What does “on time” even mean? For those of us who took AP courses or concurrent enrollment in High School maybe you had a whole year or more of college written off (like my childhood neighbor). Or maybe you signed up for a degree that’s practically impossible to finish in four years — unless you don’t have a job and your food/ housing is paid for. Where did this idea of we have to finish college in four years even come from? Why are we judged by how quickly we get through college? How does that show employers or family that you’re above the rest because you didn’t have fun in college?
I think going to college is such a sacred time in a young person’s life — especially if you’re able to do it the traditional way (directly after high school). You finally get to experience a world outside of high school, you get to find new hobbies and interests, and you get to test out this whole new freedom you probably never had before. And then once you’ve unpacked, classes start. And you’re quite literally thrown into this frenzy of first years and seniors tetris-ing their way through campus, and you have professors having coffee with students walking to their next classes, and people slacklining in the Quad during breaks from class. While you’re trying to soak it all in, and make it to your 9am English 101 course in time.
I will never forget my Freshmen year when I had no idea that the syllabus was what told us when assignments were due. So for three weeks I came to class, and the professor never said what homework was due (like they did in high school), and I finally I asked the girl next to me how she knew these assignments were due. She looked at me like I had 5 heads and that I asked how to spell ‘leaf’, and she said “uhh… it’s in the syllabus?” Quite literally this was me:
That’s when I realized college was a whole other ballgame and I didn’t even have the right rule book.
College was hard for me, and I can say that now that I’m in my last semester (finally). It was HARD. I didn’t do things the traditional way — other than going straight from high school — I stayed at home instead of living on campus, I didn’t stay on campus longer than I had to, I worked almost full time from the get-go, and even though I was local none of my friends stayed in school longer than a semester or even stayed in the same town as me. So right off the bat, I felt incredibly isolated. It wasn’t until my second year of college that I finally sat in the student section for sports games, and I can count on two hands how many times I drank before I turned 21.
Had I graduated in time I would have been 21, and for ANYONE who turned 21 in college… That would have been the accomplishment of the century. I knew by my second year I was going to be in college for an extra semester. By my third year I knew it was going to be a five-year plan, and at the beginning of my fifth year, it turned into a double victory lap. Taking into account I changed my major three times, and twice within the same college it makes more sense, but it wasn’t all entirely by choice.
I have an internal battle with myself, almost on a daily basis, that I am less than because I didn’t graduate college in four years and that I’m not finishing up my Masters Program (I don’t even want to go to Graduate School, so why this is a worry is so ridiculous). I constantly feel ashamed to tell people how old I am when I have to do those absurd introductions in classes, and when people ask what year I am I just say “Oh I graduate May 2018”. I stopped telling people what year I was and how old I am during my fifth year when people started giving me these wide-eyed crazy look that I was in a class with them as a super senior. And yeah, this shit is embarrassing sometimes, but then I think about all the people I know from high school or in general that never went to school or didn’t finish, and that’s an awful comparison, but the way I see is that I’m still in the fight.
I always joked and said “I would have dropped out but I’m too close to the end at this point”, but when the possibility of having to drop out was presented to me during my fifth year I cried, like UGLY cried, to my advisor. I had put in all this work, and I was just about to throw it all away? I refuse to go down without a fight.
I was recently having a chat with my dad and I guess I said something that made him realize I was having this internal battle with myself and he said “Do you feel ashamed that you’re still in school?” and I said yes, and he said “Don’t feel that way. You’ve taken longer sure, but think about all the experience you’ve gained over the years compared to others, and you had a good time. It’s time to kick in gear now that it’s your final year, but it’s fine. You’re fine.” and I kind of had to sit back and soak it all in. He was right (he’d probably have a heart attack if he ever saw that line, so don’t tell him (;).
Sure I took the long way around to the goal, but the obstacles I faced and opportunities offered to me on that path were far from anything I would have ever wished for. I was able to have these incredible internships and joined amazing organizations on campus. Sure I still feel that tinge of guilt that I didn’t get it done in time, but I 100% without a doubt would not have it any other way. I met incredible people along the way and found what I want to do after college, and what interests me. I matured in college, and I think having that with me when I walk across the stage to claim my much-deserved degree is going to feel so much better than if I didn’t do what I loved when I was in college.
Here’s my tip: Find Yourself. Find what you love to do. Find that research topic that makes you excited and you find yourself researching when you could be doing anything else. Find your people. FIND YOU. Once these start falling into place… the whole world starts to look a little brighter and more attainable.