Your college experience might not look like everyone else’s – and that’s okay

Morris Lawrence Building


Here’s a little something you probably already know: college is hard. If you disagree with this statement, congratulations. You’ve managed to make your way through the labyrinth of pre-reqs, class credits, finals weeks and the ever-elusive “figuring out what to do for the next 35 years of life.” If you agree, there’s another thing you might not know: that’s okay.

In our culture these days, school is one of the number one sources of stress. Earning a degree is practically essential to getting any kind of job with a livable wage. Along with the degree of your choice, internships and residencies are some of the only tickets into your dream career.

Consequently, there’s the natural response to freak out if you find you’re not on the traditional route that’s been ingrained in every student since they were taught their ABCs – an undergrad degree, then grad school, then the lowly life of an intern who fetches triple-shot lattes, and finally, hopefully, all your dreams come true in the confines of a six-by-six cubicle.

But alternate paths are more than okay. College is about making school work for you so you can succeed, not working yourself to fit the pre-made mold of College Student™.  Some paths look like gap semesters or gap years. Some look like still enrolling for yet another semester when everyone else your age is donning a cap and gown and getting a kickstart on their careers.

Some look like changing your major four times. Some look like going back to school after your grown children have graduated, to get the degree you always wanted but couldn’t make happen until now. Some look like deciding it just isn’t for you at all.

They’re all hard work, full of bumps and bruises along the way, but they don’t all have to be the same because every person isn’t the same. There’s nothing wrong with the road less traveled.

However, sometimes there’s a stigma in the road less traveled. Taking another path occasionally garners confused looks and hesitant affirmations from friends and family who ask, “So what are you up to these days?” It can even come from within ourselves, questioning why we can’t be the same as that one friend we all have who managed to have their whole career planned out on day one of their enrollment at a Big Ten school.

However, there’s no shame in doing what’s best for you, and it’s not even all that uncommon: statistically, students are not only spending longer in school, but 50-70% of college students change their major at least once, and the average student changes their major at least three times, according to a study at the University of La Verne in California.

We live in the world that is rapidly changing and therefore the college experience has to change for some of us too. It bears repeating: there’s no shame in doing what’s best for you, even if it makes you an outlier. Even when it feels like other people don’t understand, like it’s overwhelming, like you are stuck between ten rocks and a million hard places — there is no shame in doing what’s best for you in taking a different path. Do you. It is okay.






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