my peers have thought the same way. For a while this semester, I was constantly berating myself for what I deemed to be ‘staying stagnant.’ I questioned whether I was doing enough to grow.
College is a marathon, and it is unreasonable to expect everything to fundamentally change right from the outset. I believe that the bulk of my actual transformation this semester was acknowledging that I hadn’t yet completely transformed, and all that I could and should do was commit myself fully to my present endeavors and be constantly open to any change that came my way. Everyone develops at their own pace, and all we can do is our best each step of the way, with a steadfast belief in our potential to develop. It won’t always happen in an instant, so don’t rush the process! Change will come with time.
3) Adulting is hard, but it’s okay not to get it all at once.
Plunging headfirst into a college environment entails much more than passing our classes and getting our degrees. Often we forget how being in college also involves living. Yes, that means doing your laundry at least once a week, changing your sheets, keeping your room tidy, et cetera, all of which does take a surprising amount of energy and time. It was an adjustment for me initially, till I found a routine that worked. It took a while, but I got there. Shout out to my roommate for always keeping me in check and notifying me whenever our shared trash can began spilling over its edges.
Perhaps more crucially, living also constitutes understanding your place in the world around you. This semester, I’ve had multiple existential crises about life after college. In some sense, college does feel like a bubble, a seemingly artificial ecosystem of perfection that seems incongruent with life out in the real world. The thought of what lies ahead can be incredibly intimidating to some, myself included. However, just know this—we are all in this together. Forging our own paths in the world is rightfully daunting. It’s an overwhelming process that involves us confronting ourselves and our interests, as well as circumstances way beyond our control.
What is comforting to know is that we are not in this alone. Tufts has provided me with so many resources to quell my worries. The Career Center is a fantastic resource for you to get all sorts of real-world advice (e.g. how to craft a resume, information about networking sessions for different industries, talks with a career guidance counselor). Additionally, the professors I’ve met at Tufts have been wonderfully open and receptive to listening to my worries and always give earnest, well-meaning advice. They truly care about the well-being of their students and want to help us succeed in any way possible. And how could I forget my friends in this incredible Tufts community, who have been so supportive and empathetic in talking me out of my ruts, and assuring me that everything will be okay.
Tufts provides you with every resource imaginable to figure it out, and you will get there! Just breathe, and it’ll be alright.
On the whole, the challenges of college are plentiful, and this is only coming from the experience of one Tufts student in a pool of over 5,600. We will all come to face our own demons and struggles during our time here, but one thing that we share for certain is that, regardless of what obstacles we find ourselves having to overcome in college, we will always come out stronger on the other end.
College will make you a better version of yourself so long as you embrace the challenges it brings. It’s going to be a rollercoaster but hop on – I can assure you it’s worth it.