I like to think that I’m not the only one who was told “high school is the best four years of your life!” And while high school wasn’t all bad, I’ll be the first to tell you that it might have actually been closer to the worst four years of my life.
High school is tricky. I went to public school and was surrounded by the same people I grew up with because our parents decided to live in our town. I played the same sports, did the same clubs, and took a lot of the same classes that all of my friends took. The best friends that I had served a purpose in my life at that point, but because of my own struggles we grew apart and eventually I was left feeling pretty alone.
High school doesn’t really give you the opportunity to be friends with people who are interested in the same activities as you, or share the same values, because you’re only surrounded by the people who live in your immediate area. I attended a large high school, which made all of the cliques seem more pronounced, and it was easy to feel like you were part of the “out” group.
A lot of people say that high school is where you find yourself, but I never really found that to be the case. Sure, battling an eating disorder and other mental health issues helped me grow into a completely different person than I was before, but during those four years in high school I was still surrounded by the people and circumstances that made me sick.
I’m only a junior in college now, but I can confidently say that these past two years have been the best of my life. With this track record, I’m assuming my final two will also be phenomenal. It was incredibly liberating to pack up my things and move away from the town I had spent my entire life in, even if I was only going 2.5 hours away. I chose to attend a liberal arts school in the Middle-of-Nowhere Pennsylvania that attracted a lot of students who were like me: highly motivated for academic success, passionate about what they were studying, and willing to grow with the other individuals in their surroundings.
My favorite thing about college is that the majority of the courses I take are something I’m completely interested in and passionate about (besides the occasional General Education Requirements). I love learning in high school, but there’s something exciting completely focusing your attention on subjects that personally matter to you. I got to dive in to psychology and sociology classes and learn from people who came from incredibly different walks of life.
I also love that each “clique” in college doesn’t limit you to that particular group. I have friends from my freshman year that are in one group, I have my friends from my major, from service trips I’ve been on, and from clubs that I’m part of but I’m not restricted to only hanging out with one of those groups. These groups don’t necessarily meet each other, but it isn’t like high school where once you were in a particular friend group you couldn’t move to any others.
College is also a million times better because of the newfound levels of independence. For the most part, I was on my own when I got to college. I had to set up counseling appointments, I had to make sure my work was getting done, I had to make sure I was eating properly and taking my medication and getting enough sleep. It isn’t like in high school where my only source of independence was being able to drive a car. It’s absolutely amazing to be in charge of your own decisions, but still have guidance from your parents and academic advisors.
But the best thing about college, in my humble opinion, is that the majority of people have reached a new level of maturity. Because of my own personal struggles, it was hard to find people in my high school who could understand what I was going through. Supporting someone with a mental health issue isn’t easy for anyone, but it’s particularly difficult for people between the ages of 14-17. College helped me find people who were willing to learn about my struggles and find ways to help me when I needed it. I found people who were able to have adult conversations with me, who would grow with me. The friends I have made in college truly feel like people I will be able to depend on for years to come, and that means the world to me. Of course, some of these college friends have come and gone but the ones who have managed to stay are the people I’d put my life on the line for.
So if you’re in high school and worried that these are the “best four years of your life” when everything actually feels horrible, don’t worry. I’ve been there. I remember thinking that life wouldn’t get any better than what happened between those hallways and I was terrified. But I’m here to tell you that college can be the best for years of your life, and they just might be. Sure, you have to worry about eventually getting your life together, but college is where you actually fall into yourself and find people who will help you grow. Life won’t be like high school forever, it’ll actually get much better.