How to make up for two wasted years of college?
September 24, 2005 10:24 PM   Subscribe

How do you start your college career over, about halfway through?

I'm an very, very shy person...very insular, way too apologetic (I say "I'm sorry..." the way most people breathe), fairly certain I have aspergers and just very clumsy and without grace; my parents basically raised me to hate myself, and they did a good job of it. The first year of college was at a school I hated in Boston with a roommate who basically ruined my freshman year, and then where I am now, at Columbia, with a roommate who took advantage of my inexperience and timidity to basically make me a "sexile" from my own room.

I'm now starting my junior year of college, and have no idea how I should be spending my time, the amount of time I should be studying as compared to "socializing", what socializing even should mean...tonight, I went to a "callback" for a sketch I submited for a comedy troupe on campus, and they told me that I was actually accepted as a writer, and they wanted to make sure "all the members of our new group can party", so I was stuck there with a bunch of people drinking (I'm 21 and had my first drink about a year ago, dont' do it often), standing often in the corner, not knowing how to talk to people. I went home incredibly depressed.

I want to make up for two wasted years of college, does one start over? If you had two years of college in which to do whatever you wish you'd done, how'd you have spent them? I'm very lonely (never been kissed), but have no idea how to start...where do you begin? I'm sorry if this question feels vague, my life just feels vague these days...maybe it's quarter-life crisis. Help?
posted by Ash3000 to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I would have gone to more parties and spent less time studying. I would have lived in slightly more refined rental digs. However, I needed to get scholarships to pay my rent and saving $50 a month was important. I didn't have the cash to party all the time. I did get out, though.

I think you have to start with your own comfort level. Maybe you'd be more comfortable if you joined the campus newspaper, writing group, or another related organization. I was part of the newspaper for a couple of years. It was great for my social life and my career.

College poses a great opportunity to take risks. You can join groups, try out new courses, volunteer for all sorts of organizations and what-not.

Have you thought about volunteering in the counselling department? You might meet some other more gentle people. In keeping with that, your counselling department may offer some great group programs as well as individual life coaching. Often, counsellors can help you get in touch with programs and clubs suited to your interests.

I supposed my answer has derailed. I guess I'm just trying to say that I wish I had taken greater advantage of the clubs and resources college offers. When you graduate, those things will cost money!
posted by acoutu at 10:51 PM on September 24, 2005

Talk about a loaded question, I popped in kind of expecting to give advice on changing academic majors, though I'll take a stab at this.

Of my brief 23 years of existence, I've spent 5 doing the 'college' thing. After pondering your question for 15 minutes, this is what I've got:

You're unhappy with your current social network, a little disappointed with the college life so far, and you're looking to make a change, maybe take some risks. Do I have the question right?

Take a look at what clubs are available at Columbia, I think you're already on the right track by submitting work to the comedy troupe. I wouldn't be put off by your first encounter with these guys and gals, either. Some people just take a bit of time to warm up to each other, and the shared experience of working on a fun project to each other sounds like a good approach.
posted by onalark at 10:54 PM on September 24, 2005


I have some things in common with you, but I got too drunk starting too early and well, I'm too drunk right now to give you a proper answer.

You're at college, right? There are *lots* of people around you. LOTS.

So you met a bunch of self-absorbed fucktards. There's lots of other people left. Drinking can be a easy commonality, but it's hardly a deep one.

Of the friends that I am still in contact with, all these years out of college, half are from the heavy-drinking crowd and half are otherwise. Boozey aquaintance is easy, real friendships gp deeper.

At least *some* of them may share some interests with you - and a subset of that will be of the opposite sex (and a lesser proportion of the same sex but may regard you the same way as the opposite sex).

You're living on campus which is good & bad. Do you have any hobbies or interests? Check the university websites/bulletin boards/student-union-building for clubs that share your interest (scuba diving, chess&games, debate, camping, computers, whatever).

If you *don't* have a hobby, go hang out at the various gatherings of the various clubs and see if something interests you enough.

As for kissing - there are girls, too, at those university clubs. Just smile. Look people in the eye. If there's someone you like, introduce yourself. (Yes, I'm probably not being too helpful here, but seriously - make eye contact, smile. and introduce yourself. If you don't "get" *them*, they probably have friends.)

If you can afford it, go get a haircut at someplace that costs a little more. Ask the hairdresser what you would look good with. Chances are, they'd be more than happy to talk about improving your wardrobe. A lot has to do with being comfortable with yourself and feeling good about yourself. A nice haircut, a new pair of shoes...

Best of luck, Ash - if you want, you can email me and I'll follow up when I'm not under the influence.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 11:02 PM on September 24, 2005

Oh, it is definitely time to join the Army or Marines. The ass beating you will give your former roommate will shape the success that the rest of your life will be. At a bare minimum, anytime you are around any other vets the rest of the room will be in a state of jaded jealousy. Nhaah nhaah, I bonded with the heritage of the colonials and you didn't nhaa nhaa....

At some point in time, all the pithy college social life falls to the wayside of good grades and skills.
Too often, the artistic community literally dies due to its own exclusiveness. It is a sad humourism to see take form. Look to the next higher level; skip the collegiate dredge, and move forward.

posted by buzzman at 11:21 PM on September 24, 2005

University Clubs (if they're anything like they are over here). I wish I joined some much, much earlier than I did - I used to be shy like you are but they've basically cured that.
posted by polyglot at 11:21 PM on September 24, 2005

I was in a sketch comedy group. The thing abotu theater people is that they party very hard. Every meeting we had started out with smoking weed and some people did coke. We then drank till we threw up while thinking of ideas. Everyone was very SNL circa 1979 and it worked. Don't let this dissuade you as theater people are generall very, very hard party people. Buzzman is somewhat correct, the theater or creative community is very elitist. You definitely have to fit with their standards. I believe this has a lot to do with the constant sidelining they received in high school, but I digress.

Do what you find is fun. It doesn't matter what other college people think. Remember you have very little responsbilities so find what you like and do it before you have the wife, mortgage and such. Fitting in is all about doing your thing, just don't sit around and mope. Trust me you'll be +5 cool if you do something other people don't and tell them about it later.
posted by geoff. at 11:31 PM on September 24, 2005

Ack - sorry, I didn't actually address you question -

The comedy troup wrt "partying" - drinking isn't the only metric.. Have you thought about 'messing' with the drunks? Try to be entertaining, play the devil's advocate or something. "Partying" isn't just getting shitfaced and stupid - it's about you willing to laugh at other people's jokes, maybe throw a few in yourself (and when people are drunk, they're more likely to laugh). Be yourself - if the drunks don't get you, well, fuck'em.

However, the people who were "subservient" or "appeasing" just pissed me the fuck off. Sober people can be extremely important to groups of drunkards - words from rationality (ie., "hey, you *don't* want to fight him... oh, yeah, fuck you... sure, go ahead, but it's your fucking brains on the floor... I'm going to fuck him up... hey, Christy was saying... *Chhristie* FUCK", and rambles off) can go far when the other parties are sober ("hey man, xxxx told me that you watched out for me...")

I was expelled from a school, and had to spend a semester at a 'state U and was roomed with some dumbassed SKA freshman. For some reason a bunch of his friend totally *worshipped* me - to this day I have no idea why.

I wished that I had bothered to make the effort to befriend them and use them as jumping points to get to know more women girls.

You say that you're 21 - that's legal drinking age. Do your floor-mates appreciate that quality?

Anyway, you should know that you aren't limited to the people on your floor/classes. There are *tons* of people at university; there are definitely other people who are in similar/sympathetic situations - the trick is to find them.

Odds are that these people are even more shy than you are. Take a proactive approach - the risk is of being embarrased - but so WHAT? There're so many people that it. doesn't. matter.

Really, it doesn't. When you're done, you'll never run into 99% of them ever again, unless you want to.

Loosen up, take risks. TAKE RISKS. The consequences are so much less than the rewards. (Just don't get arrested [and charged] - that screwed me bad, very very bad,, but otherwise TAKE RISKS!).
posted by PurplePorpoise at 11:34 PM on September 24, 2005

I'm more or less in the same position but have given up on trying to better my situation, so I'm not sure if I can speak with much authority, or with much encouragement. I've known a few other social failures, though, and it seems to me that this stuff is not as easy as "starting over" and after a point it becomes impossible--try not to reach that point! People expect you to be in the loop--you have to have the social birthright--or they will not bother with you. It's true you might encounter a few exceptions here, but I don't think these are worth counting on. If you put yourself out there like lots of people will tell you, you run a serious risk of becoming more permanently damaged.

The best thing you can do for yourself at this point is try to find safe environments in which to engage people, and by that I mean environments where your lack of social skills is not an immediate issue. Like getting a job. Here some closeness can be developed after which your peculiarities will have a better chance of being tolerated. In my experience there are practically no situations such as clubs or whatever where a social recluse will be able to connect with people, unless your life is like the movies and people like Kate Winslet approach you on trains (but maybe you aren't such a recluse now that clubs would be hopeless, in which case don't listen to me and go get 'em!). As a rule, people in the corner stay in the corner. But you can improve your chances by just walking around, sitting in public places rather than in your room. These are safer than trying to hang out with random people and are better than nothing.

Personally, I suggest making yourself comfortable with the possibility that you will die alone in humiliating obscurity. Works for me...kinda :)

On preview: buzzman probably has the best suggestion of the lot, at least if you still have any bit of will left. At the root of most of these problems it is a simple matter of confidence, and there the trick is simple: succeed at something, and the Army probably offers the surest means of building the required kind of visceral success. Of course, you'd have come to terms with your support of the imperial war machine, but that's another topic, heheh.
posted by flavor at 11:36 PM on September 24, 2005

I am guessing that your parents hoped you would be a smashing success- Phi Beta Kappa captain of the football team, looks of a Greek god - in order to legitimize them. A riff on the "My son the doctor" boasting. Then they get to be the envy of all the other parents with no exertion on their part.

Not every one is talented enough to be as ideal parent. Raising you to hate yourself is more about them than you. It doesn't mean that you are worthless!

Do what you want. Be what you want. As pointed out above, you are at a fine school with lots of opportunities. Why not explore them? You write well - your miserable years might provide you with plots for your best-selling novels. Doesn't every artist need to suffer?
posted by Cranberry at 12:20 AM on September 25, 2005

1) Stop saying "I'm sorry" like other people breathe. Whenever you catch yourself saying it, make a point to counterbalance that habit with something positive (make positive habits to replace ones you don't want to keep).

2) Go around to different clubs and see all the resources on campus, as acoutu said. Most people don't even realize, much less take advantage of, all that is available to students. There are plenty of booze-free opportunities to socialize if you realize that socializing is more than parties.

3) Stop comparing yourself to some "other people" you've invented in your mind. Everyone has things they are confident about and things they are very self-conscious about. Once I was sitting in the backseat of a car full of overachieving "pretty people" thinking to myself "I'm such a freak, why did I come here?" when one of them burst out "God, you're so confident. I wish I could be like that" and snapped me out of my little anti-self-talk. People tend to be their own worst critics. There are things about you that someone would envy.

4) Reframe your view into positive things. As one of my favorite professors loved to sing/shout "It's never too late to have a happy childhood!" We're constantly rewriting our own stories in our minds. Think about positive experiences and keep them close.

Nobody else can see your inner fears and shame. They see a person. If you aren't so social, they might see you as stuck-up, or shy, or aloof, or mysterious, or any number of things based on their own life experiences. I've had so many people reveal their insecurities to me at odd times. I don't know why, but is has taught me that everyone is about the same—we just choose different ways to deal with or express what we feel. While you're obsessing about negative things, others may be seeing positive things.

You own your own life. You're not there for other people. You are there for yourself. "What other people think of me is none of my business." But also, when you're feeling so self-conscious, it means you aren't really seeing the other people. You can't control what others think or do, but you can enjoy time with other people and get to know them. When they said they wanted to make sure that everyone could party, it sounds like you took it serious, when it was probably meant to simply signal the shift to a non-serious time after business was taken care of...?

Maybe try more laughter in your life? Try intentionally embarassing yourself or making mistakes or saying assinine things (when you intend it, you have some control over it, and then you might find the consecences are not so bad)? Don't take yourself so seriously. Forgive yourself for mistakes, and forgive others. You have as much right as anyone else to be there.
(egad that was long, but I am NOT sorry (^_^) and I wish you well)
posted by MightyNez at 12:38 AM on September 25, 2005

When entering college, I could have described myself rather similarly - very very shy, uncomfortable in large crowds, easily depressed, too apologetic, some asperger's-like characteristics. I decided to present myself differently - I created a persona that was closer to what I wanted to be like, and I chose to act like that person. It was pretty hard at first, but eventually it started to feel natural to be more like that person. Not perfect, of course, and I'm still often very shy, depressed, etc. But I'm much more comfortable in my own skin than I used to be.

Is it possible to get your own room? [Do you have your own room now?] I find it easier to socialize when I know that I have somewhere private to retreat to if I'm getting stressed out. If you don't have your own room, this might be something you should look into changing, if you can possibly afford it. Are you in a dorm right now, or an apartment? Is it possible to switch dorms, if you're in a dorm, or to move into an apartment? Your living environment can make a big difference... Why try to join something that'll require as much socializing as sketch comedy - do you have any other interests? At any major college, there will be clubs where a high percentage of the members are people who may be a little more like you... that is to say, quieter and not as driven by the need to 'party.' I'd try not to worry about the relationship stuff ["never been kissed"] right now. Work on starting to feel vaguely satisfied and comfortable with your life before trying to start a relationship. I don't think the Army is necessarily the answer. Some people end up liking that kind of thing, but for some it's a living hell, and betting a bunch of years of your life against the off chance that the experience may make you more confident instead of just miserable seems like a bad bet to me, at least given your self-description.

Regarding balancing your time: the balance between academics and socializing is something everyone has to find out for themselves, and it'll vary with the courseload, the extracurricular activities, etc. Make sure you have enough time to finish your classwork; beyond that, whether you want to devote more energy to activities or socializing or just decompressing... well, that's your choice, and you'll have to figure out on your own what you're comfortable with. Right now it doesn't sound like you have much socializing-stuff to occupy your time. Work on finding a niche, perhaps with a quieter group of students, and then see what you need to do to balance your workload and your socializing.
posted by ubersturm at 12:38 AM on September 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

I wrote up a huge thing about how to improve your social skills, but really there's a fair amount of advice here that I would just repeat (except maybe for the military thing. That seems like a drastic step to me, but then I'm Canadian and am wary of all things related to the U.S. military). Just know that I was once sort of in your situation; I felt shy, felt that I couldn't talk to people, didn't know how to meet girls, etc., etc. And for the most part, that's evaporated; you really do loosen up over your college career if you're willing to follow some basic rules.

Well, one rule, really. Do the things that scare you, because usually it means you're doing something right. I fretted for days over whether I should apply for a campus newspaper decision because I didn't know if I'd be good enough, or if I could handle the workload, or whatever other lame excuses I cooked up at the time. But I rode my bike down to the office and applied anyway, and three years later I was still working there and loving nearly everything about it. I took a summer internship at the city newspaper and freaked out because I'd never interviewed anyone over the phone and felt I couldn't talk straight; a couple of dumb mistakes and a couple of great interviews later, those fears disappeared as well. I was worried about moving in with a girl I barely knew through a friend, even though the apartment seemed great and it was cheap and already furnished; that girl is now my closest friend. There are a lot of things in college that seem scary, and my only regret is that I didn't ignore the urge to run away more. Along the way I picked up a decent set of social skills, some great friends, the ability to drink copiously (and the wherewithal to not drink copiously all the time, or even that often), and most importantly a big boost in self-esteem.

Socializing is really just casual storytelling, and ever since I started looking at it that way I stopped thinking of "socializing" as a task or a chore, and more a way to have fun. So I'll tell you one more story: I joined the campus newspaper in November, and I was invited to the Christmas party. Which is great when you don't know any of the staff very well. But I got dressed up in the suit I'd luckily remembered to bring from home, bought a bottle of wine (which I'd never done before, and so was anxious over whether I'd picked the right kind), and walked over to a house I'd never been in before. I was welcomed, but barely spoke to anyone until it was time to do the gift exchange. A cute, talkative girl sat next to me on the couch and just started asking me who I was and what I did at the paper. Later she admitted that it took a lot of guts to sit down next to random people and start chatting them up. But after I got over having a crush on her (because she talked to be, of course) she became a really good friend of mine—a friend I wouldn't have if she had decided not to swallow her anxieties and sit next to me for a chat.

The key is that she's not really that much better at social situations than I am, or you. The key is she decided she didn't have that much to lose, and why let little fears get in the way? This is the beauty of college; nothing matters except whatever you want to matter. So if there's a club you've been dying to try out but were too scared to, do it anyways. A party you've been invited to, but worried you might not know anyone there? Go anyways. They won't all be winners; I've gone home from plenty of parties depressed and alone. But I've left plenty of parties to walk someone else home, too. And sit on their front porch for hours talking about how cold it was, and really I'm just hugging you for warmth. (And I've been dragged home from parties after vomiting in a parking lot, but that's a story for another time.)
posted by chrominance at 1:03 AM on September 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

Oh yes, and the relationships thing. I've done my fair share of bellyaching about not having a girlfriend since high school at various parties; you'd be surprised at how many people come back at you with, "whatever dude, I met this girl/guy six months ago, and she's my first relationship EVER!" Don't bother trying to compare yourself to the lotharios that seem to bring home a different girl every night; hell, don't even worry about catching up to anyone. Your sex life is not a scorecard, and people don't date other people seriously based on how many times they've kissed someone or had sex. Your time will come, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow.

Though, if the sun doesn't rise tomorrow? I'm blaming it on you.
posted by chrominance at 1:12 AM on September 25, 2005

Ash3000 - I don't have much specific life advice for you other than some of what's already been said here, but I just graduated from Columbia and was the head of a club you might be interested in and involved with a number of others. I'd be happy to speak with you about campus life or clubs or whatever - my email is in my profile. Columbia can be a really rough place sometimes but I promise there are some decent folks there and good times to be had if you look in the right places.
posted by Hadroed at 1:22 AM on September 25, 2005

I pretty much geeked my way through my undergraduate degree, but made up for lost time in the first two years of graduate work, when much of the pressure was off... (and, importantly, fewer money worries).

I was lucky in that regard. But I also appreciated that there's no better environment in which to 'start over' and shape your life towards what you'd like it to be. (It's possibly also the worst environment to get stuck in a downward spiral; it's swings and roundabouts.) In college, we play with personas, and sometimes we find ones that fit for the rest of our lives. There's room to imagine the person you'd like to be, and start living that role. You really do have nothing to lose.

One specific thought: why not see if you can do some acting or performing? If you can write comedy, then you might be able to do stand-up. That probably counts as 'do the things that scare you', and chrominance is completely on the mark here.
posted by holgate at 2:48 AM on September 25, 2005

I like what ubersturm and mightynez have to say. My advice, though perhaps it's irrelevant or idiosyncratic, would be: make sure that your intellectual life is taken care of. Find subjects you love and study hard. Read the best of what's been thought and said: the classic novels, the best poetry. Go to all of the amazing New York museums. Go to Carnegie Hall on the student rate. See some great movies at the Landmark or the Film Forum. Watch out for the Brakhage screenings or the "Essential Cinema" series at Anthology Film Archives and go. Join the Guggenheim and the MoMA so that you can go as often as you like. Go to Labyrinth Books and the Strand. Make sure you are culturally and intellectually satisfied, and find friends with whom you can talk about these things. You can find these people in clubs, sure, but also just on your hallway. Remember that, no matter how much it might not seem this way, there are plenty of smart, serious, curious, and, yes, nerdy people at a school like Columbia. Make sure that you're challenged intellectually, meet other people who are like you, and don't worry so much about partying and drinking and joining clubs with other people.

At every low point in my life, art and culture have been what gave me energy and helped me think about big questions--about this kind of vagueness that you're experiencing. If you need some beauty and vitality in your life, sometimes Anna Karenina, Beethoven's A-minor quartet, and Mark Rothko can provide it.
posted by josh at 9:17 AM on September 25, 2005

The folks in the comedy troupe brought you on board because your sketch showed a talent. I'd say embrace that gift even if you don't embrace the group. Write sketches, write for campus publications, engage through what you're good at. If you do that, my experience has been you'll find like-minded people, who value you, who are easy to talk to, who will draw you out only a tiny bit further than you wish to be drawn. Engage with people who enjoy what you have to give. Also, I think performance is a great way to try on different ways of interacting with people without risking your real self. Go slow, but go.
posted by 3rings at 9:49 AM on September 25, 2005

I'm going to second what josh said. I was a misfit at my college (also in Boston), tried to transfer to another and it didn't work out, and I ended up building a very happy and interesting experience anyway. I had a job at my college, and obviously I went to class there, but everything else I did in the CITY. I had a second job in the city, went to museums and movies and concerts, and cross-registered to take classes at other schools. By the end of the first semester of that approach, I felt so much more like a citizen of the world! The people I met at my other job and at the other colleges were so much easier to be relaxed around than the people at my school -- probably not because of any real differences but because the need to fit in was removed.
posted by xo at 10:00 AM on September 25, 2005

Here are a bunch of links with great advice. Studying & practicing these well is essential, especially is you have little experience in the area.

Advice for starting over in school:

Essential people to have as acquaintances/friends:

What to know before trying to get a girl:

Great advice on becoming more confident, and some advice on how to converse better:
posted by frankie_stubbs at 10:19 AM on September 25, 2005

Note: some of thew posts (particularly in te first two links) are garbage. The last two links are great. Consider which of the posts realistically apply to your personality.
posted by frankie_stubbs at 10:27 AM on September 25, 2005

First off, I can´t really tell if you are a guy or a girl so I will give some generic advice.

College is about socializing but it is more about going to a good school and getting a degree. Learning should be your absolute priority. Unless of course you are attending UW-Madison. Don't ever drop out or change schools simply because you can't socialize with a few people.

If you don't get along with your dorm roomate, it isn't the end of the world. Ideally, the only time you should be in your dorm room is to sleep. There are also your neighbors that you should try to become friends with if the roomate is an ass. If you are over 21 you can buy booze for the young-uns. That will guarantee you a spot in their hearts and livers. Second, get involved with other clubs or activities. Get a job or anything to keep you away from sitting and moping in your dorm room. But remember rule #1 is to study, so get to the library as often as possible.
posted by JJ86 at 2:17 PM on September 25, 2005

Dealing with anything other than the self-hate would be treating the symptoms, not the disease. Seek some form of therapy or counseling -- your college might offer it for free (or might have peer counselors.)

Take an improv class. It'll help with your people skills, shyness, spontaneity, and comedy writing. It may be hard at first, but keep going. I thought I was terrible when I began, and ended up performing.

I could have told a story that sounded like yours a while ago. Things get better, honest. No one's around from your first year (except you.) No one in this comedy troupe knew the person you were last year (unless someone does and you didn't mention it.)

Here's the thing: you're the only one in your life keeping alive the idea that there's something wrong with you. If you manage to think something else about yourself, odds are other people will agree.

Oh, and you really, really don't sound like you have Asperger's. If you have a good enough understanding of people and humor to write something that inspired this troupe to ask you to join as a writer, then you have all the fundamental skills for social aptitude; you just need to develop them.

As for being lonely, if you're a dude, here's a potentially helpful recent thread on seduction.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 4:45 PM on September 25, 2005

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