Truthfully, is there any young person out there who isn’t genuinely terrified of change?
As a high school student, my experience in the classroom was largely characterized by the daunting prospect of someday attending a distinguished university. It was fate, or at least what fate was supposed to be in the environment I found myself in: a small, catholic school with high expectations and a student body extremely focused on academics. Until about mid-way through junior year, however, the notion of abandoning all I had known for two and a half plus years spent at a university was practically a pipe dream for me.
But, sure enough, the day arrived when I excitedly opened my first pamphlet (after regrettably checking the “it’s okay for annoying colleges to send me things” box on my PSAT scantron) and the arduous process of securing my place at a college began. In the beginning, I was, for lack of better words, beyond stoked. It was exhilarating making important decisions for myself and behaving like an adult for one of the first times in my young life.
The college brochures all had such pretty pictures in them. The stock-image students depicted in them all had such stupid, enthusiastic smiles on their faces and all of the impressive campuses looked so distinguished and pristine. This was college — the real deal at last — and I quickly drew the conclusion that if my future school was to be anything like those sparkling ones in the brochures, I’d certainly have a fulfilling experience.
But it never occurred to me — at least not until I was filling out detailed applications, taking the SAT/ACT exams and (barely) making important submission deadlines — that things would be actually be different, that I would genuinely have to venture out into the real world, the world that existed outside of the sheltered, private school community I had known for so long.
My class would no longer be comprised of a mere 154 students, nor would I be on a first name basis with all of my teachers, faculty overseers and classmates. I wouldn’t be able to cross campus in under two minutes, nor would the people I encounter at school necessarily know that my name is Natalie or that I have an unhealthy love of iced mochas and fictional characters on “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Furthermore, my tightly knit circle of friends would be at other schools, some of them even across the country. What would a painfully awkward introvert like myself do to make friends, especially at a massive school like the University of Southern California? Who would understand my quirks and accept them? I’d simply be a minuscule fish in a massive pond and I managed to convince myself that, because of this, I’d surely be eaten alive.
But really, who would I be in college? An equally terrifying yet thought-provoking question. I can think of only one answer for anyone who has ever wondered about this question themselves. The answer itself is simple: you can be anything. As cliche as it may be, college life does offer incoming students an opportunity for complete reinvention (if you’re so inclined). On your new campus, you can exist in any way that pleases you, for you are new and unknown, and it’s more than likely that the majority of those thousands of impressionable classmates around you don’t have the slightest idea who you are, leaving your public persona yours to maintain or refine.
Yes, some might feel pressured to completely change their identities to match their unfamiliar surroundings or seek out chances for redemption from past failures or shortcomings, but that’s not the point. It’s uncomfortable being somewhere new, but the feelings of unease this change brings about shouldn't affect your decision making or behavior in a damaging way.
The real message here is that college provides a fresh foundation on which you can build. The materials and structure are up to you. You’ve reached the the time when it’s important to tune in to your own deeply rooted ambitions or desires for yourself and to access all previously untapped or ignored potential. You can begin to identify your passions, even experiment a bit, and seek out an education and social scene closely tailored to your wants and needs in a more independent environment than you’ve likely ever lived in before.
Yes, going to college means you’re leaving the well-traveled world of high school behind, but such a change shouldn't necessarily elicit fear, as I initially experienced myself as an introvert from a small, sheltered high school.
Take a minute and think critically, with as much care and consideration as your inexperience with adult life allows, about what these next four years are to you. You’ll have your future ahead of you with time for enjoyable experiences along away. Trust that you’ll have fun in one form or another wherever it is that you end up and that your time in college will mean something. Don’t feel pressured to alter yourself just for social acceptance (unless you want to, of course). Take things in moderation, make adjustments and don’t fear the changes you’re facing as your approach your destiny.
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