All it's cracked up to be?
August 27, 2012 11:02 AM   Subscribe

The college experience: How important is it really, and other questions.

Since I was 16 I desperately wanted to go away to college. Now, at 22 and a junior-year commuter student, I feel that I'm missing out on something that could really help me grow as a person. I'm getting the education, but working and going to school makes me feel that I've skipped the stage of being a young adult, and have gone directly to the part where I'm an adult in continuing education. I'll have my whole life to work and do other things at the same time, but I've only got a few years tops before I'm that guy who's probably too old to be in this college bar.

Maybe I'm overrating the whole experience though. I really don't know. I can only go on what I see. Everyone I know who went away to college changed significantly and for the better - became more outgoing, more self-assured, and generally just grew as people. Those I know who didn't... Well, they're still just the people I knew in highschool, only older. (For what it's worth, I really don't think this observation is the result of bias, though of course I have no way to prove that.)

I missed my adolescence; due to family troubles conveniently placed between the ages of 13 and 17, I was a social recluse for years with few to no friends, and only opened up later in community college. I don't want my young adulthood to pass me by because I had to work. I've already worked from age 16 onwards, and for the most part it was because I chose to do so. Now, faced with the possibility that I might have to work, and miss out on a very important part of development because of it, I feel sad and maybe a little bitter.

How important is the college experience, really? Is it possible to get it despite being a commuter student? Does going away to grad school give the same experience? Should I just shut up and take my adulthood on the proverbial cheek, and hope that I can find more enjoyment in the working world without looking back with regret?

For the record, I'm not talking about the part of school that happens in the classroom, but about everything else outside that one-to-three-hour time block.
posted by Urban Winter to Education (40 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I was a commuter student, then a dropout, then a commuter student again. Many of my friends were also commuter students -- basically, a significant amount of us had no desire to move from Brooklyn to the sticks to get drunk when we could get drunk right where we wanted to -- and I don't think anyone really thinks they missed out with any sense of regret. We made our own fun, we did a lot of things that our friends up in Binghamton and Troy and Rochester couldn't (and, admittedly, they did things we couldn't) and had a blast.

Also, bars where people don't egregiously vomit and fight and talk about homework and, generally, be 18-21 are pretty awesome.
posted by griphus at 11:08 AM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've been both a commuter student and a residential student at a school less than an hour from home. I also lived at home a year and went to grad school 1000 miles away from home.

You don't say what your family troubles were, but as someone with a messy family situation who was also prone to shyness/anxiety, moving away from home in whatever form I could was absolutely integral to my mental health. It was the only thing that let me put down healthy family boundaries and really challenged me to discover what sort of person I could be when removed from dysfunctional familial relationships. It also made me realize that I didn't want to just work some job close to my home town, which is what I did for a year after college. To find a working world I really felt okay in, I had to challenge myself and my family's expectations of me. That was hard to do living at home or even close to it, surrounded by the same people I'd known since I was born.

Find a way to move away, I say, if it means residential college or a commuter school or even a semester abroad. See what life might look like in other places.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:20 AM on August 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

Or grad school, rather, not "a commuter school."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:22 AM on August 27, 2012

I think you were someone who could have benefited from being away at college, from what you describe. You can still do a lot of those things now and in grad school that you talk about-- eg, hanging out at college bars, going to house parties, etc.

The social development you are looking for can still happen, but it probably involves making an effort to go after it: moving someplace else, placing yourself in a situation involving shared housing or grad student housing that specifically has an active social life, etc.
posted by deanc at 11:22 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was a commuter student from the age of 16. I spent one semester on campus living in a dorm. It was fun, but my GPA plummeted, and frankly, it wasn't all that great.

If you feel like you're missing out on some communal, college experience, move onto campus for a semester. Don't quit your job, but live there. I suspect that the noise and the silliness will drive you to distraction.

How about a happy medium? Get a place with a couple of college roommates. Perhaps grad-students. You'll get the social stuff, make some friends, without the goofiness of the kids who are blowing it out by getting knee-walking drunk every night.

You can be as active or as inactive as you want. Join clubs, go to games, meet folks in that college bar on $3.00 pitcher night.

If you have a good job, not just a minimum-wage gig, but a career-path job, then hang onto that, and do what you're doing. People are graduating with massive debt and can't even get that Der Weinerschnitzel job.

Don't take out loans to support yourself, that way lies madness.

Have some fun, but don't throw your current job by the wayside.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:23 AM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

The main thing living in residence in college can give you is a chance to make really close friends (which may or may not happen). Even if it does, you may not keep in touch with them after college. I stayed close friends with one college friend, the rest I lost contact with. My husband remains in contact with a huge number of college friends and they do a lot of get togethers each year (it's been ten since college). I've actually gotten to be good friends with several of them as well (so a close college experience can rub off too).

It seems like transferring to a college you live in for your senior year may be too late to get that kind of experience, given that many people have already had their bonding (unless you're okay joining in with the new freshman). Grad school could give you that, if you live in residence, but many grad students (and many seniors) no longer live on campus.

A useful substitute could be finding a group of people sharing a house together or even a larger intentional community, to get those aspects of hanging out and always people around to bond with, that you feel like you may have missed.

I don't think working makes your college experience that different -- you may work more hours, but most every student I knew worked at least part time and every summer.

Good luck in finding what you're hoping for.
posted by Margalo Epps at 11:23 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

It depends greatly on where you're going to college -- in a college town (say, if you go to Penn State or Kansas), you'll have a very different experience than if you go to Columbia or even Harvard. The key is that you realize that for all the "Woo hoo! College!" stuff you're missing, you're also missing a lot of "Oh god, college..." stuff. As griphus points out, everything in that college-town atmosphere is about school, and the cliques there are pretty exclusionary (90-plus percent of people cluster up within their major and/or housing).

I was a commuter grad student in a largely resident-student program, and one night, my spouse and I were walking through the college town after one of the rare events that families had been included in. I opined that I sometimes felt I was missing out on the experience. My spouse pointed at the house we were walking by and said, "That house is about the same size as ours. At least twelve people live there." At that exact moment, I kid you not, someone leaned out the window and vomited onto the porch roof.

The main thing you gain from "the college experience" is contacts, both social and professional. If you prioritize that aspect of your commuter-student time, you'll gain all the benefits without having to clean up the vomit from your porch roof on Sunday morning. Don't quit your job and move into a house with eleven other people, but go to the parties and join the clubs and the intramural teams. Move your work schedule around as much as you can to do this. It'll be hard, but it will pay off.
posted by Etrigan at 11:25 AM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

...moving away from home in whatever form I could was absolutely integral to my mental health.

Just to make it clear, this was my situation too. After dropping out, I moved out and didn't move back home again except for a short period of time. I finished college living on my own, near my friends.
posted by griphus at 11:27 AM on August 27, 2012

The college experience, in the positive sense you mean, is comprised of two things: peers who teach you things or inspire you to do interesting things; plus time to explore what they're suggesting.

Plenty of people have college experiences that don't really include those things, and some people find ways to get those things without going to college at all.

Going to a school known for its academics and focusing on learning from both classes and peers is just a common, relatively achievable way to get that stuff. It's not so much necessary as it is an easy way to get smart friends.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:32 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you are sentimentalizing "the college experience" a bit much. Yes, drinking till I puked regularly and almost flunking out seemed like fun at the time... Also, at age 22, I think that boat has already sailed for you anyway. Unless you are particularly immature (and I don't get any sense that you are from this question) I suspect "college life" would mostly annoy you at this point.

It's more work as a commuter student, because you aren't just there on campus 24 X 7. But by joining a couple of clubs, showing up at the gym regularly for pick up basketball, or whatever your bailiwick is, you can get most of the benefits of the college experience without wandering into your dorm room to find your roommate's best friend and his girlfriend going at it in your bed (that really happened).
posted by COD at 11:34 AM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not every person who lives on campus drinks 'til they puke. I lived on campus for four years and never drank once.

I met amazing people who I never would have met had I not lived on campus. I could also stick around and work with a professor since I lived on campus.

I would have been devastated to have not lived on campus during college.
posted by TinWhistle at 11:36 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not all it's cracked up to be but it's not nothing. I don't have a single active friendship left from my highschool years and before. I have one real friend from my past jobs. I have a couple friends from my current church. Nearly all my friends are from college or via-college removed by one degree.

It's hard for me to say much about the relative value because I was very fortunate to have earned scholarships that paid for pretty much all of my college. I also attended a college in a small town where you could get ridiculously cheap housing (my senior year my rent was the equivalent of $175 a month in today's USD).

The dorm experience was BS as far as I'm concerned: I didn't meet anyone important to me through dorm living. But the experience of being in that context more or less full time, surrounded by the same, living and breathing academia as it were - it was significant, it did shape me as a person, positively I think. I don't even particularly care for academia, to be honest, I ran for the door after 4 years and I've never been able to seriously consider going back. But it was a unique context.

For comparison one of my close friends worked a LOT throughout college and he still had I guess I'd call the authentic experience. I think commuting is a bigger issue than having a job.
posted by nanojath at 11:38 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

My personal belief is that you'll have your whole life to work but you only have this small window between about 18-25 when it's ok to be broke, socializing with wide network of people late into the night every night, and spending dozens of hours every week just studying whatever topic you find interesting. College for me was a good and as transformative as people say it is.

I'll second the recommendation that if you can at least study abroad for a semester you should. My big regret in college was not studying abroad a second time.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:46 AM on August 27, 2012 [8 favorites]

I was a commuter student working multiple jobs at a major research university. I did not make many friends in college, and have exactly zero friends, now, from college.

I do feel like I missed out on a lot by not going away to college. I stayed in town out of fear and because the local uni gave me more scholarships (well, freshman year, anyway; 8% tuition bumps at the state college vs. 8% bumps of much higher private tuition means more loans overall).
posted by notsnot at 11:47 AM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wish I could tell you that it's fine and you're not missing out, but I got a lot out of the on-campus college experience, and it was the only time in my life when I was around so many peers who cared about the same things I did and were going through the same things as me, and who were interested in new friendships. You asked if you can have a similar experience in grad school, and I think absolutely you can. In fact, in grad school you can skip over a lot of the stupid and painful stuff (vomiting off roof, unnecessary relationship drama) because you're more mature now.
posted by chickenmagazine at 11:48 AM on August 27, 2012

Living on or near a campus means you'll meet a diverse bunch of people, folks who aren't in your major and might not even appear to share interests. This is the benefit of college living. But as others have said, it can be noisy and distracting, or have too many rules, which is why people move out of the dorms and into other living situations.

Beyond the dorms, I made acquaintances and friends in classes and clubs. I went to a community college back home for a few summers between classes, and people didn't stick around the campus as much as at university, but I went to a primarily undergrad school, so most students were full-time students, and would hang out on campus between classes and labs.

The clubs were great, because I joined a radio station, Habitat for Humanity, and a few other odd clubs, which I haven't done since leaving college.

In the end, I enjoyed dorm life, but it was mostly because it was so close to classes and food was available, and I was lucky because I didn't have to pay for any of that. Living off-campus is usually cheaper, and you can still make friends and join clubs. As others have said, you might have to seek out social gatherings more than if you went to a more traditional university.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:49 AM on August 27, 2012

I didn't go to college until I'd had three kids: I was in my late twenties and, obviously, was a commuter student. I have never felt that I missed anything. I've worked at colleges, I work at one now. As far as I can tell college is often wasted on the young, they don't take their classes seriously enough and they do take their social lives too seriously.

You're 22 now, so there's no point in wallowing in regrets. Go to grad school and live in grad school campus housing, it's way more fun than undergrad dorms.
posted by mareli at 11:51 AM on August 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

I liked college just fine, but sometimes it felt like just extended high school.

What's totally awesome, though, is now that I'm a grown-up, with kids and everything, having a group of close friends that has created what I imagine is the kind of college experience people want to have when they talk about stuff like this. We have big parties, create traditions, play on goofy intermural sports teams, have a supper club, etc. It's like I'm suddenly the cool kid from high school. Or college.

Which is to day, you can have this kind of experience at any age, if you find the right people. How you find those people is entirely up to you and what your interests are. But I don't think that acting like an adult, in the way that you've clearly been acting like an adult, precludes finding it.

I think the one formative thing that going away to college did was teach me how to live with roommates, since I never had to share a room or anything before that. As mentioned upthread, if you need that, get some roommates.
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:10 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a tricky question to answer, since there are so many kind of colleges, and such varied experiences available within them, and also since we don't know much about what your goals are. But I'll give you my two cents.

You write: "I'm not talking about the part of school that happens in the classroom, but about everything else outside that one-to-three-hour time block."

Ok, but I think that the main benefit of really going to college is getting rid of this mindset, which is easy to fall into when you're doing the commuter thing. One of the things that happens (in the best case scenario) when you attend a 4 year college is that you come to become more invested in what you're doing--it's the center focus of your life, and you're doing it with other people there, who share your experience.

In this way, you end up not being a "person taking a few hours to earn this credit or learn this skill," but you start thinking of yourself as really being an engineer, or an actor, or an accountant or whatever. Of course, nowadays we more often change professions and must stay flexible, etc. However, still, the experience of centering your experience around really learning a skill or a trade, or a subject area is part of what sometimes makes college grads seem so focused and forward-looking.

So, it doesn't really matter whether you go away to college or to grad school (do whichever will be most doable and professionally useful to you). The important thing is to use this time to really throw yourself into the learning process (which can of course be lots of fun). Best of luck!
posted by washburn at 12:17 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree that there is a different aspect to living on campus, that makes a young person grow (vs commuting). For starters, you are no longer around your parents/family, who were the major influence on your life up until that point.

I finally started to find out who I was, because I was physically separated from my parents, which was a good thing. I had to exclusively do all my laundry, learn time management (when to study vs when to have fun vs when to go to the gym). Later on when I was no longer on the meal plan, I learned to shop for groceries & cook. I meanwhile had a friend who had parents that lived 20min away, and she'd run home at the drop of a hat if she felt lonely or upset. I think it was to her disadvantage, because she wasn't learning how to be on her own. Eventually, she saw that herself, and so found a job in another city hours away from her parents after graduation to grow.

I find it curious that so many people upstream are mentioning drunken parties as the college experience. That was not the college experience I had. What was the social aspect of the college experience for me (and couldn't be gotten had I been a commuter) was simply hanging out with your good friends who lived down the hall, blowing off steam after a big exam, talking into the night about whatever (it all seemed so urgent & intense), throwing dinner parties, etc.

Please, go away to a new city for grad school, and live on campus, if only for a change of scenery. Good luck!
posted by Pocahontas at 12:19 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does your college have a "Junior Year in Florence" type program, or a semester in Germany? Is any of the staff putting together a European tour for next summer? If you can't go away to college, perhaps you could go away with college.
posted by Cranberry at 12:33 PM on August 27, 2012

I spent 5 years as an undergrad. It was one year too many. Finish college as soon as you can. The real world is much more interesting and fun.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:50 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

more outgoing, more self-assured, and generally just grew as people.

Because you see your high school pals more often, the changes don't seem to be as dramatic, because it's gradual growth. Seeing someone only on holiday breaks--their changes seem to be more drastic but it's an illusion. You can grow and change anywhere, but you have to seek out activities and events and things to do that make you change. If you do what you've always done, you get what you've always gotten. So, do stuff that's out of your usual--new language, new skills, new group of people. It's not academia that makes someone develop or grow, it's the situation. So, if you don't know how to do something, learn. Or teach someone else.

Frankly, having to work forces people to change and grow up a whole lot faster than sitting around a dorm room, shooting the shit. Work is real life, and I love work. Even lousy jobs with people I hated taught me more and made me the woman I am today more than anything else in my life. You haven't lost anything, you've gained. And you have lots more life experiences ahead of you to teach you even more, so seize the day.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labour and to wait.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:41 PM on August 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

Making friends in college can be really beneficial to your further career, so that's something to think about.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:46 PM on August 27, 2012

I had an absolute blast in college, learned a lot and made a ton of friends that have lasted me for years later, and the contacts I have now will be useful as I progress in my career.

I think everyone's enjoyment of the experience is unique, but I really found that I developed a lot of my people skills in university; how to talk to strangers and how to manage relationships. I have found those friends who commuted (admitted, a small pool) were not as able to network later in life as I am.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 1:58 PM on August 27, 2012

Hi there. I, too, had a really unconventional college experience that made it difficult/impossible to take part in a lot of the traditional American college stuff like hanging in college bars, studying abroad, participating in the Greek system, etc.

Some aspects of what you're looking for are available to you at your commuter school, you just have to seek them out. I also went to a school that is mostly commuter-oriented, and yet I managed to "find myself" and "expand my horizons" by participating in the campus extracurricular stuff that did exist rather than griping about the stuff we didn't have.

Take part in student activities. If you're into sports, look into playing for your school's team -- a lot of "commuter school" teams are less ambitious than those at the big state schools. My school had only one fraternity, and it was actually co-ed and really different from the usual campus Greek scene. But I knew a lot of people who joined and really enjoyed it. I was the president of my campus Feminist Majority Foundation, and I got involved in a lot of the other political groups and causes on my campus. Even several years after graduating, most of my friends are friends I made through campus activism.

Check out flyers posted up on bulletin boards. My commuter school held all kinds of interesting events, most of which were free.

Even though my school didn't offer much in the way of study abroad programs, they sponsored trips and student exchanges over shorter periods, like summer and winter breaks.

My school had a gym which was free for students to use. Definitely look into this if you work out at all.

If you write or take photographs, look into getting involved with the campus paper. My school also had at least one literary journal as well as lots of resources for artists.

Even if you can't do any of that stuff due to your work schedule, start hanging out in the quad with your friends from class. Get involved in your department and/or with students on a similar trajectory.

If you belong to some minority group, see if there's a way you can get involved that way. For example my school had a GLBT Student Union. A lot of folks who had otherwise busy schedules would eat lunch there or hang out if they had a break between classes. (FWIW, most of those sorts of spaces are super open and accepting of allies, if you're a hetero white dude.)

Are you even remotely religious? The Muslim Students' Alliance had a prayer space on our campus that was the de facto hangout spot for all the observant Muslims. We also had a chapter of Hillel which I think had its own space, but I'm not sure if it was as much of a hangout spot. I went to a freakishly diverse school, so I don't remember if there was anything for Christians on campus, but I know other commuter schools have spaces on campus for Christian groups of various denominations.

TL;DR: Stop worrying about whether you're getting the Ultimate College Experience and go make your own college experience.
posted by Sara C. at 2:17 PM on August 27, 2012

Unless you are particularly immature (and I don't get any sense that you are from this question) I suspect "college life" would mostly annoy you at this point.


When I transfered from my Traditional College Experience school to a commuter school, I moved out of student housing for two years. When I was 21, I decided to move back into the dorms for a variety of reasons. I liked living in the dorms, and I made some great friends there, but the kids who were into fake ID's and partying at college bars and getting trashed and all that just seemed irritating to me.

I also really hated it when someone would puke in the shower and not clean it up, fights about who ate whose stupid shitty junk food out of the fridge, etc. All the amateur hour shit is unbelievably obnoxious when you're just a couple years older.
posted by Sara C. at 2:26 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might want to remember that some people really, really hate the whole "college experience," thing. I am one. I hated it so much I'm still angry 20 years later and think higher education should be massively reformed. (Actually I think it should be nuked from orbit, but that's a whole other rant.) People who are actually living in the real world and working are much more mature than people who are living in dorms and having what we think of as the "ideal" college experience.

Also, even if you do think the so-called college experience is important, is it really worth bankrupting an entire generation (as we seem hell-bent on doing) to achieve?
posted by Violet Hour at 2:26 PM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

The key reason to move away, college or otherwise, is so you can decide who you want to be without the daily reminders of how your friends and family see you.

The people close to you have a vision in their heads of who you are, and it is fairly fixed. They are comfortable with that image.

If you want to change significant aspects of yourself, it becomes a big challenge because these (usually) well-meaning people will complain that your violating their image of you. Oh, they won't have the words to describe what they are irritated about (film cliche: "I don't know who you are anymore!") but they know something is different and different is mostly bad.

Move to another state, country, planet, and you get to escape the tiny daily efforts to keep you the way they want you to be.

Then, when you come home, it turns into, "Look how much you've changed!"
posted by trinity8-director at 2:33 PM on August 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

I hated living on campus and moved off as soon as I could. So did both my sisters. I made very few friends in college and was desperate to graduate by the middle of my second year. I looked forward to the "college experience" a great deal when I was in high school, but it turned out that actually what I hated about high school was not the "high school" part, it was the "school" part.

Wherever you go, there you are.
posted by town of cats at 2:54 PM on August 27, 2012

I lived off campus for undergrad, and also worked at an off-campus job through those years. I did move off from home, but to a regional university where a good number of my friends were from my hometown (at least for the first year or so). I never joined any groups, didn't get involved, and honestly don't remember a single name of anyone in any of my classes. Then I went off to a PhD program and had my real college experience there, or at least what I'd want of it. We commiserated over being poor, had potlucks with cheap wine and talked for hours about complicated ideas. The stipend meant that I could devote all my time to my degree, which some people experience in undergrad, but I hadn't. I have so many good memories and close friends from those years. There were also the crazy drunken parties, but those were at least much better timed (and cleaner and safer) than the undergrad ones.
posted by bizzyb at 3:09 PM on August 27, 2012

The issue of living on campus or off is not what the OP is asking about. He's asking about having the experience of "going away to college" vs. being a commuter student/"working professional taking classes towards his degree."
posted by deanc at 3:12 PM on August 27, 2012

Perhaps what you are terming the "college experience" is actually a conceptualized projection of some deep desire to perceive life as fun, adventuresome, engaging, and enlightening. This reframes the entire question. It no longer becomes a matter of situation, but of attitude. A re-orientation of perspective would be all that is required to enact fulfilling change.

Just some words to think about. If helpful, please consider. If unhelpful or inaccurate, please dismiss and move on.
posted by fignewton at 4:29 PM on August 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

Something else I might add is that I spent my final couple of years in uni feeling incredibly nostalgic - I made great friends there and had great times, and, while I was working part time in construction my final year, I felt really left-out that I couldn't participate in what my friends were doing.

I felt that way for another couple of years (however, any nostalgia about university was erased by my experience as a mature student a few years later, when I went back to get my teaching degree. That sucked completely. Completely).

What I'm trying to say is, look ahead, not back. Wanting to experience the college thing is looking back, in a big way.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:53 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Everyone I know who went away to college changed significantly and for the better - became more outgoing, more self-assured, and generally just grew as people. Those I know who didn't... Well, they're still just the people I knew in highschool, only older. (For what it's worth, I really don't think this observation is the result of bias, though of course I have no way to prove that.)

I actually totally agree with this, it's what I've noticed too. The people who moved away from their childhood home really changed and grew. (I really, really, really shudder to think of what a sad human being I would have been had my parents forced me to go to the local junior college and I'd had no excuse to leave.) But the folks I've seen who never left home, who went to junior college or grew up in a college town and just went to the college there? Yes, I agree: they come out stilted somehow. It really doesn't seem like the townies who went to college here really grew up any.

However, I don't think it's so much an issue of "the college experience" so much as it is learning to function alone in a new environment without living in the same old home you've always lived in. If you could move away at some point in the next few years, even after college is done, you could probably still learn those how-to-function-alone skills. But I would honestly say to move away in the next few years. It seems to me like the folks who never so much as had a few years away from home before they hit their mid-20's never did recover from that. Of course, I say this because those folks I know have never, ever left home and they're in their 30's and wouldn't know how to function alone for shit. I don't know if this would be your problem since you at least have been working for a living for a long time, but if I were you, I'd be worried.

But in your're a junior and you have two years of coursework under your belt. Are you a starting-this-year junior or a "I'm starting my senior year in the fall" junior? And I'm not sure from this post what kind of school you are at now: is it a 4 year school that you've been at for a year rather than a community college? If that is the case, odds are you will lose a good chunk of your unit credit by switching schools. Community colleges are designed to transfer to 4-year schools, but a 4-year to 4-year transfer will probably set you back and make it take even longer for you to graduate. Is that something you're okay with, especially financially? But on the other hand, if you've only just transferred in or are still at the community college, I'd say that a switch would be more feasible.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:09 PM on August 27, 2012

I loved college. I faced challenges, but they made me grow exponentially as a person. I moved 500 miles away to go to my school, and lived on campus for three years, and then moved off-campus (but still in the same 'hood) for two.

I think a major part of the experience is learning to deal with loneliness and learning to deal with people who are nothing like you. If you're still hanging out mostly with your friends and family from high school, there's not the same crucible of change. The people I know who have been commuters or otherwise didn't engage with on-campus culture aren't like, completely immature or underdeveloped, but there's definitely a difference. One of the people I knew who skipped college altogether is kind of annoyed by the bright-eyed college brat thing, or whatever, so I don't think it would have had great effect on him. I, on the other hand, was totally psyched to go off to college and pursue all kinds of identities I couldn't at home. If you think it's important, I really think grad school will be equally enriching for you.

It seems to me like the folks who never so much as had a few years away from home before they hit their mid-20's never did recover from that. Of course, I say this because those folks I know have never, ever left home and they're in their 30's and wouldn't know how to function alone for shit.

So, so true. It's funny, I've been trying to put this in words for years, and it finally made sense for me. One friend I had who never moved away from home graduated and has spent the last three years sluggishly talking about what he wants to do/wishes he had done, but makes no move to make it happen-- I think he's afraid of change because he's never undertaken it before. Another got stuck in a painful marriage and seems deeply unhappy because I don't think he knows how to be independent and value his own needs. Another friend who did go off to college made huge changes-- became an atheist, switched interests, is interested in business undertakings, &c. I think going off to college can give you a sense of important accomplishment-- you realize by the end that you can move to a brand new place and start from scratch and learn new things about yourself and achieve a life goal, and it gives you confidence for the rest of your life. College isn't the only way, though-- just moving away from home helps. But grad school will provide much of the social bonding and welcomeness (well, depending on the field) that you feel you've missed.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:57 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, but yeah-- don't feel attached to the idea of undergrad as the holy grail. Once you get too old, it loses it's charm-- don't try to go backwards. Focus on future experiences that will help you grow or experiment with who you want to be.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:59 AM on August 28, 2012

I guess I had a "typical" college experience. I spent my first year in the dorms at a big state school, and then the next three at a small liberal arts college (first year lived in college apartments, next two in houses with other students, but spent most of my waking hours on campus in classes, library, or labs).

The first year was fun, but not particularly rewarding or worthwhile. The next three years were really formative, because it was a place where curiosity, creativity and hard work were valued. I was inspired by my classmates. I learned so much of what I learned because I either explained it to study and lab partners, they explained it to me, or we figured it out together.

So yeah, you may have missed out, but that is by no means assured. I think though that you are probably dealing with something you'd have to deal with whether you went away to college or not: You aren't a kid any more, and you are figuring out what that really means (or starting to). Some people start dealing with it sooner, some later, but by the time most people are 22, they've started to consider it.

I agree that you probably are past the point where you can have a "typical college experience," but you still have options for some significant experience to mark and shape the transition to adulthood. I generally advice people not to jump right into grad school unless they have a very strong idea about what they want from it, and evidence that it can provide it. That said, a friend in a masters program ended up in a tight-knit study group, but whether you'd get that depends in part on the discipline and program you ended up enrolling in, so it will take research to make that happen. The Peace Corps has made a big mark on the lives of the people I know who joined it. You could also save some money and travel on your own, or even move to a new city and throw yourself into it, taking advantage of as much of what it has to offer as you can.
posted by Good Brain at 1:10 AM on August 28, 2012

But the folks I've seen who never left home, who went to junior college or grew up in a college town and just went to the college there? Yes, I agree: they come out stilted somehow. It really doesn't seem like the townies who went to college here really grew up any.

I have to say that this statement, and similar sentiments expressed above, are invalidating to people (like myself) who did attend college while living in their hometown. Similar to the OP, I second-guessed my decision to stick around home during my college experience, anxiously wondering if I was crippling my personal growth because I didn't move far away and separate from my family early on. For a while, this was certainly a point of regret. For a while, but not anymore.

It's totally possible that, because of my "longer-than-the-norm" stay in and around my hometown (and, consequently, proximity to my family), it's taken me more time to individuate myself and make new personal discoveries. Still, I knew a lot of kids in college who had moved to my hometown, our college town, from elsewhere, and I felt like the challenges of early adulthood were there for all of us, regardless of our origins. We all grew and experienced our education differently.

After I graduated, I moved to a city six hours away, currently work a full-time job, and have generally continued on with my life. If I still lived in my hometown? Well, I would have gotten a job(s), and generally continued on with my life. The reason I did leave, besides the job, was a feeling that it was personally my time to go check out other parts of the country, but I stress--"my time". So, OP, try and be secure in the knowledge that there's no timeline for growth and change. If you want to try and transfer schools, if you can, seriously look into doing it. But resist getting down on yourself because you went about your college experience differently.
posted by freeform at 8:25 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just remembered that one of my brothers did the "stick around home college experience" thing. I remember being worried about this for him at first, as he was finishing school and looking at career options. He did seem a little too dependent on my parents and not outward looking enough.

Then he got a job in his field and started supporting himself and within a year or so you really wouldn't be able to tell where he went to college and if that meant moving away from home or not.

This is not a long term life problem. It might be something you notice in people in the 22-25 age range, but you get over it and it becomes less of a thing as you distinguish yourself in the adult world.

Going away vs. staying home does not seem to be a big factor in whether a person is able to distinguish themselves in the adult world.
posted by Sara C. at 8:37 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older Help clue me in on the meaning/significance of...   |   I'm at the end of my server-related rope Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.