Only experience can prepare first-years for college

By Jessica Isgro

Contributing Writer

It is my belief that no college first-year understands what he or she is getting into until the school year officially begins. The painstaking hours spent touring campuses, attending information sessions, reading blogs and meeting current students is good preparation for choosing a school, but not for understanding what it will be like to be a part of the campus. After my first year at the University, I realize that no program could have prepared me for the academic rigor, extracurricular commitment and independent behavior that college would entail.

There is something about the phenomenon of higher education that has to be experienced to be understood. Until you are confined to bed with a mid-winter cold, you will not understand what it means to take care of yourself. Until you spend the small hours of the night completely caffeinated, slaving over a paper, you will not fully comprehend the college all-nighter. And until you have to live with a complete stranger, you will not understand what it means to have a roommate.

This is not to say that first-year experiences are unpleasant. But they are just that: first-year experiences. In order to understand what it means to be a first-year, you must be a first-year. In order to comprehend the culture, you must immerse yourself within it. But why is it that we cannot come to college with a full understanding of what we’ll experience?

Part of it is the fact that we never receive an accurate portrayal of college life. Looking through every catalog and magazine that advertises dorm accessories gives us a false pretense of the space we will be living in. Why PBteen thinks we’ll need to buy our own desks, chairs, dressers and bed frames is beyond me. As an incoming first-year, I nearly salivated over the cavernous dwellings that these magazines claimed would one day be mine. In reality, living on campus is less about accessorizing and more about figuring out where on earth you’re going to keep all of your stuff. Lesson one of my college experience was that investing in plastic storage boxes was money well spent.

Another significant part of our lack of collegiate understanding is the way we see it in the media. Movies like “The Roommate” inflict us with nothing but fear, movies like “Accepted” lead us to believe that getting rejected from college just means opening your own and movies like “The House Bunny” present college life as nothing but mindless fun. While these movies can be entertaining, they give us a false sense of collegiate life. Even though we know these movies only present extremes, we lose sight of what an actual college experience will entail.

What I learned as soon as I became a part of campus is that college is not about biting off more than you can chew, it’s about learning to chew more. It’s about realizing that you can do everything you love, but the hours in the day will always be the same and it’s up to you to figure out how everything will fit. The movies can’t prepare you for that.

So if I could have somehow prepared myself for life as a college first-year, would I? I don’t know. Sure, it would have been wonderful to completely understand the academic, extracurricular and social scenes I was walking into. However, surprise is half of the experience. I don’t think prepping myself on first-year protocol would have made my year any better because I enjoyed finding my own way.

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