Feature image from global.cornell.edu


Trying to Understand College Life …Without Having Lived It

As I went through senior year of high school, instead of feeling excited, I felt unsettled. Constrained, so to speak. I was puzzled; shouldn’t I be thrilled by the chance to be going off to college soon?

In a way, of course, I was—I couldn’t wait to see all that awaited me beyond high school. However, college was a pretty abstract concept, and what I did glean from the tours were pretty vague and idyllic ideas of college that in no way represented the full, unadulterated experience. While I was applying to all these colleges that appeared to be filled with endless potential, all I really knew up to that point were my 3+ years of time in high school. These experiences, while varied, couldn’t begin to be translated to college; it was like comparing apples and oranges.

So during application season, it was kind of like trying to imagine colors as a blind person; I saw and heard about all these wonderful possibilities in college, but I had no idea what to actually expect. I felt frustrated by my limited knowledge and was itching to just go off to college already so I could find out what it was really all about.


Actual College Life, As Told By A College Student

After being in college for a semester or two, I came to understand more fully why I felt so dissatisfied during my last days of high school. The realization first hit during one of my many walks through the buildings in which I had classes. Each meander down a particular hallway left me with a sense of wonder, and always about something different. Sometimes it was coming across a shiny research poster and marveling at how much intellect I was surrounded by; other times it was discovering a cool display case tucked away in the corner housing rare specimens. And often, it was just the sheer fact that I was lucky enough to attend class in these beautiful buildings.

The wonder didn’t stop there; there was something indescribable about traveling between different buildings in college rather than just going down the hall for my next class. Knowing that instead of just one hallway (or even just several classrooms) and a handful of teachers dedicated to what I was studying, the classrooms were spread out over multiple buildings with dozens of faculty members covering every aspect of the field imaginable. The possibility for discovery seemed endless, and I would only scratch the surface of everything my university had to offer me in the four years I’d spend here.

I came to see just how much personality my college campus had compared to my high school hallways. As much as I loved my high school, by senior year walking the same halls felt worn out. The school was just big enough that having to walk across its length was still somewhat of a nuisance, but I had walked the same paths so many times that it no longer seemed like I was going anywhere in particular. I knew exactly what to expect, and as such, those halls didn’t feel like they had much more to offer to me.

My perception about high school hallways extended to high school classes too: they were somehow too broad and too limited at the same time, leaving me dissatisfied. Even most AP classes felt somewhat contrived, because as much as the teachers tried to make their classes unique and engaging, at the end of the day they still had to cover certain topics prescribed by CollegeBoard. I knew that I still had a lot left to learn, but I had outgrown high school learning. I was itching for more, for something bigger.

At college, I’ve never once felt bored. If anything, I have been time and again overwhelmed by the wealth of choices before me. Never in high school did I have the chance to go from doing yoga to attending a play at the performing arts center to reading about Galen for my History of Medicine class, all in one day. At college, I never know what to expect, what I will encounter next. Although that makes things more challenging, it also makes every day that much more exciting.


Closing Thoughts

Buildings and classes aside, college becomes so much more than just a place where you temporarily go to each day to learn. What used to be a time for frantically finishing last night’s math homework while gobbling down a sandwich in the cafeteria will now become a time to enjoy lunch in any number of cafes with new friends or even a professor. Eating dinner will become a chance to catch up on the latest happenings with your new family: your roommates, your confidantes, and soon lifelong friends.

Even after a few years, when you think you’ve come to know your campus, you’ll still be pleasantly surprised more often than you thought possible. Although you may get to know a few places inside and out, you’ll stumble upon the occasional new exhibit, a hidden nook in the library for studying (and napping), and even a secret underground tunnel or two. Your college becomes a home, a place where learning and socializing and everything in between blends into one, creating a feeling of attachment that will become deeper than anything you ever experienced in high school.

June Xia

June is a junior at Cornell University studying biology. She attended public high school in the Philly suburbs, where she ate lots of water ice and hoagies. June enjoys watching TV, playing candy crush, and reading the New York Times. Writing poetry and knitting kept her sane during admissions season, plus a lot of chocolate and hugs; she made it out alive, and is all the more introspective and aware thanks to the experience.