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College Is Terrifying (And Why That's a Good Thing)


There’s that stereotypical moment of watching your parents drive away after they drop you off at college, when you realize that you’re all alone in the world and will never, ever see them again, and the bottom drops out of your stomach and you kind of want to curl up in a ball and cry.

I can’t speak for everyone’s experience, of course, but I must admit, I did not have that moment four years ago, after move-in. I was a little sad, but excited, exhilarated, enthused—I was an adult!

Until I got the Death Flu a month later and just really wanted my mommy.

College is scary. While not everyone’s experience is the same, I think it’s pretty safe to say that most freshmen have a point where they just really want to go home. Some can; for me, home is about 800 miles away, so that wasn’t really an option. I realized quickly that I was NOT really ready to take on the world alone, and called my parents almost every night. I had to learn to do little things on my own, like handle my credit card statements and get routine maintenance on my car, stuff I had always taken for granted because it had been done for me. Obviously, I survived, but that first year was pretty tough.

Not only because of homesickness. College also forced me to deal with my fear of failure. To be entirely honest, I never really had to try in high school; good grades came without me having to, you know, effort. And then, getting to UE, I remember sitting my first literature class and going “How in the world are you getting all of this amazing genius brilliance out of this poem?” Every time I turned in an assignment, which I would spend hours upon hours writing and rewriting, I would not be convinced that I wouldn’t get an F. That I wouldn’t fail entirely and be shown to be a fraud. That my professors would think that I was stupid. And that was terrifying.

And that too, I’ve overcome. But there are still many challenges that I’m learning to deal with. One of the biggest fears is money. I work, both on- and off-campus, but still scramble to have my bank account move in the right direction. I manage to be surprised every week at the grocery at how quickly bread and cheese and fruit (and okay, popcorn and caffeine) add up.  And books. And gas. And eating out, which I almost never do. I’m having to learn how to be an adult, how to budget and to say ‘no’ to a pair of shoes, even if they’re on sale. Because money is terrifying.

But I think the scariest thing of all is when people ask me what I’m doing after graduation. Because I don’t know. I have applied to eleven graduate schools, but competition is so intense—like, taking 5% of applicants intense. And if I don’t get my PhD, I can’t do what I’ve always wanted to do, become a professor myself.

But here’s the thing: you learn how to deal with these fears. You learn to talk to people (and moms are the BEST people ever!), you learn to compartmentalize, you learn to de-stress, and you learn that worrying is, in the end, pretty useless. What comes will come, no matter how much anxiety you have, something I’m really trying to focus on. Because, while college is scary, it has taught me that I can survive and thrive, even when I’m not sure that I can. 


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