I’m not even halfway through pursuing my undergraduate degree, so I’m no expert on college and I certainly have no idea what it will feel like to be a college graduate. I don’t claim to have any words of wisdom that will be meaningful to somebody about to graduate college, but in thinking about what I would want to hear if I was almost done, I decided to say this: college isn’t that great, there is no ‘experience’ and it isn’t the best time of your life.
I have to backtrack; I’m not going to sit here and bemoan the time I’ve had in college so far. There are some great things about it: I have met some of the best people I could ever dream of and we all live within walking distance of each other. I have loved some of the classes that I’ve taken, had intriguing and heated discussions, and yes, gone to some great parties. But there is a cultural idea that was thrust upon me for as long as I can remember is that college is some sort of utopian summer camp where there are no rules. You can do keg stands every night and never get hungover, eat Top Ramen for every meal and still maintain the energy for those nightly keg stands. That’s just not the reality for me, and I think it’s probably not the reality for a lot of us.
Pushing the idea that there is one college experience for everyone is exclusionary and forces people to have impossibly unattainable expectations that they will certainly be let down from. For one thing, the majority of today’s college students are “nontraditional.” The fact that we still imagine college as this wild, ‘Animal House’-style romp is totally dismissive of the wide range of students that attend the University of Oregon, as well as other four-year institutions around the country. It also pushes high school students to believe that they have to attend a traditional four-year institution as freshmen to get the “experience,” when going to community college for two years and transferring to a four-year school for a bachelor’s degree is a way to save a serious amount of money. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to live in the dorms as a freshman, and some studies have shown that living in dorms, frequently seen as the epitome of the “college experience,” does actually improve academic performance (these studies were almost certainly cited by UO in order to justify their ridiculous new live-in requirement). But just because one doesn’t choose to live in the dorms, join a fraternity or go to parties every weekend, doesn’t mean that they didn’t go to college and learn a lot, both in and out of the classroom.
So if you are graduating this spring, congratulations, whether college was the best time of your life, the worst or was inconsequential. Hopefully no matter which one it was, your life will continue to get better from here. Because while frat parties and trashing Lake Shasta can be fun, they shouldn’t epitomize the college experience. And if you feel like you didn’t have this traditional college experience, your degree is just as valuable.