I wish I knew my freshman year what I know now.
I came to Oregon State University as a doe-eyed freshman, but within my first few weeks on campus, I got caught in the headlights of harsh reality and collided with a crisis as my previously held hopes and expectations shattered.
College is not a fairy-tale world where you go pursue your dream career, meet new, lifelong friends every day and enjoy carefree days hanging out. Maybe it is for some people, but it wasn’t for me. It was hard.
Although I lived within an hour of my old hometown, I was lonely. I missed my family and my old friends. Every day I tried to reach out and make new acquaintances, but that was hard to do in crowded lecture halls.
Classes forced me to leave the dorm when nothing else would, forewarned as I was that missing a class was tantamount to academic suicide. I was excited to test my intellect to the breaking point against classes my high school teachers had cautioned would require the ingenuity of Einstein and the determination of a genetically engineered bulldog. A lot of what I found were boring textbooks (which I dutifully read), tedious lectures, and assignments that made me want to tear my hair out.
Worse still, I couldn’t pick a major. I latched onto biology because it fit my general interests, but when I’d hear my classmates talking about how passionate they were about becoming doctors or studying some obscure microbe, I’d begin to feel uneasy. I felt like an imposter, going through the motions.
College was not only stressful, but also expensive. I was spending more money than I ever had in my life. Despite several scholarships and grants, I was taking out loans to pay for dorm food and housing in addition to tuition, and I’d never spent more than a hundred dollars on a book before. It made me nervous.
If my future self were to brave a paradox to visit me in that first year, she would have a thing or two to say.
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• First, find a niche. Find a club, a group or something that interests you. Be prepared to start conversations that never get farther than the weather or the course material.
• Don’t come in expecting your classes to be a picnic, but also understand that some of them will be so boring or seemingly ridiculous you’ll want to throw your oversized and overpriced textbook through the wall. Some classes pave the way to more exciting ones, and are worth the time and effort you committed. Then there are the gems, the ones that not only demand your attention but reward you with a positive learning experience.
• There are plenty of great professors who really care and work hard to help their students learn. Find them, go to their office hours and take the time to appreciate these people.
• If you don’t have a major, don’t worry about it. Your parents might be breathing down your neck, badgering you to choose already, but this is your education, and you’re not alone. There’s a University Exploratory Studies Program for a reason. There’s time to change and to come into who you really are, to make mistakes and change your mind.
• There’s no getting around the fact that college is expensive. Seek out scholarships and grants and borrow responsibly. Hopefully, you’ll be able to pay it off when you get your brand-spanking new job in the real world. Visit the financial aid office for help.
For me, I’m glad I came to OSU. I’m always learning here. I get to learn about things such as cell signaling pathways and chemical reactions that make me really appreciate the wonderful opportunity I have. I’ve met professors who inspire me and have demonstrated what someone can do to achieve her passion. I’ve made friends who make a simple weekday dinner or a cup of coffee so much more. And most importantly, I’ve learned about myself and who I am as a person who continues to grow and change.
College can be whatever you want it to be. My advice: leave your expectations at home with your old macaroni art projects and see college with open eyes. It’s not perfect: it is what it is, and it is what you make it.
McKinley Smith worked as an intern in the summer of 2013 in the Gazette-Times’ newsroom.