I want to hear from people who didn't have a great experience at college
August 21, 2017 7:14 PM   Subscribe

I really expected my college years to be the best years of my life, particularly since I like to consider myself an (ugh) "artsy", "intellectual" person. I have just a year left, and the reality has been... not great. I never found "my people" and found my courses mostly dull- a couple were good; none were life-changing. It kind of feels like there's something wrong with me! Any accounts I read of people having less-than-stellar experiences (as in the responses to this earlier thread) always end with "but eventually I found my niche and everyone in my wedding party was from my university." I'm not looking for advice as much as reassurance that I'm not totally alone in having had this experience, and that it will get better. So: what are your stories as academic-minded people who nevertheless just didn't fit at college? Did you ever find your community? How?
posted by perplexion to Education (64 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
College for me was a slightly less obnoxious continuation of high school. I didn't like too many of my classmates, I had a group I hung out with but I didn't really *click* with them as such. I moved to another state as soon as I graduated and I not really in touch with anyone from college.

I found my people in the place I moved to afterwards, though. It was great to finally feel accepted and I consider those friends my chosen family. So yes, it does get better.

Look, college is a brief window of your life, don't feel bad if it's not the golden time some people say it ought to be. Heck, people say that about high school too, and that's so laughably far from my experience I can hardly believe it's a thing for anyone. But you know, I'm pretty grateful that high school or college wasn't the peak of my life. That seems pretty sad to me, to be on a downward run from your early 20s on.
posted by ananci at 7:24 PM on August 21, 2017 [9 favorites]

Me, me, me! I went to a large state school for an arts-y major, did not love it at all on day 1, eventually found friends but never felt 'my people!'. I ... just kept following my nose of what I felt interested in, and now I am a professor of a thing I literally did not know existed, in college. Scientists, outdoor enthusiasts - these are my people, and I had no idea of who they were (or who I would become) at age 20.

More generally, I think there's a great deal of social pressure to experience college as best! time! ever! when in reality .... you are 22. Your best time ever is almost certainly well into your adult life, when you have come to know your own self enough to really know and appreciate it. I don't know how to say that without sounding all condescending, but even numerically: you've been an adult for less than 5% of your likely adult lifespan - what's the probability that it peaks now?

Keep following your nose (and opening your eyes), you'll find your people.
posted by Dashy at 7:26 PM on August 21, 2017 [7 favorites]

College was okay, but it got me a job that I like and some more like minded people who work there.

Don't be that person where highschool/college was the high point of your life,it's such a brief time where most people are idiots (in my non medical opinion).
posted by TheAdamist at 7:36 PM on August 21, 2017 [13 favorites]

My college was okay. My grad school, even, is okay. I have yet to find my people, despite having a healthy amount of good friends. High school was pretty good, in retrospect, intellectually, which is hilarious to me.

I don't know. All of it has been pretty good, not amazing, and hopefully getting better over the course of my lifetime.
posted by wym at 7:36 PM on August 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

I never found my niche in college, and that's a shame and I wish I had, but in the long run it's four years of your life, give or take. There will be other things.
posted by amro at 7:45 PM on August 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

I went to an Ivy League school where I didn't fit in. I tried hard and made a couple of friends but for the most part, left and never looked back. I just wasn't the right kind of person to appreciate what it had to offer. (E.g., at the time I was really bothered by "achievement culture.") I found a place that I fit in better, and I was lucky that the local university had a good program in a topic that really interested me, and I met a few like-minded people there. My career is still my best source for "my people." And those grad school friends introduced me to even more like-minded people, and it's been uphill from there.
posted by salvia at 7:45 PM on August 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I didn't like college very much. Everyone always told me how much I'd like it and how I'd end up in a great major that would make me a lot of money. Well none of that ended up being true.

Graduated in 2005 and have never really enjoyed my life much. Had good times for sure but underneath it all I just never found lasting happiness. Oh well.
posted by paulcole at 7:47 PM on August 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

I didn't really find my people in college. I met people I liked but without all the intense bonding that many other people seem to experience. I was actually more likely to bond with my instructors - probably out of their desire to mentor a weird, lonely kid. I liked a lot of things about college but wasn't very good at structured learning (undiagnosed ADHD) and used most of my free time to read stuff unrelated to my classes and overthink pretty much everything.

I began to find my people after college.
posted by bunderful at 7:50 PM on August 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

I was depressed through the end of high school and all of university. I was a bookish kid and coasted through high school, but my mental health issues really hit me when I got to university and left the bubble I grew up in. I had no friends for five years and never went out. I was too anxious to really enjoy class.

Even now, I'm still recovering, but at least I understand my issues better today. I moved to another city and I like it here a lot better than where I grew up. I've found some people to hang out with; time will tell if they develop into lasting friendships.
posted by airmail at 7:57 PM on August 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

College was fine? I guess. I had a two-year depressive episode in the middle and had been a smart enough kid in high school that I didn't really know how to study or work hard or make especially far-thinking coursework decisions. It wasn't terrible, a few cool things happened, there were periods where I had good social circles, I came into my own on a few things once I had some time away from home.

But, you know, I'm 45 now. It'd be sad if I'd peaked in college. Far more interesting and cool things have happened since then.

One of the things I experienced then that I've realized is just how life is: all people are on their own course in life. Sometimes things come together and a really good group forms, but it's always going to change and sometimes just disperse and you will have to find new people. At the end of your life, you'll likely have a few people who are truly throughlines (or came and went and then, surprisingly, came again), but you will mostly find and lose your people over and over.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:58 PM on August 21, 2017 [11 favorites]

I made a few friends in college, but never really found my people. However, a year or two out of school I found a group I became friends with and really enjoyed my mid to late twenties way more. They felt more like what I had thought college would be, but just wasn't.
posted by jdl at 7:58 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

You can count me in this group too. I never really found my people in college. I had a group of friends, sort of, in freshman and sophomore years, but they were not good people, eventually we had a weird falling out. I'm not in touch with anyone from college at all nowadays. For the last two years of my stint at undergrad, I mostly just threw myself into school and took an insane amount of credits, and felt kind of lonely. You know, there's just so much pressure to have that Amazing College Experience, but the truth is, not all of us get that. And, that's okay. I mean, looking back, I was a totally different person than I am now anyway when I was in undergrad. I figured out who I was much later. And that made it easier to find people I could connect with.

When I went back to get my master's, I didn't find my people there either. I just took classes, did the work, and got it done.

Don't fret. You will figure things out one way or another.
posted by FireFountain at 7:58 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh hey, you summoned me? I had a shit time in college, I made no friends, just spent a lot money for long stretches of boredom punctuated by panic. But it's something you gotta do. Get your grades right, look forward to the future, and you'll be out of there before you know it, living your real life.
posted by bleep at 7:58 PM on August 21, 2017 [8 favorites]

College was just sorta "there" for me. I loved my major (Physics) but didn't do very well in it. I sure as hell didn't want to hang out with Physics majors. I became a founding father of a fraternity that I later deactivated from because, well, they were frat boys (didn't start out that way though).

Made a few friends, none of whom I kept in touch with. Had a few good times but honestly, the dreamy "best years of my life" thing was just kind of a pipe dream. I graduated with a lack luster GPA and not much motivation to overcome my obstacles. My first job out of college was being a janitor. I think that more than anything scared the shit out of me. College was how you "train" for life, right? And there I was. Janitor. This was NOT my life.

I went back for grad school (I crushed the GRE) in Electrical Engineering. School itself was not much better than college but I did enter ROTC and kicked ass in it. Can't say I keep in touch with anyone from that time or even from the Air Force but that was MY life changer.

Long story make short--don't worry about it. People make too much of a big deal out of the college "experience." Keep the fire alive in your heart whatever that is. After college, when you have to start paying the bills and discover life is a whole lot harder than you thought. . .don't shrink into your 9 to 5 life. Instead, feed the fire. Feed it well. Work towards your fire. Let it sustain you.

Then you'll get it.
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 8:08 PM on August 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

not one person i went to college with was invited to my wedding. i'm friends with plenty of 'em on facebook and i've seen a few of them in passing over the years but i can only think of one whose cell phone number i have (and that's because he lives in a town i visit occasionally).

i was so bored by my second year in college that i got a job at blockbuster video just to have something to do on weekends. i definitely kept busy but i went to a lot of concerts alone until i started dating my "college gf" my (first) senior year.
posted by noloveforned at 8:09 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

In a lot of ways, if you're serious about your future career, making your lifelong BFFs in college is outright a bad plan, because you want to feel open to relocate without feeling like you're leaving your whole life behind. I suspect that a number of people who talk constantly about their college social life into their mid/late 20s are people who are struggling to make closer friends as adults--when somebody's Maid of Honor has to fly in from six states away, how close are they, really? Maybe very--certainly I socialize a lot via the internet--but maybe not. I think my college experience was actually really good, but it wasn't really good in that "I had lots of life-changing experiences" way. It was really good in the "I saw a therapist for awhile and got good grades and started behaving like an independent adult" way. I didn't get to the bits of life that were actually particularly exciting until my 30s.

It's a bad idea not to be sociable at all because part of socializing in your late teens and early 20s is building social skills--which are absolutely skills and do need to be learned. But it's okay if this process does not result in anything particularly remarkable. And if you never have an experience that "changes your life", maybe it's because you're on a basically okay path right now to start with? Most of my "changed my life" stories involve major mistakes (like, say, six figures of law school debt). It's okay to be okay.
posted by Sequence at 8:11 PM on August 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

College was ok, and I definitely got a lot out of it (more than I thought I did at the time, anyway) but I never had the kind of experience some people do. There are a few people from then than I am facebook-friends with, but beyond that I've totally moved on and consider it for the better.

Life since has been a lot better than ok -- work has been mostly interesting, and grad school was good in all the ways I had thought college might be. It's like how some people have an awesome time in high school and live that dream, and for other people those years are more about putting in the time and getting on to something else.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:14 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

So, full disclosure:

I had a decent time in college. But it was not the best time in my life; I would be inclined to say that the best time of my life is right now, for a few reasons (in no particular order):

I'm a better person now than I used to be. I'm married to the love of my life. My work is meaningful-ish (or at least I'm fooling myself into believing that I'm making a difference). I live in a pretty nice place.

I'm hoping that life will get better, though, too. I don't really want to peak this young and I don't think anybody should want to peak young.

Any time somebody claims that such-and-such years are the best years is probably wrong. Different times are different for everybody. When you lay high expectations on any time or situation in your life without the experience to know better already, you're likely to be disappointed, regardless.

What college actually is is a lower-risk time in which you can keep trying new things until you find the thing that works for you. You can't get hung up on your group of friends, because odds are, the lot of you will disperse.

I graduated in 2009. If you were lucky enough to find work as a recent grad back then, you moved to where it was, because you weren't likely to have options. Only the ones who live in New York are still clustered together in a meaningful way. The rest of us are scattered across the country. Odds are, you'd need to find a new group of friends wherever you wound up, even if you found a good group at school.

Good advice regardless of your situation:

Make the most of it, wherever you are. Worry less about the outcome and focus more on what you can do to enjoy or develop yourself in the here and now.
posted by Strudel at 8:15 PM on August 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

College was pretty good. It was definitely better than high school. I liked my classes, but they weren't life-changing or anything, and I made friends who I'm still happy to hear from--but, like, twice a year. None of them were in my wedding. I didn't really have any idea what I wanted to do with my life coming out (and still didn't for another 3-4 years after graduation). It definitely wasn't the best years of my life. I think I hit "best years of my life" territory around 35 and am still in them currently at age 44.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 8:15 PM on August 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

I hated college. I went to one of those schools that brags about its culture and its residential college system and that ends up on lists of colleges with the happiest students, and I never found my place there. I came home from admitted students weekend in tears about the idea of attending that school, and my feelings about the place didn't change. I actually wish I had skipped my graduation because I felt nothing during the ceremony, and it was really hot and uncomfortable. I kept in touch with one person after graduating, but event that has faded. I can't say that I regret going to this particular school or would have chosen a different school, even knowing what I know now about my experience. I went to the school because it was relatively prestigious and gave me a lot of scholarship money. After graduating, I could get into any grad school I wanted, so I got everything out of the school that I wanted.

It's still a little weird when people talk about their great college experiences, and I can't join in, but I've realized that I probably would have hated most colleges. I was basically a boring 30 year old in an 18 year old's body. I'm a homebody who doesn't drink much and thrives with lots of stability and adult responsibilities. Fun for me is reading a book or watching HGTV and planning which walls I'll rip down in my kitchen one day, not whatever I was supposed to be doing in college. Plus, I never got over feeling homesick, even though I think that had more to do with not being able to put down roots, since I knew I'd be moving, soon, than actually wanting to be home.

As far as finding my people, I think I maybe found them when I attended law school a decade later (with no expectation that I'd make friends at all). I'm a bit of a loner, anyway, so my people will always be a small group. Life is so much better than it was in college, even though I haven't achieved many of the things I thought I should want back then. Learning to everyone else's expectations about what I should want out of life helped! I'm still far from ready to accept that the best years of my life are behind me!
posted by capsizing at 8:53 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I made many good friends in college, and started dating the woman who I married. But college itself was pretty miserable. I was completely broke, and forced to take classes that had nothing to do with my degree and were pretty much pointless. Virtually none of my college friends got jobs that required a degree (and still haven't, 10 years later), and many were stuck with impossible and unethical debt loads. A few didn't graduate by a semester or two and were still stuck paying the bill. I think of my current friends from college as "the survivors," not like we shared some special magical life-altering experience. I still hang out with people from college regularly, but also many people I met more recently.
posted by miyabo at 8:55 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I wasn't that into college. When I graduated I cheered the fact that I would never be graded on participation again. For me getting out into the real world and a real job was the big win, and where I found my true success.
posted by Toddles at 8:55 PM on August 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

College was ok. I did fine in classes. I got a good job when I graduated.

But I forgot to reinvent myself / lapsed into being the same person as I was in high school in freshman year. I started to explore only after sophomore summer. When I got back, while I still admired and liked the friends from freshman year, I didn't feel like those people were my people anymore. I still keep in touch with a few of these people, but they largely moved on and formed a friend group of their own; in the meantime, I got closer with people in my department.

Unfortunately, most of these people were in the year above me, so my last year of college was intensely lonely -- I suspected there were people whom I could have really liked, and could have made new friends, but was too anxious to do so. I had a hard time finding people to go to the random shows and talks I was interested in. I ate a lot my senior year.

The happy ending is that when I graduated and joined a large company with a ton of other young people, I then found the people whom I really liked. So it turned out fine; I just don't have tons of crazy fun stories with lifelong best friends to pass on to my kids.
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:02 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I actually had a decent experience at high school (small private New England day school), but their college "counseling" services were more of a marketing department than anything else. I stumbled into the undergrad (a large, well-ranked, private "ivy of the whatever") I went to for the wrong reasons. Yes, there were many great professors and guest speakers there, and in retrospect, I experienced a lot of interesting stuff! There is more than one professor that I'd like to reconnect with. BUT...socially, it was a poor match for me. I had bad luck with roommates, and it was really cliquish - in a way that I wrongly thought didn't exist after high school. There were the jocks, drama queens, pre-med gunners, rich kids, etc...ugh, aren't we all supposed to be human? It was all so cookie-cutter. And the pre-med program (aforementioned gunners sucking up to certain professors) actually made me go from loving medicine to hating it. I probably ranted about this culture on this site - some of the things I said are quite embarrassing.

Wait, what? After being very uncertain and shadowing some more doctors in different specialties in the following years, here I am at medical school...and loving medicine. Yes, it's hard and stressful; yes, I've had my struggles, but not even my undergrad's pre-med department could stop me!

And the social scene is completely different at med school - for the better. People are actually willing to help each other, and cliques are (mostly) gone! People actually care about...learning and doing things and commiserating!
posted by Seeking Direction at 9:23 PM on August 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

Oh, and the college counselors kept on feeding us the self-destructive "best four years of your life" bullshit. Ignore it.
posted by Seeking Direction at 9:27 PM on August 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think the idea that college is the best time of your life is a little weird, and honestly perhaps a little unhealthy. You shouldn't be looking back, or even worse, preparing to look back on "the best time" so early in life.

My college days were perfectly fine. I enjoyed my course, met some nice people, met some total assholes, and then moved on. I didn't meet my people until I was working, and every time I change jobs I meet another group of my people. And then outside of work I meet some of my people. They're everywhere! Please don't worry about it not meeting societal expectations of what college should be. I realised in retrospect that a lot of ideas about what college should be, and what roommates should be, were based on popular media tropes and rose-tinted retrospectives, not reality.
posted by Joh at 9:30 PM on August 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

My first university experience was an utter disaster. The only reason I went to the school that I did was that it was the only place in the country that was relatively lax and liberal, but that, unfortunately, ended up being a terrible thing for the academic side. Sure, it was a great place to be openly queer or at least have funky fashion on without people judging you, and the student body was this interesting mix of Popular Kids Who Are Also Actually Approachable. (A lot of people went to this school to be talent-scouted.)

But the STUDIES. GAH. One of my classes was straight-up misinformation. Another class screwed over the top half of the class (all the A-scoring kids) by claiming at the absolute last minute - like a week before the new semester started, which was already like 2-3 months out from the last semester - that all of us had somehow "plagiarised" our final paper and if we don't send in a fix within a week we'll be marked as Fail. Meanwhile, other students were straight up copy-pasting whole websites in their papers and getting no pushback. I put in a hell of a lot of effort in my paper and was NOT HAPPY - in spite, I just added a "Wikipedia 2005" citation mid-text and got a C+. This experience is the exact reason I HATE academic writing now. I dropped out after that semester (I did a year of foundational/pre-University studies and then a semester of a Bachelors degree) and eventually went somewhere else, and I keep trying to avoid bringing up that school whenever I apply for stuff, but because my second university recognised that one semester for credit I end up having to show my transcripts from that damn semester, which I firmly believe ruins my chances at anything.

The second university I went to complete my Bachelors was...meh. It was a well-known school in Australia, but asides from a couple of really stellar classes (which were both really practical and hands on) the rest was not great. A lot of it was really really Australia-centric; they'd obsess over the Japanese concept of Ma for some reason but for a school that claimed "international experience" it sure wasn't all that international in content. It definitely did not help me gain more appreciation for academic writing. I don't really feel like I learned much of anything in my degree beyond what I can recognise now is Cultural Appropriation 101 and Gentrification 101.

Formal education of any kind was not fun times for me. My MFA (in a hippie college in the US) was probably more enjoyable than the rest, primarily because I was in my favourite city ever and I didn't have to write an academic paper if I didn't want to (but my favourite classes ended up being about teaching academic writing go figure), but even then there were some headaches. The only context in which I could say my college years were the 'best' in my life was the 3 years in SF for my MFA, but those 3 years were the best not because of of my degree; the degree was just a vehicle for me to be there.
posted by divabat at 10:20 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, to address the academic-minded part of your question: I am actually quite academic-minded. I'm a professional writer (mostly journalistic or media writing) and I LOVE writing pieces that involve deep research and exploration. I could read for ages and be happy. I've had lecturers and friends with PhDs comment that I could probably do a decent job writing a PhD, and yknow, if it weren't for the actual writing part I'd probably consider it.

However, I found university (and well school in general, though you never really wrote papers for anything in Malaysian schools) to be completely unhelpful in supporting my academic-mindedness. From the fiasco with my first university, to the one tutor I had in my second university whose only response to my presentation about youth blogging culture in Malaysia is "what about the emos", and all in between - there was no incentive or support for any actual effort in writing academically. No one would read it, no one will talk with you about it, no one would care if you put in the bare minimum or if you actually put in effort. So why bother? At least as a journalist I get more immediate and direct feedback. The classes I loved were the ones that involved writing more practical stuff, such as case studies: things that matter outside the classroom, taught by industry professionals.

(Hell the one time I could really recall actually studying out of interest and not just because I was trying to avoid a fail grade, beyond the aforementioned classes, was when I took an online business fundamentals course by a Big Deal University. I had near-zero business experience and only took the course out of a dare, but I ended up enjoying it way more than I thought I would. It was practical and people were invested in my participation. I had a lot of positive feedback from my cohort and the professors, even when I was being a rabble-rousing anti-capitalist, as well as people who were following along. I ended up being top of the class.)
posted by divabat at 10:37 PM on August 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I didnt have a very good time in college. I did very average academic work, made no lasting friendships, and didn't wind up making a career based on my major. I had a much better time post graduation. I eventually found a job and a life I enjoy the hell out of.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:06 PM on August 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was miserable in school from day one, as far back as I can remember (as in, nursery school). In high school everyone (teachers, parents, guidance counselors) promised me it would be better/different in college. It wasn't. I dropped out after a year. I tried going back once, it was even worse.(I didn't believe that could be possible...) That was 23 years ago. I still hate it. I would rather eat out of dumpsters than ever set foot in a classroom again.

It worked out ok for me, the only debt I have is a mortgage. I would desperately like to end the whole "college experience" idea though, and end credentialism. Surely there's a better way to give people job training.
posted by Violet Hour at 11:27 PM on August 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

My college experience was plagued with mental health issues, and was dramatically bad at times. I met many great people, but had many sluggish and unproductive moments. Many, many were the days that I thought "who are these plastic bozos" and just stayed inside. I found my people, lost them, found new people, lost them, found new people who weren't really my people and frankly, am no longer in touch with a couple of years down the line. In retrospect, approximately 0% of the angst seems justified.

There is an extreme beauty about experiencing the world raw, and at your age. In a few years it may just take your breath away. Who cares if the people in college will be your lifelong friends? Just make sure that the fear of trying new things and frankly a lack of confidence about the way things work aren't holding you back from gulping every experience down. I would personally kill it if someone sent me back to college, a couple years after. The working world teaches you such much confidence and makes you realize so much that everyone is faking it in the world all the time - that there is no gold star reward system, only the sheer carnival of everyone being alive at the same time.

Also, college definitely doesn't have to be the peak of your life - part of the anxiety of that age is this fear of "diverging" from the narrative of the "well rounded person," who gets a "moderately paying job" in a "reasonable industry" and "has lots of nostalgic memories of college" and "has two kids and a husband on Facebook, and everyone from college was in their wedding because they were attractive and pleasant and successful." Or whatever constitutes getting a gold star as an alum of your school - I am sure there is some imaginary version you can conjure up, based on class neurosis and school advertising and gender socialization. Frankly, the interesting thing is that you don't have to prep to become this person, because the entire thing is a concept of marketing and PR. Nobody becomes this person. Nor should they. The world requires you.
posted by benadryl at 11:38 PM on August 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

My college experience was not great and I am friends with none of those people now, nor have I been since I was about 24. Here at 45 are all the fucks I give:


If by "it will get better" what you are asking is if your undergrad experience will get better, it probably won't. Life, however, will. Real life is basically nothing like academia and your years in college are not predictive of your years post-grad.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:50 AM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

There is an extreme beauty about experiencing the world raw, and at your age. In a few years it may just take your breath away.

This. It really is an extraordinary time - but throw out the "oh but it was supposed to be such and such" nonsense. It won't be The Most Perfect Four Years unless you live in The Giver universe or something. The Perfect Four Years is a trope, and not an idle one either.

I graduated from a college where I actually enjoyed the academics, but the social life was so snobbish, so cliqueish that it made me feel awful. They were "a people" and I definitely wasn't one of them. It profoundly affected my later life, that snobbery, because I let it make me unhappy and obsessed over it. That's why I copied Benadryl's comment. Breathe. Take in the beauty all around you and enjoy the things that are working and are right. It's those moments I look back on, the wild uncharted ones that had nothing to do with "The College Experience" that I am grateful for.
posted by Crystal Fox at 2:20 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I graduated from college last year, after having an awful time in all non-academic respects. So no, you aren't alone. Bad college experiences are actually somewhat common, but there’s such a strong cultural expectation (among certain demographics) that a person has had a BITCHIN’ and LIFE-CHANGING and ET CETERA college experience, that those of us who did not have that experience are not about to print up t-shirts that read: “Hey! College sucked and I lost my voice from never using it outside classrooms!” In fact, sometimes I get so thrown by college talk that I end up bluffing about how much I loved my four years in hell (five if you count the year I took off for depression - which was mostly chemical, but at least partly situational). I’m sure I’m not the only one, either.

And hey, it's okay for you to work through sadness or anger that you didn’t have the experience you were hoping for. It’s okay to grieve your fading expectations for that experience, especially if you went to a dream school (hi!), a school renowned for its [your major] department (hi!), and/or a school that cost your family a lot of money (hi!!!). A lot of people will advise you to not care that [high school/college/insert thing] wasn’t fun, because it [doesn’t actually matter/is overrated/insert reason]. I am genuinely glad that some people don’t particularly mind that they hated college, but I don't feel that way - or at least, I'm not there yet. I think it’s especially hard not to mind if you belong to a marginalized identity. As a weirdo intellectual queer, I internalized the message that I would find “my people” in college. When this did not happen, I felt profound despair, since it seemed that even in a place where my kind congregated, there was no niche into which I fit. I mean, I was lucky enough to come from a supportive home/area of origin, so I didn’t feel that ending college with zero social connections meant a one-way ticket back to Abuserville, but still. It kinda sucked.

Another thing to keep in mind is that your academic experience may improve over the course of this year. It wasn't until senior year that I got to have an all-seminar schedule, which did wonders for my boredom, since in senior seminars professors did not waste time pandering to the people who had not done the reading, nor did they suffer bullshitters. I also got to know my professors much more intimately, and they gave me recommendations for outside reading - which at least helped me fill my free time in productive ways.

By the way, it may not be until you leave college that you fully appreciate what it's done for you. Like you, I was disappointed by many educational aspects of my college experience, but I still came out the other side with a damn fine liberal arts education. I mean, yes, to some extent that outcome will depend on your particular institution, but I maintain there are ways to make the best out of any situation. For instance, you might do independent research on JSTOR or in the library. You might also ask your professors for extra reading, or hang out with them during office hours (hey, it’s something to do - and if you’re like me, professors are the only real friends you’ll make in college anyway). I would also suggest that you take advantage of special opportunities; for instance, because I was checking my email instead of having fun on the weekends, I was always among the first people on campus to nab tickets for special events. I got to attend some nifty private lectures, and met one of my heroes. So that certainly wasn’t a waste. I also applied for a special academic program, and participated in the senior thesis program. While both programs disappointed me in some ways, I was grateful for the extra challenge. I'd encourage you to look for similar extracurricular opportunities, even if it seems too late because it’s your last year (believe me, I remember that feeling).

So college wasn’t the waste I feared it would end up being. Hell, I’m even planning to go for a graduate degree. While I’m hoping things go better the next time around, I’ve learned that you can’t fully control your educational/social experiences, and that not everything in life will “just work out,” even if you put a lot of effort into trying to make it work. This time at least I won’t have the added handicap of being utterly unprepared for independent living. (Protip, don’t leave for college with multiple untreated mental illnesses...I mean, man, even when I’d gotten some treatment and reached the apex of my college-years functioning, I was living on french fries, kimchi, and caffeinated beverages; I sometimes bought new clothes rather than do laundry; I once tried to "tough out" pneumonia without medical care because I was too anxious to speak to a human being at the clinic; and I spent more nights than I’d like to admit dressed for an arctic expedition because I couldn’t get my shit together to register a complaint that my radiator had failed.)

Anyway, I’m not going to lie and tell you my life’s great now and that I instantly found the friends that I was missing in college all along. (My friends are still the friends I made at my weird-kid high school.) I also won’t say my bad college experience didn’t fuck with me, because it did fuck with me. Nor will I claim that it didn’t suck to be alone in the graduation line, pretending to people nearby that I was waiting for a buddy who’d simply failed to show up, because that really did suck. But after college ended I finally got into intensive therapy, the therapy actually worked, and it has had the side benefit of helping me process my college experience. Generally speaking, I am feeling much more confident in life, and I have hope for the future. I also have hope for you, perplexion. I am impressed that you had the idea to seek out others with similar experiences, instead of doing what I did during much of college (raging at the universe with a telescope trained on my navel, somehow convinced that I was the only person in the world feeling the way I did). You are already thinking about your situation proactively, and you are engaging in self-care without any prodding. These signs bode well.

Kid, I think you will be all right.
posted by desert outpost at 2:22 AM on August 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

It's funny trying to write this... I KNOW I was very unhappy for much of the time in college but, at 48, looking back at what a beautiful place I was in, knowing what a relatively easy time it was compared to real adulthood, it's hard not to remember it through rose-colored lenses. So if nothing else, your memory of it might get better.

Two things made college an unhappy time for me. 1) I realize now I was suffering from terrible social anxiety. I felt excluded and like I would never make friends (not just in college, for the rest of my life). Actually, going to college was probably the best choice given that condition, giving me so much opportunity to face my fears. If I had just gotten a job out of high school I probably would have socially isolated in my parents' house or in a tiny apartment. I wasn't "cured" by the time I graduated but there was probably no better environment to work on the issues I had (though I probably would have benefited from knowing I was working on those issues and having a therapist skilled in them).

2)I didn't know what career I wanted or should purse. My boho parents were very much "do what you love!" which was totally unhelpful to me and made it really hard to make good use of the opportunity. Some of us just don't have a driving passion. I couldn't figure out what to DO with college because I didn't know where I was heading. I wish I could've realized that "train for a job that will make you a good living that you don't hate" was a perfectly valid and reasonable goal. I won't recount my life history, but I've sort of never figured out the career piece but I'm very happy.

It certainly did get better after college, partly because after college there's less expectation of having a good time so you can just do what is actually a good time for you.

However, if there's anything to distill from my experience maybe it's: figure out what YOUR unique issues are and try to solve those. I don't know, maybe you can't do that except in retrospect.
posted by Jenny'sCricket at 2:32 AM on August 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

I had a terrible first year; the next three years were better but not great. Overall I had a fine time, and often enjoyed it, but I didn't have a transcendent experience or find my people, and I generally felt like I didn't belong. And I went to the kind of small intense out-of-the-way college where people go precisely because they feel they belong. I'm far enough out of college that I no longer feel sore about all that, but even now I occasionally mentally rewind to those years and wonder what could've been if I'd gone somewhere else.

A pretty big chunk of it - and this won't be reassuring - was me. I had undiagnosed depression. I'm an introvert with social anxiety and have trouble making friends even if you put them in front of my face every day. And I was just not as mature as I was convinced I was. When I felt out of place, I got defensive and cynical and shut myself off. I had sort of a black-and-white view of myself in the world, in which I was naturally great and my problems with other people were always the other person's fault - but if they were ever my fault, it was because I was fucked up and unlikeable and unfixable. In other words, I mistakenly believed there was nothing about myself I could work on. You might not have the shortcomings I do, but it's never a bad idea to try and improve yourself, know what I mean?

I'm fifteen years out of college, and while I don't have college besties and am not really in touch with the friends I had in and immediately after college, I'm casually in touch with people via Facebook and such. Meeting other alumni now doesn't mean instant friendship, but it has proven to be a good jumping-off point for acquaintanceship at least. I think they're generally good and kind and smart people, and I'm happy to know them now.

I often think we go to college 5-10 years too early; it'd be nice to have some free years to flounder, get some general work experience and figure out what we like, and then have that intensive social and academic environment. But the good news is college is not the end of learning and it's far from your last chance to find your people.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:21 AM on August 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

My (first) college experience was pretty awful. I had very controlling parents who dictated where I matriculated and what major I was allowed to have, I was pretty socially anxious and nerdy as hell so I was excluded a lot. I wasn't a good student and was afraid to ask for help because I thought I would get yelled at. I made some friends and had some enjoyable times, and I did wind up discovering what would ultimately become my field as a senior, but I finally wound up dropping out after being on academic probation.

My first career job out of college was where I found "my people", and really where I began to assert myself, to stop asking permission to take on new challenges and to just start doing them.

I actually went back to college at 39-43 (3.5 years, attending half time--basically just had to take the major classes) and it was a far better experience. I knew how to find the information I needed, was confident about asking for help and speaking out, had a good foundation of knowledge and was able to put my learning to good use, and was surrounded by people who were similarly ambitious and focused. It was evening college so there wasn't a question of the social aspect, and of course it is a hell of a lot easier to succeed when you have a nice quiet home and good food to eat, not a loud cramped dorm room and cafeteria food and ramen.

It was tons easier and more productive to go from work to college as opposed to the reverse.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:09 AM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

College got a lot better as it went on for me, and I do still have friends from college 20 years later (long distance friends, all of them, because I went to an state school as an out-of-state student and returned to my home state within a few years of graduating), but it definitely wasn't the best time of my life. It was fine. I have lots of good memories from it, but it doesn't define my life or anything. My first few years after college were the same or a little worse, but then it's been pretty much steady improvement since.
posted by mskyle at 6:43 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had a good time in college and consider it an overall positive experience, but it wasn't the best 4 years of my life by a longshot. I've never felt any desire to go to the big reunions and the extent of my college nostalgia is quietly following a handful of the sports teams. I made some situationally good friends who I've amicably fallen out of touch with but am always happy to encounter at weddings. But I just went through the entire social circle of people I'd consider my very very good call-them-in-an-emergency friends and only three attended college with me - and one I didn't actually meet until after graduation. The rest are a weird amalgam of friends-of-friends who became primary friends, friends I met from other people's social circles, partners of friends who I got to know, etc.

I want to speak to the idea of finding "your people" a little bit, too, in case you view it the same way I do and that's part of what's got you feeling like you're missing out. I always interpret this concept as having a group of likeminded people with the same sense of humor who love hanging out together and have always felt a little alienated by that idea, since I've never been in a group or community of people I wanted to share everything with all the time. I know this is a thing that happens and works very well for other people; I've just always tended to have friends acquired in different ways who may or may not have any overlap.

I think people come in and out of your life and depending on where you and they both are, some people will be closer than others at certain times. They're still all "your people" even if there's gaps in the chronological overlap between them, and you may well keep finding them throughout your life.
posted by superfluousm at 6:43 AM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I disliked 'college life'. I lived off campus, didn't go to college parties, kinda half-assed it in my classes (to be honest). But I went to a lot of shows to see bands play, then hung out in bars or at houses afterwards with the people I went to shows with, and that is basically where I met 'my people'. Some of those people happened to go to my school, some didn't. But I could have met them with or without having gone to college at the same (really large, public) university. So maybe figure out what your interests are and find groups outside of school where you can explore those interests. This is what you are going to have to do when you're out of school anyway so might as well start now.
posted by greta simone at 6:54 AM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I never felt like I fit in during college. I never found "my people" and had far fewer friends than I would have liked (I only keep in touch with one friend from college, and it's only been four years since I graduated). I enjoyed a lot of my classes, but few of them really sparked my passion as I had hoped. I don't look back on my college years with any fondness.

But I'm glad that I went to the college I did. If I hadn't gone there, I would not have met my best friend in the world. I may not have found a major that I loved (philosophy) and I would probably not have stumbled into a career I love (economics). And I also learned a lot about myself during those years. I gained a lot of independence (more than I would have if I were in a real community) and learned how to love being by myself.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:55 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I did college in two different spurts - 2.5 years (18-21), then I dropped out to play primary caretaker to my grandparents, then 1.5 years after having spent some time working (25-27.)

At the time, I would've told you the first 2.5 years were great - I partied A LOT, had a big group of friends, and mostly skated through classes. Retrospectively, I realize those years were damaging in a lot of ways - I got very used to building surface-level friendships around alcohol, kept busy to avoid my depression, and generally got nothing out of the actual academic portion of my schooling. Those things are often described as the elements of the "best years of my life" in the ways that people fondly remember, and I do laugh and have some funny memories, however deep down I feel a lot of shame for wasting those years chasing vapid stuff over depth. I was a fluffy, pseudo-philosophic "intellectual" who could fake it in a bar.

When I returned to college, I was more of an adult. I attended every class, did my papers early, and it turns out I was a 4.1 student when I put the effort in. My professors not only knew my name, but encouraged me to go on to graduate school. I spent more time with people sober, started going to the gym, and got into a more serious, adult relationship with my now-wife. When I graduated, I immediately had a job and excelled at it. At this point, I was an actual intellectual who could find depth in a subject.

So - don't feel bad if you didn't find your people in college. In many ways, the movie version of the university experience is (like most things) overly romantic. The point is to put the work in, hopefully find a few things that interest you (passion in one subject is not a necessary bar for a great life) and pick up skills and the will to do good work. Most of my friendships from that time fizzled out, but the good news is work and adult relationships will come that will introduce new, challenging people into your life. My 30s so far have been the best years of my life.
posted by notorious medium at 6:55 AM on August 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

My college experience was a mixed bag. My classes were demanding. I didn't party much. I did like hanging out with my female roommates. For some people, getting away from annoying parents makes college feel great. Other people blossom when there's a range of interesting things to do. Also, in hindsight, being a student without a job (thanks California taxpayers), with free time in the middle of the day is potentially more delightful and varied than working 8 or 10 hours a day in a cubicle, which is why older people trot out the "best years of your lives" cliche so much. My husband spent a huge amount of time in college playing intermural sports. I think he was happy most days.
posted by puddledork at 7:36 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

College was fine. I made no long-term friends from it, but I wasn't really expecting to. It was more fun than high school for sure, simply because more people were mature adults and I didn't take it as seriously, and it cost a lot more. I grew a ton as a person but that was because of work I did on and for myself, not because of school. For a while I was really resentful that I didn't go for the "traditional" college experience of living on campus and doing school full-time. Instead, I went to community college and then took evening classes so I didn't lose my fairly-lucrative-for-no-degree part-time job. Looking back on it now, 5 years later, I'm glad for the path I picked. I lived with people I loved a lot, I learned tons about living independently, and I didn't get caught up in college in the way that I did with high school where school was my entire world. I think the important thing about the college years are the years themselves and what you do with them. School is just the backdrop to becoming the person you will be. Think accordingly.
posted by possibilityleft at 8:22 AM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I never entirely fit in at college, did mediocre work, and made no lasting friends.

That's right. Not a single fucking one, 30% because I was trying to get better from a abusive relationship, and 50% because I was weirdly socially immature, and 20% because I didn't drink. When people play the "Did you know ________, who was there in ___?" game, I never ever do, not even if they were in my year and my tiny residential dorm.

A decade on, I met a guy who did have a circle of close college friends, and they basically adopted me. All the joy of nerdy like-minded friends that I felt instantly comfortable with, none of the binge teenage drinking!
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:32 AM on August 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

So, I am one of those people who met my BFFs there, came into my own and blossomed due to the specific blend of independence and structure, and had that romantic, dreamy, stimulating college experience. Not every day; actually I was pretty miserable due to untreated mental illness, but enough days were special to make the whole experience special.

Even then, it was in no way the peak of my life and I would not go back to being in my 20s for ANYTHING. College is fleeting and it's not quite the real world, so even if it were my peak, I'd have to live in the real world for the rest of my life, and who wants to peak at like 20 and then live another 60 years in misery.

You'll be fine.
posted by kapers at 8:37 AM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I spent a couple years muddling through at a state school, finally spent most of a semester rock climbing, and my grades didn't change, so I decided it was time to get out and do something with my life.

College is a lousy way to learn. The things that were great about it were individual connections with specific professors (outside of class), but I never really made strong connections with other students.

I've said since then that if I had it to do over again, I'd get into the best school I possibly could, and then party my ass off, doing the absolute minimum classwork necessary to get through. The value of college is in the interpersonal connections, and that's what I've had to build independently throughout the rest of my career.

And, yeah: People who think that college was the best years of their life are like the people who think that high school was the best years of their life. Peaking early and lacking imagination.
posted by straw at 9:16 AM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I kind of muddled/ stumbled through college, spending 5 years in one program, got burnt out (on Landscape Architecture), then changed majors (City and Regional Planning) and ended graduating in 8 years with my undergrad. The Landscape Architecture program was neat because in the 2nd year, while a number of students changed majors, there was also an infusion of "non-traditional students," who really made the classes interesting. Still, I fizzled on the major, then changed majors, where most of the students had gone directly from high school to college, so I was now one of the older students, so I felt out of place. Still, I really like the work now (5 years in county planning, now heading into my 5th year in transportation planning), so worked out in the end.

I'm not great about making and keeping friends, tbh, so maybe I'm not a great example of "finding my people" after/outside of college, but I got involved in a few clubs in college where I had a lot of fun. I took part in the huge new student orientation program every year for my 8 years at college (hundreds of students volunteered each year, many coming back for a few years, though none as long as me), which wasn't totally my scene, but it helped me overcome some of my social awkwardness. I had fun with the geeky anime club, and then I found my true home at the college radio station, where I DJed after graduating and getting a job, because it's just so much fun.

I met the lovely lady who is now my wife through the new student orientation program, and she joined me at the radio station, but we didn't invite a ton of people from any one group, but rather our best friends from those various circles. From those circles, I'm "friends" with a ton of folks on Facebook, but I feel the closest to my fellow DJs.

We lived in, then near, our college town for a few years after graduating, so we still had friends in the area, but many moved away, then we did, too. Now we've had some friends stop by and visit us in our new home, and we've made a few friends in our new home town, but I can't say we're "rooted" here with a big group of friends like we had accumulated in college.

tl;dr: my suggestion is to find groups and clubs you like while in college, as you're likely to have more time then. Even if you don't make great friends, you'll have more fun. And after graduating, keep looking for fun events and do your best to talk to people. Again, I'm no poster child for this path, but it sounds like something that should work, in theory ;)
posted by filthy light thief at 9:56 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I went to one of the top public universities in the world and hated it.

I was so lonely.

I had no good advice on picking classes/majors etc and just flailed. The bureaucracy was only there to stymie, never to help, never to guide. I had one mentor during that whole time but unfortunately it was in a field I shouldn't have been in to begin with, so it wasn't a fruitful partnership.

I had classes taught by graduate students who didn't speak English. I was so excited to be able to get into a classics seminar taught by one of the top experts in the world but he was too lazy to ever prepare for it so it was just listening to other freshman talk, and I dropped that too.

I never found my tribe. I got so depressed I withdrew for a year. I did go back and graduate, but I'll never send them a dime and I'll never let me kids go there, as prestigious as it is.

(I have since worked at some of the most desired companies in the world, for whatever that's worth, and I have a really nice life in a nice city with a very nice family.)

(By the way one thing that did help, and I discovered this far too late, in professional school, was to focus on things I was naturally gifted at: this allowed me to forge strong relationships with the professors, who obviously prefer to deal with students who "get it" and who can then become helpful mentors; it also promotes general happiness and self-esteem, rather than grubbing around at the back of the pack as I did in undergrad.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:59 AM on August 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

This was me at the beginning of my four years. I was miserable from the get-go, reading insincerity and a lack of intellectual rigor in everyone around me. The college I attended did not foster the environment of deep geekery and intellectual curiosity for which I longed. I found some camaraderie, but not a lot—it ended up that most of my friends lived in a substance-free dorm or on substance-free floors (the existence of which I alternately resented and appreciated, depending on the day, as my freshman floor was an alcohol-soaked hellhole of unrestrained indulgence). I was also in a long-distance relationship, hence apart from the "smush of sex and wild youth," for most of my first 3 years there. I also stayed on campus as much as possible, including every break except winter break each year, to avoid returning home. So by the end of my second year I was on my way to academic probation from burnout and incompletes. I had to dig my way out. I'd felt on top of things at the end of high school, but in college I grew anxious and depressed.

Nonetheless, I worked hard, I learned a lot, and I ended up being chosen as editor in chief of the independent student newspaper my senior year. I think we did good work that year, but I still felt like an outsider—I hadn't yet connected all the dots on this at the time, but I grew up like this, daughter of a disabled Vietnam War veteran. I was the only person who stepped up that year to run for the position, and the newspaper's nonprofit board and some of its staff were (unnecessarily, I still think) concerned about my qualifications or lack thereof. Looking back, I think part of the problem was an invisible set of expectations in terms of class and demeanor, a lack of emotional safety. I never felt like I had their full support, never felt like they were a resource upon which I could draw, perhaps unlike students more accustomed to the ways of the working world.

In fact, as a member of that professional community I was invited to serve a term on the board for the past few years, and I still felt like that—like I barely met qualifications somehow, and like I was continually letting them down by not meeting some unspoken set of expectations, even though they invited me in the first place. (Before I joined the board, I endured a phone call grilling me to be sure I supported "traditional journalistic values," as I'd recently written a somewhat incendiary first-person narrative about growing up near Ferguson.) As editor, I hadn't felt greatly beloved by any stretch—I had to have some tough discussions early on with people who felt like the staff was their gossip squad, and some of them chose to leave rather than work with me and be kind to others. I grew a lot as a person and a leader that year, learned to throw parties that brought the staff together despite differences of class and experience. Maybe I believed too much in geek fallacies, in bringing people together despite differences. Maybe I didn't seem cool enough or woke enough at the time. While I impressed some with my work and gained some professional connections, I didn't make many lasting, deep friendships that way.

This was me after my four years. Forgive the embarrassing lack of perspective in some regards; that significantly improved in the intervening decade, with a lot of life experience and reading many, many MetaFilter threads. But that covers how I felt then—I was miserable for a lot of reasons in college.

Six months later, after working multiple part-time gigs and freelancing to hold up my end of expenses for an apartment, I was here. I met my husband there. A year in, I got my first full-time salaried position as an editor, while continuing to freelance for alt-weeklies, career publications, etc. I've continued to learn a hell of a lot in the decade since then. I learned all the journalistic clichés and shibboleths. I learned what truly matters. I found a niche professionally. But it wasn't until my current workplace, where I've been for almost 3 years now, that I truly felt like I was with my people in a working environment. I made friends along the way who I still cherish and try to meet up with regularly, and in my first career, I was promoted multiple times over the years. But I grew increasingly unhappy there, and I stayed too long out of fear. I took getting laid off to find my people.

Those friends I ended up making in college? By the time I finally got that first salaried position, still working for way too little, most of them had moved away or otherwise moved on. That first year working retail while freelancing as a journalist put me in an entirely different headspace than everyone else I knew from college—they had been privileged to begin with and then immediately stepped into salaried positions that gave them lots of spending money, while I was working all the time to make ends meet. Dropping $50 on a night out felt—and sometimes still feels—stupidly and unnecessarily extravagant.

Anyway, I digress. Clearly I have lots of thoughts about class issues that keep higher education and journalism from being truly representative. The series of revelations I would have in the latter half of my first decade out of school would put me here, ultimately. But all of this is to say, sometimes it takes a while, and you're not at all alone in feeling the way you feel about college right now. This can and most likely will get better.
posted by limeonaire at 12:42 PM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

College wasn't great for me. It wasn't horrible, though there were many bad parts. I had some serious anxiety, mainly in social situations because I cannot make small talk and I often don't understand body language or when someone is joking. I didn't do especially well grades-wise, but I did learn an amazing amount because I sought out learning at the library, labs, projects being worked on, etc. with my own time and within my own interests. I didn't find 'my people' and though I did hang out with people from work during that time they weren't close connections.

Since I didn't find 'my people' and I didn't get the grades I was pretty miserable at the time. It did get better for me in a few ways. The learning that I did outside of classes in college has made me much better at my job than people who know the 'book answer' but won't think of a new way of doing something. I also learned too late that I didn't find 'my people' because I don't want to have people. I love my wife and kids and that's all the people I need. There was so much pressure in college to find friends and hang out with the 'sister floor' in the dorm and lots of other crap I just will never be any good at or care about. I'm not saying you won't find your community and I hope you do if you want to, but I didn't either and that worked out fine for me.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 12:52 PM on August 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

I built going to college up as the most important goal in my life (this was in middle/high school, of course). Neither of my parents had gone to college and I was poised to go to a top school and become something 'great'. The thing is, no one at 17/18 years old is that great at picking what they absolutely want to do for the rest of their lives.

I picked a super weird artsy liberal school in Manhattan (I absolutely HAD to live in Manhattan, I decided) and immediately felt like I didn't fit in. Everyone was cooler than me, had way more money, was more well-developed as a person. I felt lonely in that I had to work a full-time job in addition to my studies and couldn't participate in social stuff. Especially in the beginning, I was 17, and couldn't go to 18-and-over clubs and parties. I got hit with a wave of weird health issues as well as panic disorder and generalized anxiety, which I'd had for a few years but college definitely exacerbated it. I ended up taking a leave of absence, tried to return but my financial aid got screwed up, then transferred to a state school that I said I would never go to.

Things were better there, but I was still just muddling through. I felt that if I could just get my diploma, I would get a job and start working and I would be happier. Well, I was right about that much. I got a part-time job in my last semester, it turned into a full-time job, and I'm still with that company to this day.

I messed up in a lot of ways. I should have been more disciplined in going to class and joining clubs and activities. I should have felt less self-conscious and focused on other things. I don't have any fantastic friends from college. The best ones I have were actually through a family member, who was ten thousand percent more involved than I was, and I piggybacked on activities she planned for her school (the schools were close by).

But I forgive myself because I was a kid, doing my best. Definitely wish the concept of a gap year was more known/accepted in the US. I don't know how much it would have helped, but I bet it would have been more benefit than harm.
posted by rachaelfaith at 12:57 PM on August 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

Going to uni to study my subject was what I'd wanted to do since I was about 14 or 15. I enjoyed it and did well but I didn't find my people until about 5-10 years later. I sort of regret some of the things I didn't do in my 20s but I'm a natural homebody and it was probably always going to work out this way. I have a good life now.
posted by plonkee at 1:44 PM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here! I'm here! Crappy college experience. I made a small handful of friends in grad school because we were tightly bound by our discipline, but college was not pretty.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 2:05 PM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

College was a grind. Internships were a grind. I got out and could get a job and then spend my free time however I wanted. Life only gets better after College.
posted by nickggully at 4:09 PM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

College was OK for me, but honestly the best 5 years of my life were the ones I spent in New Orleans immediately after college. The city was still recovering from Katrina, I sowed a bunch of wild oats, made a lot of friends, had a series of terrible to incredible roommmates, and really learned how to live a very satisfying life that was rooted in music, activism, community events, and cultivating a sense of hospitality. I forged my career there and ended up meeting my husband before moving back to the region I grew up in.

I'm not sure if you are young (ie in your 20s), but I think my primary advice is, if you have the means, move to a city where it's easy to make friends and do things that are meaningful to you.
posted by mostly vowels at 6:19 PM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was in a two year program at my local technical college. I graduated 20 years ago and I thought my college experience would be more exciting too, especially as I was the first person in my family to go to post secondary. I have fond memories, but the majority of my program were women, mostly in their 30s with a few young adults like myself and then a smattering of women in their 50s. There were only four men in my program. It was hard to relate to the older crowd who were looking at the course as a second education go-round or upgrade.

I stay in touch with them and am glad to have met them. I worked through college so my life was basically get up, get on a bus, get on a train, get on another train, school all day, get on a train, get on a train, get on a bus to work, work an evening shift then go home. If my education was paid for and I didn't live so far from the college, I'm sure I would have done more fun things like hang out in the lounge, go bowling in the rec centre or awkwardly grope in the bushes with a cute boy. Unfortunately I didn't have the luxury of time, money or leisure for those two years.

Even when I went back for my BFA I didn't have those things. Some day I'll be a proper student :)
posted by Calzephyr at 7:44 PM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had an ok time in college, but I never found "my people" and in retrospect, I spent a lot of it dealing with emotional damage from middle and high school.

My freshman year was a bit exhilarating because I finally felt like I had a lot of friends and I partied a lot. But I was almost constantly anxious about being left out, whether or not people liked me, etc. I was also pretty unexcited about my classes.

Sophomore year, I realized that my friend groups were mostly based on residence hall proximity and they fractured a lot as we all moved. I got into some extra-curriculars and started getting more into my academics but I was pretty depressed and lonely.

Enough that I took the first semester of my junior year off. THAT was when I found my people, in a job related to what I eventually made my career. Very lucky! I went back the next semester and was spectacularly miserable again. But I was almost done, so I decided to keep going for my last year (I had enough credits to graduate on time).

My senior year was my best year. Not because I found my people, but because I had been out in the world and knew my people were out there. That allowed me to relax enough to just have fun with the people who were around and I did actually end up making new friends. (And actually, all the college friends I'm still in touch with are from that time. But it's not like we're a "college besties crew" from the movies. We're just old friends who try to email or call a few times/year)

When I graduated, I was a bit wistful that I didn't really have a "group" but I've since realized that's not actually my style anyway. Once I got out into the world and was able to make friends and have a career outside the confining environment of a small liberal arts college, I was a lot happier. I definitely have found many of my people.

(I actually found so many more of my people later on in grad school, in a field I didn't even consider in college. Also, it turns out my people are a lot nerdier than I realized/admitted when I was 19. Life is long!)
posted by the sockening at 9:39 PM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yes, that's me! I was an academically-minded person who nevertheless did not fit at college when I attended in the mid 1970s. And no, you are not alone in having had the experience you describe. For reasons I don't understand, the dominant culture has created an idealized vision of the college years that few students ever experience. It's high time that those of us who bear the scars of our college years pushed back.

Before explaining why I didn't fit in at college, I'll address your second question, which is whether it gets better after college. In my experience, the answer is yes and no. Yes, it's possible to find your people, and I've done that to some extent.

But the people who seemed to be acing the college experience in everything from extracurriculars to parties to academics? They're still around. In my case, those confident, outgoing, successful straight frat guys are the ones who had an easy time finding good jobs in law firms. That's for the simple reason that we like to hire people who are just like us, and the ranks of law firms and corporations are full of former frat men. What about those sorority glamour girls who never gave me the time of day? Now they might be at the peak of their careers in Big Law or relishing having had the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom with a degree from a professional school people would kill to get into.

Back to why I didn't fit in at college, it all seems to intersect in my appallingly bad decision in my first week of college to join a fraternity. I never should have done that. In fact, I had told my father earlier that I did not want to join a frat (the word at my prep school was that nobody in their right mind joined fraternities) but, passive aggressively, he signed me up for a trial stay at one without telling me.

Why was this a problem? For the first year, things went OK, but in my second year a group of guys who were sophomores and juniors during my freshman year evolved into a frat-within-a-frat, a clique of guys who were really tight with each other. Their group included guys who were in my year and the year after me. From that point on, the frat went into steep decline, with increasingly smaller pledge classes and little or no cohesion as a whole.

Although the school is highly selective and is regularly in the list of the top 15 or 20 universities, this clique partied as if they were at one of the notorious state party schools. Night after night, they'd get together in someone's room and play music far too loudly while they talked, talked, talked endlessly over booze and weed. Academics took a back seat, and very few of the men were involved in extracurriculars or any other outlets besides their tight little group. Missing class? No big deal. Plagiarism? That's what bros are for.

I felt like an outsider who was just subsidizing the wonderful party the in-group called college. And I really was an outsider.

Whereas the culture in the frat and on campus was highly heteronormative, I was gay and closeted. The Greek System was very strong on campus. The sororities were extremely exclusive and seemed designed to separate attractive, affluent women from the hoi pollioi. Since I was gay, I didn't have the drive or the social skills to make any connections in that world. The role of gay campus friend hadn't yet been invented.

Also, while I had lived in South America and Europe as well as on both coasts and the midwest by the time I reached college and had gone to boarding school, the guys in the frat were baseball-loving middle class men from big midwestern cities who'd gone to public high school. We had little or nothing in common from Day One.

I didn't have the good judgment to decline the pledge bid, move into a dorm, and try to find my own tribe. I should have looked for other gay men, though in the early '70s there were few openly gay men on campus. I should have tried to meet other students with expat backgrounds. But no, I condemned myself to years of isolation and unhappiness in the frat.

One of the men took an instant dislike to me, probably because of what he took to be my privileged background. In addition to needling me when others were out of earshot, he eventually stole a check payable to me, forged my signature on an endorsement to him, then signed his own name and cashed it. I believe he wanted me to discover his deed and denounce him to the frat (which is what I did) so that he could gloat over how he had dominated me. When I tried to get the adults on the frat's oversight board to sanction him, they refused.

I suppose I might have adopted a live-and-let-live approach, except that the in-group's late night partying was intolerable. The nadir came on the night when, incensed by having to hear "Free Bird" once again after midnight and at near-concert volume, I went to the circuit breakers and turned off the power. This made me very unpopular.

The Greek system has several lines of propaganda, one of which is that living in a frat teaches leadership skills. Ha! We had a clear lifestyle conflict in the frat, where a number of people were truly aggrieved over the nonstop late-night partying, but nobody had the maturity to deal with it productively in an adult manner, such as holding a meeting to discuss establishing quiet hours.

Unfortunately, I couldn't move into university housing because allegedly there were no open rooms, but I think that might have been a lie on the part of the frat's liaison in the administration, who I believe was involved in sexual relationships with a few of the guys.

I still grieve over my college years. For one thing, I only had two or three friends in the frat and none outside it. In contrast, the in-group spent day after day in intense social interactions with one another. As a result, I missed out on the socializing aspects of college, the continuous give-and-take between individuals that teaches them how to relate to other people. In fact, this group is still in contact a good 40 years after graduation, and a recent reunion publication they produced praised their crazy frat experience for teaching them how to get along with almost anyone. That lack of socialization really bit me on the ass when I started law school, but that's another story.
posted by A. Davey at 7:58 AM on August 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

I hated college. I think going to college actually decimated my social circle in a way because I had a close knit group of friends in high school that stayed mostly together by going to the same schools and I went "away" (about an hour away to a state school but noone else from my class went there). Their friendships deepened and there's a few that are inter-married now. I never talk to any of them, but sometimes think about trying to reach out.
I my 2 "lasting" friendships from college are just now starting to die out, 10 years after graduation. One of them because our friendship was based on getting high which I don't really do anymore and another because a person I used to have a lot of goofy fun with got boring after a few years of grinding work and life and dating to get married. I had a really hard time making friends because I'm a shy and private person. I felt like the people in college that had the most friends did a lot of posturing and sometimes it seemed like they were doing so to make up for what they perceived as lost time in high school, as the college I went to was supposedly academically rigorous and selective, only taking the cream of the class.
I didn't enjoy classes because a lot of them were either discussion based and it was clear that a lot of students would give some rambling statement get the participation grade, but had not thought about any of the material or possibly even read it, or they were lecture based and bored me to the point where I just stopped going to class and would teach myself in the library using the textbook.
The administration at my school while i was there decided to change full course load from five 3 credit courses to four 4 credit courses. Because of this, despite having all necessary classes to graduate they tried to tell me that I was a few credits shy of the necessary amount (this was because when I took French 1 and some other class they were still only 3 credit classes because they had not been "transitioned" but by the time i took French II and the other subsequent class they were 4 credits). I was told that I would need to stay an extra semester to take one more class - any class since i fulfilled all requirements, including the required amount of classes for non-major electives, to get enough credits. I called bs and took it to the vice dean grand archon of student whatever and won got my diploma without having to make up the 2 short credits). So I guess that ended up being a positive lesson in fight for what you know is yours?
I also worked for most of college for 30-36hours a week so I was a little disconnected from people using student loans to fully embrace the experience.

Looking back, the things i miss most about college are: free swimming pool - I used it for fun, excercise and stress reduction. It usually had accessible hours of operation for free-swim.

Intramural raquetball - another facility based thing that i havent found with such accessible hours since college. Also, noone took intramural sports seriously so it was very fun. I also did floor hockey a few seasons, but as that was team based, it was harder to commit to since I had to get my schedule on the same page as a bunch of others.

an elective about electronic music - the professor was really into the topic and the class was really hands on with protools. She gave a massive list of recommending listening that could be found in the school library (or OiNK RIP). I was not a good composer, but i was a rabid connisaurus rex of listening to new (to me) music so i really enjoyed that class. This was the professor.
posted by WeekendJen at 2:00 PM on August 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

I went to three different colleges in my academic career. I made one long lasting friendship (which turned into a marriage a decade after college). I had some of the lowest and loneliest and worst times of my life. I never found my "tribe" (over and above the aforementioned person). My undergrad classes were interesting at times but impractical in my field and my grad degree was the equivalent of trade school, just forcing me to practice the skills that would get me employed.

Strangely, I don't regret any of the schooling (beyond the student loans. Oye.) and I've pieced together an education from all of it into a career that I couldn't have had otherwise (and no single school would have prepared me for), but nothing about the social situation of any of it--living on campus, living near campus, commuting in to campus--was very enjoyable and the "life changing" classes could have easily just been Netflix documentaries on the same class subject.

I did get to see a very drunk girl throw up in the holy water at a Catholic chapel on campus, however, and that's my Bret Easton Ellis moment that made college a formative experience for me.
posted by Gucky at 10:05 PM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I hated college too. The good news for you is that of four stupid years, the last year was definitely the best. I mostly took graduate classes and mostly hung out with grad students, and they were a lot more fun and interesting than undergrads, and the classes were more interesting and focused than my previous three years. I hope you'll have a similar experience.

I met one friend in college. We've been married for nine years. Otherwise? I'm not in touch with any of those people.
posted by potrzebie at 10:46 PM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I am an academic (still!) and college was just kind of a garbage unhappy time for me as well, both socially and intellectually. One problem was that I had some, let's say, mental health and executive function deficits that I was just not self-aware or mature enough to address. Another bit is that, like you I think, I had always heard these narratives about college as this time of self-discovery and finding one's tribe, and I had unconsciously internalized that. So when I got to college and the social atmosphere turned out to be pretty cold, competitive and conservative relative to the crunchy college town where I'd gone to high school, that was particularly disappointing. And another part of the puzzle is that I had just come out of the closet and had come from a pretty locked-down family situation into a totally unconstrained free-living situation, and I was not handling it very gracefully.

The thing about my college experience is that I don't really have anyone but myself to blame for most of it, which makes it particularly tempting to keep playing "if only." That said, though, this answer is the most I've thought about college in a long time.

Anyway, it wasn't a complete bust in that I eventually met a few people whom I really love and am in (varying degrees of) contact with, and I do remember a bunch of other people fondly, but honestly I didn't get to feel that kind of sense of belonging people talk about until graduate school, when I was in my 20s. I still don't think I'd literally go back to that time either, because I was still kind of a mess (and news flash, I'm still a mess now), but that kind of social connectedness and the feeling of having people around who "get" you is something I really miss now that I work in a large city with pretty diffuse social ties. But again, that's something I never really got in college and yet I still got to have it later, in an academic setting even.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:48 AM on August 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, there were no "life changing" classes that I can remember. It turns out nobody really gives a shit about teaching at big research universities.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:06 AM on August 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

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