Many moons ago, as a novice freshman, I had my entire four years of college mapped out. I was going to take four classes, average 16-17 units every quarter and graduate two quarters early with the combined units I obtained from AP courses in high school. At some point I would join a frat and begin a brotherhood with over 100 strangers that would last a lifetime. I would also be a cabinet member of several clubs and have my name etched into the memory of the campus organization scene.
And by senior year? Well, I promised myself that I’d have one, maybe two, internships under my belt in the fields of creative writing and sociology, respectively. I swore to adhere to this schedule and become a model college student. As a first-generation college student I had lofty expectations to uphold. Myself and my family’s livelihood were at stake. I had several family members that sought out college only to buckle halfway through. I didn’t want to falter under the weight of the collective hope my relatives put on me. And as a single mother, helping my mom was always something I knew was a necessity college. Success in college and finding a great career post-schooling meant a better life for my immediate family. How could I ever stray from a formula that seemed so easy? But as students we all know the university is no cake walk.
I’m a senior now, I’ve had no internships at the time of this writing, I haven’t been a part of any clubs and I’m fighting in earnest to finish in the spring. My situation is a classic example of someone diverging from their tentative plan when they actually begin to go through the motions of the real college experience. But somehow, I’m okay with not being where I thought I’d be.
They say struggle is implicit in any challenge. The journey should be more valued than the destination. I wouldn’t trade these last few years for anything. Being able to immerse myself in an institution with sprawling opportunities and a diverse demographic of students has helped me spatially expand my horizons. It opened a realm to another universe that I’ve had the pleasure of exploring. You never realize how sheltered you are until you’re plucked from your hometown and placed in an environment that causes you to break out of your comfort zone. The coolest thing about exploring uncharted territory is that every step you take unearths a new possibility that you hadn’t previously been aware of.
Building a plan of action is great, and I’ll always advise doing so upon entering any new institution that you aren’t familiar with. But don’t be afraid to diverge from your preordained path and get a little sporadic. What makes life worth living are the little unexpected surprises and twists that shake us, turning us into something entirely different in the long run. Not many of us will walk off this campus as the same person we were during our freshmen year. College morphs you into a more effective individual by constantly giving you trials that you may be able to conquer, and some you’ll fail at. It’s your first waltz into the real world where things have real consequences.
Internships will always be there to claim, and there’s a job out there for everyone if you’re willing to wait and seize the perfect opportunity when it arrives. But our college experience is the now. I don’t chastise myself for prioritizing my academics and job in the newspaper. I’m still here, sane and ready to see this journey through to the end.
When I first entered college, I had a set plan for what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a doctor. I had heard that, to get into medical school, you don’t particularly need a science degree. So I decided to be different. I was to major in English while taking the required science courses for medical school. My parents were weary of my decision, warning me the road ahead would be very difficult, but I was up for the challenge.
I was also ready to expand my social circle. College was the time to explore your horizons, meet new friends, join clubs and go to parties. “It’s going to be a piece of cake,” I thought. By my senior year, I would have a new group of close friends and be a part of several clubs, and maybe even be a board member. Also by senior year, I would be applying to medical schools across the nation, with a few research opportunities and medical internships that I had done in the past few years that would give my resume a boost. By the time I graduated, I’d have a medical school waiting for me to attend in the fall. My family would be at ease about my future and I would be too. It all seemed perfectly planned out.
Right now, I’m a senior with no set plan for the future. I’m terrified to say the least, but am learning to let that fear drive me into action instead of just sitting still. By my second year, I stopped declaring myself as a pre-med student. I stopped registering for science classes and decided to stick to something that made me happy, which was being an English major. At first, I thought I had failed when I stopped pursuing what I thought was my dream career as a doctor. But I soon realized what I already knew: My desire to pursue a career involving English. That includes teaching, journalism and many other things I wasn’t aware of until I did some research.
Socially, I have learned being a social butterfly isn’t as easy as it seems. For some people that may be the case, but for myself in particular, it requires a bit more effort. I didn’t acquire a huge group of friends but I have made real relationships with a few. I learned the meaning of quality over quantity with them. In the case of clubs and extracurricular activities, I have been able to join a few but didn’t go the extra step in becoming a board member. I don’t even have internship experience. So instead of freaking out about the inexperience I have, I’m starting now. I’m looking at internship opportunities, volunteer abroad programs and looking into how I could earn my teaching credentials. There’s an array of options for me out there, I just have to find them. I’m learning that it’s okay to not have my life together by the time I graduate, as long as I have a plan. College comes with its challenges, but that’s what makes the experience memorable.