Miserable high school student, plus one life stage.
March 18, 2010 11:22 AM   Subscribe

I'm a sophomore in college who was totally sure as a high school senior that I wanted to go to an out of state liberal arts college. I succeeded, and now I'm pretty sure I made the wrong choice. Did this happen to you? How did you deal with it going forward into Real Life?

Anonymous because I don't want this tied with my account. A skilled googler could probably figure out who I am from this, I realize, but that's OK.

I got into one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country, and I got an incredibly great financial aid package. Sweet, right? Well. Not so much, it turns out. I thought I'd find the smallness cozy after going to a huge public high school, but I find it claustrophobic. I like the small classes full of smart people and the approachable professors, and my GPA is in the B/B+ range, but I'm worried I'm not really smart enough or nearly driven and focused enough to succeed here. I've finally had to work to get good grades and develop work habits and study skills after 12 years of coasting, and it's rough. I'm close to my family, I'm half a continent away from them, and I miss them and their support a lot more than I'd expected.

My larger problem is related to the social environment here. I'm from the south, not athletic, and not rich. The largest cultural influence here are rich athletic kids from the East Coast, and I just don't feel comfortable. I tend to be self-conscious and don't have a lot of self-confidence, and the environment here brings out the worst of those traits in me. I'm not like this at home, but here I'm self-loathing and constantly worried about what other people think and how I compare to other people. The combination of my personality and the environment here, which seems to favor extroverted, self-confident, ambitious people, turns out to be sort of toxic to my sense of self-worth. The school is also very small and isolated (it's in the rural Northeast), and I feel like I'm in a pressure cooker. I feel like there's no escape.

As a result of all that, I haven't really found my niche here. I'm not involved in any of the extracurriculars that can become your whole life, like sports or theater, and the groups I am in are small and don't really substitute for a social life. My school has a really supportive freshman living structure, and I've kept my friends from that, but haven't really made many new ones this year. I'm sort of adrift, with no reliable friends like I had in high school and while I do go out on the weekends with people sometimes and have meals with people fairly regularly, I don't have the every day support of a solid group of friends and I don't know if I'll find it in the next two years.

Transferring isn't an option for a lot of reasons, so I'd appreciate if people don't just say "leave." I've thought about it, but I only have 3.5 semesters left here (I'm going abroad for a semester next year), I couldn't get a better education at a better price elsewhere, and I don't think I'd handle the transition to another school well at all. I've kind of decided that I'm going to try to make things better while I'm here, but I'm not really sure that I can at this point- having no self confidence makes it hard to make friends, it turns out.

TL;DR: I feel like I'm wasting/have wasted my college years, in every sense but academically. I chose the wrong environment, and being here has sort of dragged my self-worth into the dirt and I feel like I'm missing out on the kind of social experiences people usually have at college. Basically, I know that people tell miserable high schoolers that high school sucks, college is better, it'll all work out. Can any of you tell me that? Can I recover from this shitty experience and be a well-adjusted person who enjoys their twenties?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I went abroad to escape my college and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Perhaps the best experience still. Opened my eyes about just about everything. I think you have the right answer there. Also, I went to grad school after college, and there I made up for a lot of the limitations of my college. I think if I hadn't gone on to grad school I would have regretted not transferring. Finally, being in your twenties, single, and out of college, is often even better than being in college.
posted by Tristram Shandy, Gentleman at 11:40 AM on March 18, 2010

You are me, in a lot of ways. I went to the wrong college, too, and was unhappy in a lot of the same ways you are now. I ended up transferring, something I seriously suggest you reconsider, and soon- beyond sophomore year, you're probably not going to be able to transfer all of your credits to another school. None of the reasons listed make a compelling case for why you HAVE to stay where you are. Beyond transferring, have you tried getting into any of the extracurriculars? It doesn't sound like you have, and that could be a good way to get a good group of friends (not that it worked for me, which is why I again recommend you examine your options to transfer). Perhaps you could get a job off-campus? Or do some volunteer work? Try to break free of "the bubble"; you'll find life outside a lot more enjoyable. Good luck!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:40 AM on March 18, 2010

Basically, I know that people tell miserable high schoolers that high school sucks, college is better, it'll all work out. Can any of you tell me that? Can I recover from this shitty experience and be a well-adjusted person who enjoys their twenties?

Well, I think the reason people tell high schoolers that is because high school is such a cloistered environment that it can seem like everyone in the universe thinks a certain way, acts a certain way, values the same things, etc., and your social environment and your life will always be a certain way. And everyone will always think of you in a certain way. Obviously, that's not true of the wider world. I think it can seem like that in any small, cloistered, cloistered environment, not just high school.

How rural is your area? The northeast's not that big, you're usually not that far away from a decent-sized city at any given time. Is there any kind of consuming work or activity you could do on the weekends, away from school, to give yourself some breathing room?
posted by Ashley801 at 11:44 AM on March 18, 2010

I'm not much older than you, so I'm still figuring this stuff out myself, but as I've gotten older I've realized that if I react to any situation I'm in as a challenge to improve myself, I usually end up happier, smarter, and stronger.

Your first problem will probably be easier to fix. This: I've finally had to work to get good grades and develop work habits and study skills after 12 years of coasting, and it's rough. is incredibly common among smart, young people. The way I got over it was, basically, I figured out what field I really liked, and then decided that I was going to make myself good at it. Way, way easier said than done, but it's totally possible. If you need to figure out good study habits, there are a bunch of older AskMe questions about that. It can be really tough to relearn how to do school, but once you start getting As and impressing professors, you'll probably feel that it was worth it. Also, studying gets easier over time, even if the subject matter doesn't.

As to the second, I felt like that in my (rich, east-coast, boarding) high school. I decided that no one could possibly understand the way I saw things, so I just put no effort into making friends. I regret it now, because you can find cool people just about anywhere. Are there any extracurriculars that you find interesting at all (aside from sports and drama, which I steered clear of myself)? Any political/debate/trivia/film/community service clubs? Yeah, on-campus clubs can be cheesy and awkward, but they also provide the sort of structured social interaction that serves as a good first step for friendships.

Lastly, you're not wasting time. You're growing up and learning things about yourself. If your campus has some sort of free counseling program, a therapist could help you learn more things about yourself, faster and in context, and provide a sort of support network until you find your group of friends.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:44 AM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

I was super, super shy and went to a small liberal arts college that sounds suspiciously close to what you describe (but again, there are a lot of small isolated liberal arts schools in the rural Northeast). There were a lot of rich kids there, although I would not describe them as athletic.

My sophomore year was very rough. I also felt adrift. I wasn't involved in extracurricular activities and didn't do much but study. Then, I found some friends. Someone invited me to do something and I just went. I felt like I was going to die from social anxiety every day for about two months, but that finally stopped (or I just got used to it). I was self conscious and worried about being the wrong kind of person to be a friend with, and that I was just doing it wrong, but it turned out that everyone else was probably worrying about that too.

It helped that I just started to talk to people even though I really didn't want to. It was not easy and I was not the best at it, but I've found that people are generally nice and like to talk. Just strike up a conversation with someone in class, keep going out on weekends and having meals with people, and I would say that this "group of friends" will probably fall into place. It doesn't have to be a coherent group of people, either -- looking for a group to fit into might make this harder. Just try to get to know individual people and your own group will form, I think. When I found a few people that I liked and learned that they all lived in the same dorm, I moved to their dorm. That helped a lot. College friends are sort of proximity based in many ways, to be honest, and this might be something to consider. Switching dorms is a lot easier than switching schools.

It can (and probably will) definitely get better. You aren't even half-way through yet. I think I'm fairly well-adjusted and I definitely enjoyed college and my twenties. My lonely, terrible experiences in sophomore year are seriously a faded memory now, and I never think about them when I think about college (unless someone asks me to reflect on them).
posted by k8lin at 11:44 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I understand where you are coming from, and although I was in a similar situation last year as a sophomore, my year of studying abroad has caused a huge shift in how I think of my college back in the US.

If you are studying abroad at a real university (by that I mean not one of those schools specifically for study abroad students), take advantage of everything you can, even if you are only there for a semester have the mentality that you will be there for the next few years. When you do that, I am almost certain you will become motivated to integrate yourself not only with the students, but with activities and clubs at the uni.

However, if you are going to a school that is meant for SA kids, or has a high number of them (e.g. St. Andrews in Scotland), then my advice would be to distance yourself from the university and use your time to become involved in a project or club in the city. That way you avoid the all too common case where all the SA students stick together and never get to know anyone else.

To reiterate, I know how you feel. My sophomore year was horrible, I almost never got out of bed, missed class and so on. The result was an increase in my negative feelings towards my college. I was on the verge of dropping out, because I thought the environment was not for me, and that college in general was something I would never function well in. Now I am in the middle of my second semester abroad, and I miss my college so much. While being here I have realized all the things I was missing out on back in the US because I thought I had too much work, or I didn't know anyone, etc. I am taking this time to reflect upon myself, my values, what I want in life, what my two thesis projects should be on, and who I care most about back at my college. I cannot guarantee it will be the same result for you, but if someone had told me last year that by the time I finished studying abroad I would be disappointed to only have one year at college left, no doubt in my mind, I would have laughed, given them a condescending look, and walked away.

If you want to know more, I would be happy to delve into further details (how I felt last year, what I have been doing during my SA year, how I feel about my last coming up), just let me know.
posted by eldvno at 11:45 AM on March 18, 2010

I'm not involved in any of the extracurriculars that can become your whole life, like sports or theater, and the groups I am in are small and don't really substitute for a social life.

This is your problem. You need to find one. I ended up at a small liberal arts college out of state that I had picked, because it was 7 hours away and let me in. But the overly conservative climate and frat boy attitudes of my fellow students didn’t get to me because I joined up with one of those extracurriculars that takes over your whole life and made some lifelong friends. If the extracurriculars on campus aren’t working for you, maybe use something like meetup to look off campus and find something with normal down to earth humans in it. This group finding skill is something you need to develop if you don’t want to be tied down to one place or city all your life. Also generally I find that it takes 3x of showing up somewhere new before I get over the “Uggh new people are so difficult”-yness of putting yourself out there and can actually judge an activity on its own merit, so maybe give some of the extracurriculars a second chance.
posted by edbles at 11:45 AM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

You can recover from this shitty experience and be a well-adjusted person who enjoys your twenties.

I faced a very similar situation to what you're describing, although the mediocrity ended up driving me elsewhere after two years. You seem like you actually have a lot more going for you than you think.

Sure, you have a B average, but you yourself say how you're being forced to learn and study and work hard. Being around people who aren't like you is tough, but think about what a great asset that will be for you when you're in the business world and have to talk to people from other departments/organizations who might not have anything in common with you.

Going abroad will be great for you, especially if you get away from whatever school-sponsored housing you're in and the American kids who live there.

Then, getting into a grad school or another city or another change of scenery will also be great. Yeah, making new friends will be a pain, but

I HAAAAAATED the cliquey environment of my school, especially since the cliques formed for what I saw as overinflated reasons of importance that wouldn't fly anywhere else in the "real" world. Yeah, it sucked. On the other hand, it also made me a much more rational person, who saw things as they were and remained honest about myself and what I saw. I was cynical for a while, but because i was honest I could remain a bit of a romantic in other ways and not lose my sense of wonder at the other things the world could offer.

This too shall pass. Again, I'll give you the advice that I give everybody, which is to remember that everyone you think has things so much easier (more money, friends, better grades, whatever) is hiding any number of problems -- big, small, real, imaginary. Just focus on being compassionate and putting yourself in their shoes, and you'll find that people probably actually give you way more credit than you give yourself.

Feel free to MeMail me, any time. I can totally, totally relate.
posted by Madamina at 11:47 AM on March 18, 2010

It's winter in the Northeast. You are feeling depressed about college. You are not the only one.

I continued to make friends throughout college - don't feel like you have to have it all sorted out. Going abroad is a great opportunity. Other great opportunities - research work for a professor, random chats in the library lobby, the dining hall. . . plus once spring comes you can just sit outside and it will be much easier to meet new people.

Your GPA is fine, you are working hard but it will continue to get easier throughout college. I really hit my stride academically in my fourth year.

And of course a bad college experience doesn't equal a bad life later - your life after college is about as different as you can imagine.

One thing I wish I had done better in college is to enjoy myself alone. There are always so many people around and so much pressure to be social that being alone felt weird but it is really liberating to enjoy your own company, to not go out all the time, to just be by yourself to think and read and write and watch movies or whatever.
posted by mai at 11:47 AM on March 18, 2010

the time just changed this weekend. it's still dark and cold there. I don't know your schedule or living situation, but can you try getting more sunlight into your eyes?

also, when you go to the student union or whatever, and you see all those flyers stapled to every vertical surface, have you tried just randomly going to some of them, either alone or with somebody?

I don't want to dismiss your concerns, but in every stage of my life, when I thought wherever I was or whatever I was doing was impossible, it was almost always like in february or march and I was just having a late winter dark/cold collapse. in a couple of weeks, when it's warmer all day and the sun is out until 8 p.m., you might start to feel better, for no reason at all.

I could be totally wrong on this. but dark winter skies are hell on your perception of situational reality.
posted by toodleydoodley at 11:47 AM on March 18, 2010

(P.S. as my academic advisor friend says, Cs get degrees. Bs are not only perfectly fine, they're pretty damn great compared to the people who can't hack it at all or the people who fry their brains for an A. Getting out with your sanity intact is the most important thing. Don't forget that!)
posted by Madamina at 11:48 AM on March 18, 2010

people tell miserable high schoolers that high school sucks, college is better

And as you seem to be hoping, people tell miserable college students that college sucks, real life is better. And people tell miserable real-life people that real life sucks, high school is the best time of your life. So, whatever.

Perhaps you could focus on what you want to be after college. Where are you thinking of moving to after graduation? What kind of people do you want to meet there? Do you want to be part of a group who meets to watch a new foreign film every Wednesday, or goes rock climbing all weekend? Start doing that now, on your own if necessary. Maybe someone around you also wants to watch foreign films, or maybe you'll discover that you don't love them the way you thought, before you've built a social circle around them in your new city. If you really feel like this environment isn't for you, but you're staying there temporarily, try and treat it as preparation for the environment you want to be in.
posted by jacalata at 11:49 AM on March 18, 2010

How isolated is isolated, and how rural is rural? Do you have a car, or is there a train to the nearest big city? If so, that opens up a world of possibilities. If not, are you gay or black or religious or some other identity that tends to form campus groups? You say you're not interested in sports or theater - what are you interested in? I had a job at the front desk of my dorm in college, which was great for meeting people. But maybe you're not really an extrovert and shouldn't be pushing yourself to be one just because everyone else is.

I can't say that my immediately post-college years were better than my college years, BUT, I delayed college for awhile, and my later 20s beat my late teens/early 20s by a mile. I was much happier at age 25 than I was at 20, and that's because I'd developed a sense of self that was much less informed by what others thought of me.
posted by desjardins at 11:50 AM on March 18, 2010

I am pretty sure I know exactly where you are in school ("rural Northeast", "really supportive freshman living structure"). I suspect this is the school I actually graduated from in 2008.

I think going abroad is a great idea - I stayed on campus as an advisor to freshman students, but everyone I know who did manage to get out of there came back very happy with their experience, and I think they were able to re-appreciate the good things about the school.

I think the key is getting out of "rural Northeast" (avoiding saying the name in case you didn't mention it on purpose). The bubble there is pretty oppressive, and getting the chance to experience life on the other side will give you the glimpse you need to realize your time at this school really is pretty fleeting.

Keep doing what you are doing. Go abroad next year. Do things that get you out of the area and doing something interesting over the summer. Pick one of the winter study courses that send you abroad (vote on the one to Georgia (the country) if they still do it). Visit Boston for a few weekends. The key is giving yourself a chance to get out of the bubble that the school leaves you in.

Sophomore spring is hard on everyone. I know that doesn't help. But I think you've made the right steps in terms of realizing how valuable the education your getting is, and making the steps to give yourself a fresh perspective.
posted by CharlieSue at 11:51 AM on March 18, 2010

Are you sure it's this college that you don't like, and not just college in general? Life adjustments are hard. It sounds like you like the idea of college but not college itself.
posted by lakerk at 11:55 AM on March 18, 2010

I stayed in town, went to a school with a bunch of rich kids from up East. The one regret I'll carry with my my entire life is not going away for college.

That said, EVERYONE gets that "I'm faking it, and I'm going to be found out, ohshitohsshitohshit" feeling. College just kinda, well, concentrates - distills, if you will - that feeling into pure misery.
posted by notsnot at 12:04 PM on March 18, 2010

I haven't really found my niche here.

I don't have the every day support of a solid group of friends

I had a similar(-ish) experience, although ultimately I ended up liking undergrad better than you currently do. My biggest regret is letting the above issues go and then feeling sad about them. (I have delightful friends from undergrad, and if any of them happen to see this--you are all awesome. However, I didn't feel like I ever found a really comfortable, strong social circle.)

The thing that I realized too late (like, end of senior year too late) was this: it doesn't necessarily just happen. Sure, some people end up meeting their best friends in the dorm on day one of freshman year. And some people click with the perfect club/team/group for them right away. Others... don't. And that's ok. The thing is, if it doesn't fall into your lap, you need to go out and look for it. And it's ok if you don't find something that consumes your whole life.

If there's a small club that you like, can you take a leadership role in it? If you're sort of apathetic about the clubs/groups you're in now, can you find a couple other people and start a new one based on an activity or subject you like better?

And, moreover, while you have time in your schedule (i.e., your calendar isn't full of social engagements), can you focus on putting in more study time, more effort, more visits to office hours, etc.? Coasting in high school and then facing challenges in college is pretty typical for "smart kids." You will learn as much as you decide to--work as hard as you possibly can and don't give any more thought to how easy high school was.

People are generally pretty good about understanding that high school isn't the high point of life, but I think that it's harder to understand that college isn't, either. If college is the social highlight of your adult life, you realize you're looking at 60+ years of downhill afterward, right? So, even if there are significant parts of your college social experience that suck, it's not the end of the world.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:06 PM on March 18, 2010

here I'm self-loathing and constantly worried about what other people think and how I compare to other people.

To say 'stop doing that' sounds patronising, but it's not meant that way. College ought to give you a chance to jettison things that nag at your self-worth and basically test the boundaries of your personality to see what fits you best.

You can definitely do that while you're abroad, but if you go into it assuming that you're going to be isolated and looked down upon and so on, you're going to end up making yourself the same kind of miserable in a different kind of place. Treat it like a game: not 'pretending' to be someone else, but you putting yourself into situations in ways that don't feel like every social interaction is some kind of judgement on your character. I'm not downplaying that you feel ill-suited to your environment, but the way you talk about it in the post suggests that you've already concluded that the social dynamic is set in stone.

Perhaps think in CBTish ways to confront your interactions and introversion. There's a lot of BSing at college, but sometimes the BS can be productive.
posted by holgate at 12:16 PM on March 18, 2010

I feel like I'm wasting/have wasted my college years, in every sense but academically. I chose the wrong environment, and being here has sort of dragged my self-worth into the dirt and I feel like I'm missing out on the kind of social experiences people usually have at college. Basically, I know that people tell miserable high schoolers that high school sucks, college is better, it'll all work out. Can any of you tell me that? Can I recover from this shitty experience and be a well-adjusted person who enjoys their twenties?

Have you considered approaching this by trying to form as many connections as possible, then seeing if it changes your enjoyment of school? I was similarly self-conscious and anxious during much of my undergrad --- until I joined the student newspaper which was a daily paper and consumed my whole life --- and looking back, I wish I had pushed aside my anxiety and self-consciousness and just tried to meet and hang out with as many people as possible. Don't try to make your social life perfect; just try to hang with people. I think for people who are self-conscious, our expectations are too high ... we need to relax a bit and just try to make connections. Easier said than done, I am sure ... but if I had it to do over again, I would have spent a lot more time trying to foster friendships and not worry so much about what people thought about me.
posted by jayder at 12:21 PM on March 18, 2010

I think it is extremely hard, but extremely helpful, to try to let go of the idea that any one period of your life is supposed to live up to a certain set of criteria, because I think those criteria are usually flawed in some way. In other words, I don't think everyone always likes college better than high school, and if they do, it's not necessarily for all the same reasons. It's also really easy to look at people's outsides and figure that they're having more fun than you because you can't see their insides the way you can see your own.

I'm starting to think that the promises other people make to you that the next stage will be better are really just a way of deferring being awake in the stage you're in. That's a very roundabout way of saying: try not to feel bad about missing out on the true college experience, because as far as I can tell, there isn't one. And also know that it is always true--with any stage of life--that the next one could be better.

Also--I went to a college that I liked quite a bit, but it still took me until the end of sophmore year to find people who I really liked and trusted. I think sophmore year can be a weird transition year even if a place is a great fit--school doesn't feel like home yet, you haven't really settled into a department/major, and the best parts of high school still don't feel that far away--

Obviously, that transition is going to be harder in a school that isn't a great fit. But if you don't want to transfer, then I think you just have to work harder to find like-minded people, because I'll bet they're there. I went to a very liberal, very secular school (we didn't even get most national holidays off), and there was a very strong--very small--conservative community on campus, and several different thriving religious groups.

So I think you should look around campus for groups that have a higher chance of having like-minded people in them (i.e. rugby team: bad; school newspaper: good). If there are volunteer groups that go off-campus, those might help with the bubble feeling. You could also try starting a group yourself--I'm imagining something like "Snowbound Southerners"--because I bet there are at least a couple of other Southerners at your school, and if you can find them, that might help you feel more at home too.

Good luck.
posted by colfax at 12:22 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I hate to break it to you but all of your problems here are pretty solvable. All you really need to do is go get involved in activities that you find compelling (or even just potentially intriguing, go out on a limb) and make an effort to enjoy yourself an be open to new experiences. I am kind of picturing you as spending a good portion of your time in your dorm room on the internet and feeling unhappy and isolated, and I can absolutely guarantee you that none of your problems will be solved in there.

Get out of your room, join some clubs, talk to people in your classes, and just put some effort into getting to know these rich athletic extroverts that you are lumping into a big them group so that you have an excuse for the way you feel. I promise you there is more there than you are seeing right now, and that if you make an effort people will be receptive. The sun is going to come out again, your campus will thaw, and Spring is a great time for your new beginning.

Academically find a big goal you can be passionate about(mine was a huge honors thesis and a prestigious study abroad program for my major) and work towards it, good things will follow.

It is just going to take some sustained effort on your part, but I promise you that if you follow through you will feel much better about yourself and your college years will be much better for it. At the very worse you will still probably be at least a little better off than you are now.
posted by BobbyDigital at 12:25 PM on March 18, 2010

I'm 29, and graduated n 2003. My college experience was great in a lot of ways and not-so-great in others. On many occasions, it was outright awful. I'm in touch with a couple of friends I made there, but not super-close. I learned a lot that helped me with my profession and I'm grateful for the time and effort of my professors, but I won't get involved as an alumni. I won't go to my class reunions. I have some fond memories, and I'm glad to have put down roots here in the city, but when I walk across my old "campus" on the way to someplace else, I feel only a vague nostalgia that's mostly due to familiarity.

My first year out of school was pretty rough, mostly because big life transitions are ALWAYS rough, and in my case it was compounded by upheavals in my social group and the stress of having to support myself for the first time. But it didn't last long. And now you know...it's fine. It's much easier for me to see what the benefits the experience were -- both in termsof education and teaching me how to be a functional adult in a world I wasn't entirely comfortable with -- and the parts that used to be so painful were softened by the distance of time and perspective.

I realize that, for some people, their college years are the best of their lives. But that wasn't true for most of the people I know, and I don't think we're any worse of for it. I'd like to think my best years are ahead of me, not behind. I'll bet that's how it'll be for you, too.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:28 PM on March 18, 2010

In a lot of ways, it sounds like you picked the right college, actually. Learning good study habits, figuring out where your real strengths are (as opposed to just excelling at everything because the bar's been set too low), and learning to be around people who make you feel uncomfortable are all really important life skills that many people don't pick up until after undergrad if ever. If you work through these issues now, I think you'll find that your transition to "the real world" will actually be much smoother than for a lot of your friends who seem to be having a more typical experience now. And as others have already mentioned, post college is a lot of fun too.

But as for now... I know this is so stereotypically Ask MeFi, but have you thought about seeing a school therapist? It doesn't have to be any big dramatic deal, but they can be really helpful when you're dealing with self esteem issues and feeling out of place. And you've said that you have some friends now, which is great, but remember you've really only known them for a short time compared to your high school buddies and like all relationships, friendships take time. Instead of comparing them to your old friends when you're out, maybe just try to focus on them and enjoying what's happening right now, even if it's different. That sort of goes for the rest of your college experience as well. If you stop comparing it to the nebulous idea of the experience you feel you "should" be having and just let it happen it takes a lot of the pressure off. College is different for everybody.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 12:29 PM on March 18, 2010

Data Point: I spent two years at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. (a favorite here at Metafilter, I am told).


But I stayed the second year because I felt like I SHOULD like it; after all, it was a great school on paper and seemed like the kind of place I would have liked.

But, I was wrong. I transferred back to Florida, and was much happier, and spent much less money on the rest of my college career.

Moral: Maybe this is one of those cases where you trust your feelings and move on.
posted by wittgenstein at 12:32 PM on March 18, 2010

I could have asked this exact question ten years ago today. The school I went to was in a different part of the country, but other than that? Word for fucking word.

The short version? Yes, it will work out, and you will be fine. However, the more effort you can put into it now, the better and quicker you will bounce back.

Here's what I wish I had done ten years ago:

-Talk to your professors! You won't be able to ask them for personal advice, but if you tell them you're interested in X subject or you're looking for Y to read or are there any internships that offer Z, they'll get you interested in things that will take your mind beyond the school's social scene. When you feel like a mediocre student, it's really easy to just show up for class, feel like nothing special, and do nothing above and beyond; but if you put aside the grades and assignments for a little while and just dive into the subject matter, you'll feel like you're learning instead of just doing work, and you and your profs will warm up to each other a little more easily. In short, they're not judges of your worth, but resources for you to use.

-Talk to your RAs, too. Even if you feel lame doing it. If you don't like your RA, go seek out one you do like. It's why they're there. It can help just venting to someone who's there to listen.

-If your school offers any sort of mental health program, TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT NOW. Like, call them today. Even if there's a weeks-long waiting list. I don't mean this as "you need therapy," it's just that mental health centers are a useful resource that not enough students take advantage of. I have no idea how differently I would have turned out if I had gotten treatment for depression while I was still in school instead of three years after graduating, but it would absolutely have been for the better.

-Try anything that you are even a tiny bit interested in, even if you aren't any good at it. My school was full of smaller groups and clubs; even if the club itself is kind of dull, you'll run into students you haven't met yet. (It probably feels like you've already met everyone, but if your school has more than 200 students and you're an introvert, it's almost certain you haven't.)

-Finally, and this might be the most important: don't assume negative qualities in your fellow students. This might take some practice. Don't assume "fratty shallow jock" when you pass by an athlete, or "pretentious indie snob" about the girl across the hall who has a show on the college radio station. There are bound to be fratty jocks and pretentious snobs and garden-variety assholes at your school, but there are also a lot of kind and interesting people who just happen to play soccer or love obscure music. If you broad-brush everything, you'll dismiss and resent not only entire groups of people, but also the activities that they enjoy, and soon you'll start finding yourself actively avoiding those things because of the negative associations you've built up - you'll close yourself off from both people and things.

The tl;dr version: use every resource available to you, and make an effort to view the people around you as potentially helpful or interesting people rather than competitors or judges.

MeMail me if you want to talk. It will get better.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:33 PM on March 18, 2010

I had a very similar experience. I was from the Midwest, and ended up at a small liberal arts in New England. It was total, extreme culture shock for me. I wasn't rich, didn't have a car, when I got there I knew no one. I was faced with people who lived very differently from me. Leaving wasn't an option, but I transferred after a couple of years to a school I liked a lot.

Here is the thing, don't let your current experience wipe out the parts of your life that are good. Take stock of what have going for you. It was the superficial things that were blowing me away, and I couldn't see that they were not important, at the time.

Sometimes I hated it, but with the perspective of age, I realize it was a good experience. I think I would have hated life sometimes no matter where I was, just being that young. Go exploring the area and the cultural activities available to you. I remember people were always going places on the weekends, and I could catch a ride with them to NYC or Boston.
posted by chocolatetiara at 12:33 PM on March 18, 2010

This may be the college I graduated from (about 20 years ago). In my first-year living group, I was one of three people who didn't come from east of Ohio and north of Virginia. Everyone went out for crew, or squash, or rugby, or lacrosse - none of which I'd encountered at my SoCal high school - and they all wore the same damn shoes.

I had a fine time anyway. Not 'the best years of my life,' (that's a myth anyway, and it steals your focus from the right now) but still good. I ended up being involved in three close-knit groups: the people in my row house, the theater majors (I was one), and the queers (likewise). I suggest you find a group or activity that promotes camaraderie: a small major; a low-stress club sport (ultimate frisbee and broomball were big back then); a religious, ethnic, or cultural group if applicable; the marching band; really, anything you're interested enough in to devote some time to. There are alternatives to the sports and party scenes. I know the rest of the students seem like a monolithic block of rich, sporty New Englanders to you right now, but there's a lot of variety to discover once you get to know people one on one.

And get out of town. Volunteer in the community. Get on the bus and go to NYC for a weekend. Bring friends along.

Studying abroad also sounds like a great idea for you. Go someplace warm and cosmopolitan for your junior year.

Finally, winter was hard. It sounds like you come from a warmer place. Don't underestimate the effect of climate on your mood.
posted by expialidocious at 12:40 PM on March 18, 2010

I'm a closer to the end than you are - I graduate next spring (or possibly earlier, depending on how things work out), and for what it's worth...you're definitely not alone. I could have written parts of this post myself.

College is built up to be this amazing thing, but like most things built up that much, there's no way it's going to live up to all the expectations put on it. I'm lucky to have a handful of close friends at my own Small Elite Liberal Arts School, and most of them are as miserable as me, in different ways. Even those people who seem successful, happy, and perfect may be feeling that.

I would second the person who suggested giving a second thought to transferring (perhaps somewhere closer to your family?), and I would strongly consider study abroad. Even if college isn't really for you, it can be better than what you're experiencing now - and 3.5 semesters is a long time to stay in an environment that's making you feel this bad.
posted by Pochemuchka at 12:52 PM on March 18, 2010

You have tons of great answers already, but like CharlieSue, I think we all went to the same school, so I'll second lots of those suggestions.

Getting away for winter study is one of the best, best things I did there. Not only do you escape the winter, but you will absolutely form bonds with the profs and the other kids on the trip, get a subsidized trip somewhere amazing and learn a ton.

I didn't study abroad junior year but found that was when I finally found my academic footing, and while lots of other people in my major were away partying in Europe, I became closer with professors and a hell of a lot smarter.

Socially too, it took me awhile to find my footing, and for awhile I felt totally out of place not having a beach house or playing a sport. But you'll find people, even if it's a bit of hard work. There are lots and lots who don't fit into the typical stereotype. And yes, your 20's will be way, way better.

Happy to talk specifics about campus and the area too. (if we're right about where you are!)
posted by jenmess at 1:03 PM on March 18, 2010

I'm sorry you're having a tough time making close friends. I also went to a small liberal arts college, but was fortunate enough to fall into a wonderful group my freshman year, and many of those people are still among my closest friends today (with our ten year reunion not so far away). This comment isn't about me, though, but about a couple of people I went to school with. Halfway through our freshman year, one girl was feeling lonely and like she lacked friends. She was in an extracurricular group with some of my friends, but hadn't struck up a friendship with them during meetings. One day, she bought two pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, showed up uninvited at my friends' dorm room, and asked if they wanted to hang out. She's still in our circle of friends today. Then there's another girl, who I and some of my friends occasionally had classes with. We all liked her, and thought she was smart and nice, but we were pretty occupied with our existing group and she never made any overtures, so we never hung out outside of class. At our five year reunion, she told one of my friends that she was lonely throughout college, and hadn't been close to anyone but her boyfriend, and had wished she had been part of our group. After hearing that, we all deeply regretted that she'd never said anything to any of us, and that we had never taken the initiative with her. It would have been so cool to get to know her better!

This is to say: not everyone at your school is snobby and athletic. There must be a few people who seem potentially interesting who are in your classes or clubs. There must be friendship groups that aren't based on sports teams. Approach these people! Ask them to study with you for a test. Show up at their rooms with ice cream. Join a group they're in. Other people want to make friends, too, but won't know you're interested until you tell them. I understand that your insecurity and low self-esteem are impediments, but they're also excuses. This is within your power to fix. Make yourself talk to one new person a week, as a self-devised treatment not just for loneliness, but also for your depression. The positive feedback you get from the people you talk to, as well as being able to see yourself taking a more active role in addressing your problems, will help you feel better about yourself.
posted by unsub at 1:30 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure if this will help you, but I was in much better shape when I moved off campus. I disliked a good majority of the people I met in college. I didn't hate them, but I frequently found myself in conversation with people desperately wishing they would stop talking. NE liberal arts schools are about as insular as communities get and I was clearly never acclimated to that environment. I pretty much lost my mind by the end of the year. At least it felt like that. In fact, it was the move off campus that rattled my cage even more.
But after I went and stayed with parents for about a month, I came back and found life a lot better. I lived in a crazy house with huge parties and holes in the walls, windows that didn't shut, and a host of other problems. But I wasn't on campus. I didn't go to the dining hall, I went to the deli. I didn't go to the bookstore I went to kmart. I don't know why this all made such a difference, but it did. I do think part of it was that I found the institutional living aspect of college disconcerting. Having a life that felt more like the one I was used to (cooking food, private bathrooms, no room inspections). It was the real world, even if it was a bunch of spoiled college kids invading. The campus is/was not anything like the real world.
I was @ vassar if that makes a difference...
posted by yeoldefortran at 1:36 PM on March 18, 2010

I have had the same problem, but in law school, where I am probably too old to be feeling like a high school nerd. That said, the thing that has helped me is realizing that not everyone is going to be an athletic rich kid snob, nor are all athletic kids and rich kids and rich athletic kids snobs. I'm not saying you're closed-minded, because I have the same thought patterns as you describe, but you might just try being more open. I bet you'll be surprised by some people. You'll especially be surprised by what funny dorks, awesome nice people, etc. rich athletic kids can actually be once you know them.
posted by ishotjr at 1:46 PM on March 18, 2010

I am sitting her racking my brains to remember if I still know anyone I met from college. Right off the bat, I can't think of a single one that I kept in touch with after school. But I have to tell you I have a ton of amazing friends now. Way more interesting than the kids in school.

It will get better. The way I see it, it's like a job. Do you remember the people you worked at a 4 year job with many years ago? Probably not. People seem to romanticize school/college in a strange (to me) way. Don't fall into that trap. You will see (unfortunately later) that life is so much bigger than school.

As for helpful advice: could you maybe mentor new kids who are coming in and are having the same feelings? You would be able to offer them your own personal understanding, and, at the same time, develop new connections.
posted by Vaike at 1:51 PM on March 18, 2010

Most of the comments - TL;DR

I've finally had to work to get good grades and develop work habits and study skills after 12 years of coasting, and it's rough.

Welcome to post-secondary education.

FWIW it sounds like growing up, you were in your bubble, everything was safe, comfortable, familiar and friendly.

Now you're out of your bubble and things are no longer as familiar or comfortable.

I suspect that even if you didn't go to this nice liberal arts college, you'd still be experiencing culture shock in any college or university. Yes, things aren't the same as high school. Lots of different people, few of which automatically give a hoot about you.

I admit the shock might not be as dramatic as if you went to your local university. But it would still be different from what you were used to before.

I guess you could ask yourself, where do you want to be when you graduate? and then evaluate if studying there, is going to get you to that destination. If it is, tough it out.

And networking with wealthy people may not be a bad thing ;)
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 2:06 PM on March 18, 2010

Go abroad, go on the 12 College Exchange, look into transferring, take a year off.

I know what school you're at, and it's a very isolated place, although it's terrific academically. I'm sorry things aren't working out for you there. Go to the study abroad office (or go to the office of the dean of students and ask who you should be talking to) and find a way to change your surroundings. There are people in the administration of your school who can help you think this over, and they will not be upset or offended -- professors may also be able to do this, and are usually willing to be brutally honest and think about what's good for you, not the school.

BUT --- I just wanted to respond to something you say. You say you're having to learn to work hard after previously being able to coast - this is GOOD, this is the MOST VALUABLE THING a hard college can give you, this should make you THRILLED even if it's hard at the moment. This means you are not wasting your time. Seriously. (Also - the people you think are better than you are probably also having to work harder than you realize.) At any rate, if your GPA is 3 or whatever, you're doing GREAT and you shouldn't beat yourself up. Hang in there, academically - I hope you're finding a few classes that really light your fire, and with the rest just keep swimming along keeping your head above water. You can obviously do good work, even if it's not perfect, and learning to keep going while not being able to produce perfect work is an essential life skill for a bright person who's hard on herself. Most of the progress in the world is made by people doing good work, who keep going when times are tough, and who don't get bogged down in trying to reach an impossible standard.

I know what it's like to miss out on some of those "perfect college times", and to feel the pressure of "this should be the best time of my life, but it's not". Dirty secret: it's hard for everybody while you're going through it. Friends definitely help, but even the people who have great time in college also have a hard time, in one way or another. College is an intense time with a lot of loneliness and uncertainty -- for thoughtful people -- even when it has a lot of positive aspects too. You're not alone in feeling this way.

If you feel like you're fatally soured on this (very isolated) school, give some thought to taking a left turn (year off, exchange within the US, etc) and see if it helps.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:17 PM on March 18, 2010

I know you said transferring isn't an option, but there is a way for you to get your credits. I went to college with a girl who started failing her sophomore year of college (she'd had a good freshman year but she had a personal problem that led to depression, not attending class and failing), and went to community college in her home state for her fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh semesters, and then came back her eighth semester and graduated with us. My college had a policy of a student having to be in residence at the college for 2 years in order to graduate with a degree, which she fulfilled by attending her 1, 2,3 and then her 8th semester. Another young woman's dad had a job loss, so she attended her freshman and senior years and graduated with a degree from the college but fulfilled two years in between at her home state university.
posted by anniecat at 2:23 PM on March 18, 2010

Grab a paddle, we're in very similar boats. I'm currently in a school I really, desperately wanted to go to....and I hate it with a flaming, burning passion. I tried changing my major, which helped but not much, and now I'm going with the "just leave" option. Yes, it means I'll be getting a similar education for twice as much, but I won't be miserable for the next several years of my life. And as I have plenty of years left to pay off my debt and be miserable in a job, I'm okay with that.

The things that have gotten me through mostly come down to distraction. Is there another school nearby? Try to make friends there! One of the few benefits of my current school is that it's in an area with several other schools, and they do a lot of things together, or events offered by the community are open to all three. My saving grace has been getting off-campus and doing things in the city -- I am a country girl, born and bred, in a school full of people from the Big City. Since exploring with them gets me laughed at, I explore on my own, and it keeps me from thinking about the fact that I'll have to go back to class tomorrow. You're studying abroad? Start planning this!

As far as academics, if nothing else you can work your rear off in this. It's long and hard and frustrating (I coasted through high school and came into college not knowing how to study), but it's what gets you prepared for everything else. B/B+ is very good and transfer-able, but all of us always know we can work a little harder. And maybe that's not the advice you're looking for, but it's what's going to help you get into wherever you want to go if/when you decide on a graduate school.
posted by iarerach at 2:29 PM on March 18, 2010

One possibility is to try and find interests/employment off campus.

Why not get a job off campus or volunteer off campus. Try to meet people you can connect with outside of school. You might even try moving off campus into an apartment with people who don't go to your school.

I used to work at a restaurant when I was a little older than you. It can be a great place to make friends since the wait staff is usually fairly young and a lot of them are also college students.
posted by bananafish at 4:16 PM on March 18, 2010

This question could have been written by me 10 years ago, except that no one at my school was athletic, they were too busy with either cocaine or a cappella. One of the problems with a small school is its lack of diversity. I was the diversity, not just because of my ethnicity, but because I was middle-class and from California. I almost transferred when I was where you are, 3.5 semesters left, but I didn't. It was a mistake. I have stayed in touch with exactly one person from that school. However, having a good college's name on my resume has helped with jobs and grad school.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:42 PM on March 18, 2010

Hmm, even though I don't know you and I think you just described my school, I couldn't identify you, so don't worry... Too bad this is anonymous, I would've loved to chat. Though I graduated last year, while I was in school I was pretty much stuck with the people from my first-year group because I hadn't found a better way to make friends. But I found my niche of awesome people by junior/senior year, and trust me, those two years made up for all the stresses of the previous (i.e. trying pre-med, doing double labs, dropping pre-med and eventually declaring my artsy-fartsy major). At least you're on the right track by actively identifying your problem and seeking out a solution.
Although I never tea-ed for any of the societies, nor did Shakes or sports, I oddly found my best friends through a cultural org (when I had vehemently decided to avoid such organizations as an underclassman). Another thing: try reaching out to cool people in your classes (who you sense share your interests); offer to grab lunch or dinner and get to know them. Studying together will naturally evolve into hanging out for fun, and you'll soon find yourself with true friends you admire and care for. If you want, you can msg me through MeFi Mail.
posted by hellomina at 5:04 PM on March 18, 2010

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