On College: The Years That Make and Break You

By Elysa Rivera

“You go to college because you want to do something- in your case you have something very specific that you want to do. Do whatever you can to respect and honor that desire. Trust yourself, trust your gut. Know when things are just embarrassing and when they’re truly uncomfortable. Do what you want to do, and never be afraid to not do what other people want from you. College is what you make of it. Be safe, be smart, and have fun.”

This is the handwritten advice my brother left on my desk when I went away to college almost 4 year ago. It didn’t mean much to me then but as I stand (almost) at the end of this journey, I now understand how spot-on this advice was. These words revolutionized the idea of college and shaped my life today. I love to tell people that I dropped out of my first college.It was the biggest decision I ever made. Not only to change schools, but to do something else.  I would love to help normalise challenging the institutionalized idea of education. I believe that your educational journey should be customizable to what you need. My brother’s advice to know the difference between embarrassing and uncomfortable helped me realize that something wasn’t working in my initial situation, and I had the power to change it. I had to respect and honor my initial desire: to learn.

My college journey has been nothing I ever expected, but everything I needed (whether I liked it or not). There were three major lessons I learned that no one had ever forewarned be about. Everyone’s journey is different; but I think it might be worth it to share these lessons with all of you. Whether you are going to college, in college, finished with college, or decided f*ck college!; I believe these lessons can ring true in all circumstances.

The infamous “4 years of your life” ...

...are going to happen no matter what. No matter what school you choose, or if you choose to go at all. Though they may not be the “best”, they will absolutely change your life. I wouldn’t necessarily chalk-up my college experience to be the “best 4 years of my life”; the way they are so infamously referred to. But they have been revolutionary. Sometimes it felt like it was moving so fast that I was being dragged through hell just to keep up. I go to a commuter school in a big city; so there's no real student life. I thought that there was no way I would have this wonderful, TV-college experience if I didn’t live on a campus. I spent most of my time working, or studying, or trying to stay sane; leaving little room to hang out or indulge in a good party atmosphere (which albeit, are rare in college.) But when I stop whining about what I didn’t have- or things I thought I would have, I saw that my commuter school, my job, and my very small group of friends were exactly the college experience I wanted. It just looked a little different. I just had to be open to seeing it.

The most “adult” decisions you are going to make are going to be the decisions that force you to live life on your own terms.

This includes; ending a relationship, starting a relationship, dropping classes changing your major, changing your school, dropping out of your school (that’s me!). You know what’s right for you, and you should never let people make you feel like they know better. That will never be the case. I’ve dropped out once and changed my major 3 times, on top of working a part-time job; you bet your butt my parents and I have fought about it! I know it comes from a place of concern for me, but I assured them that everything I was doing was to benefit me. They may not have believed me then but I needed to stand up for myself. The most mature thing you can do is follow your own path, no matter what.

Whatever happens now will not define the rest of your life.

This is my favorite piece of advice. How comforting is it to know that even if the decisions you make now end up not working out, you’ll have more than enough chances to get them right later. It’s important to remember that these next however many years are for finding out what you want from this life. What you want to take out and what you want to put in. Making mistakes is, unfortunately, a hazard of the job. I used to be terrified of making mistakes. All the mistakes I made would play in a horrendous slide show in my head that kept me awake at night, and part of the reason was because I made so few of them. I wanted so badly to be perfect that I spent the first 18 years of my life avoiding any risk (and fun) to make sure that I did everything right. You’ll find that sometimes these initially good decisions that turned into bad decisions will teach you some very valuable lessons about life and about yourself. Maybe, they were good decisions disguised as bad decisions after all? Whatever the case, if they were with good intention-- you’ll be okay. These lessons will only bring you one step closer to living a life you’re proud of.