Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

The So-Called Traditional College Experience Isn’t Normal

Idealizing a picture-perfect college experience can lead to students feeling limited by pressure to fit certain social expectations.
Courtesy of Furman University

We grow up surrounded by the narrative that college is so much more than academics. It’s a time when you find yourself and create lifelong friendships, it’s perfect freedom and all-nighters and football games — it’s the best four years of your life. However, the reality of the college experience is far more nuanced.

Many students come to Furman with a romanticized image of college taken from movies, TV, and books, believing the popular promise that they are entering the best four years of their life. Incoming Furman students are often excited to dive into their idealized form of the college experience, where, in a month or two, they will thrive in academic, social, and co-curricular contexts. 

Anna Demino ‘26 said of her freshman year, “I felt like I needed to live like this movie college experience: meeting so many people, having so many friends, socializing and balancing school life.” 

Some students say that this ideal isn’t the reality. 

“When people come into college, and they come in with these expectations and they start to realize that it’s not this perfect scenario like you see in movies,” Leah Manning ‘24 said. “You feel like you’re missing out on something, and it’s putting (on) this extra pressure that you already don’t need.” 

Others discussed the pressure to form perfect friendships, go out every weekend, and take steps toward building their careers within the first few months of college. 

Even within the boundaries of a four-year residential experience, few students find themselves living the college dream the way they pictured it, and certainly not at first. 

“I thought that I was gonna find my people immediately freshman year, and it definitely took a while to solidify who was going to be there for the long run who was kind of like, just an orientation group friend,” Evi-Jane Garnett ‘26 said. 

The idea that college is the best four years of your life puts students under pressure to maximize every moment. 

“We shouldn’t hold ourselves to that standard because then it makes it seem like you need to be perfect,” Demino said. 

The rush to succeed academically and socially can be especially harmful to freshmen who are living through a difficult transitional phase. When circumstances don’t go as planned, freshmen may take for granted their past positive experiences, or observe friends at other schools and assume that the idealized life would be possible at another college.  

In addition, here on campus, we should not have to feel the constant need to project an image of ourselves living out this idealized life or deal with the emotional cost of comparing ourselves to everyone around us. Both the unrealistic comparisons we draw and the perfect images we project as freshmen are not grounded in reality and make the gradual process of finding our true bearings at college more difficult.

We must stop thinking of college as a pass-or-fail experience. Instead of progressing down a linear path, we are constantly being transformed through both success and failure, which helps us grow and ultimately prepares us for an independent life. 

As freshmen, it’s easy to compare our experience with the media and those around us, but instead of trying to conform to societal expectations, we should keep in mind that everyone’s experience is unique. You may not always have the perfect friend group or Friday night plans, and your goals may shift as your education follows an unplanned trajectory. But as our rigid ideas of college crumble, we become more open to new and exciting experiences.

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