June 27, 2015

Is College Hard? My DETAILED experience...

Hey there! It's the summer time and I know there are lots of folks headed off to college in the fall! This is for you. I remember asking anyone in college or anyone who had graduated from college the same question: Is it hard?! I'm sure you've heard that college is different, someone may have told you it's easier than high school, someone may have told you how stressful and painful it was/can be. I'm sharing my experience for those of you who are intimidated by college and for those of you who are already in it and feel like giving up. There's nothing wrong with feeling scared or unsure, I just hope my experience will persuade you to keep pushing. I'm serving up complete truth and the cold hard facts, so come take a seat and enjoy the dish. 

This blog post will be presented as a series! Every few days I will update this post, and share another piece of my story. I have posted all of the dates below! Keep checking back each week for valuable advice and information.

Part I: Pre-College: Getting In

For me, there was no question that I was going to college. Throughout high school I looked at several colleges across the country as if I had a real chance of going to an out of state college. I had the grades but I wasn't thinking about the financial woes. I didn't realize at the time that going out of state to college meant I'd have to leave home and be away for months on end and It would also put a huge strain on my parents. When I became a senior, I delayed the application process. I figured I was smart and could get into any college I wanted to. After going out of state went out of my mind there was only one school I wanted to attend: Louisiana State University. LSU is Louisiana's "Ivy League" and at the time it seemed to carry such a prestigious stigma. I applied to LSU in around January or February and was sure that I would get in, so sure that I didn't apply to any other school. A few months went by and I heard nothing. I called admissions and they said it was normal and to give it more time. I wasn't stressed, I was just waiting on that big packet to come in the mail with purple and gold plastered all over it saying WELCOME TO LSU! Unfortunately that packet never came. It's true what they say about the size of acceptance letters. Usually if you receive a non-standard size envelope, you're in. It was early May when my mom excitedly handed me the pristine white and yellow envelope from LSU. It was standard size, but I thought nothing of it. I was so ready to be an LSU Tiger! I ripped open the envelope and there it was, my rejection letter. It started with the usual "We regret to inform you..." and soon after reading that I was in tears. I was hurt but I was also embarrassed. I was always known as the smart girl around school, but I couldn't even get into LSU, how does that work? I've never been a cocky person, but being smart was my thing! Truthfully, being smart was the only thing I thought stood out about me.

I was very depressed about it and didn't even bother going through with an appeal. I had the GPA and the ACT score required for admittance. I had the second highest ACT score out of everyone in my graduating class. I didn't understand it, I felt so low and stupid. In around mid-May I applied to Southeastern Louisiana University and by June I was accepted. SELU was my second choice, mostly because a lot of the people I knew from high school would be there. Again, I was so anxious to apply and just get in, I didn't think about the fact that I'd have to move away. Financial woes again. By the time I was accepted, University housing was full and I couldn't afford an apartment. Moving away or even being a commuter would mean I'd have to give up my job and that was not an option. I was at a stand still, I didn't know what to do. I thought applying and getting into college was easy, but it's not which why it's best to start early and think REALISTICALLY.

By June, time was definitely running out. Most schools had already stopped accepting applications for the fall semester, I was doomed. One day I decided to Google "Colleges and Universities in Baton Rouge". I knew of LSU and Southern University, but I thought maybe there was something I missed. Turns out there was: Our Lady of the Lake College, a small, private Catholic college in Baton Rouge. I had never heard of it, but decided to browse the website. I found out that they had a Biology program, which was what I wanted to major in at the time, so I applied. From my research, I heard it was a very selective school, and since I didn't get into LSU I figured they would deny me, too. After a few weeks of nervous waiting the letter came. This time it was in a large envelope and the package was heavy. I ripped it open and there was my destiny...I was in!

It was around mid-July when I found out I would be going to OLOLC. School would be starting in less than a month and I had nothing prepared. As the months went by during this pre-college phase, my dream of going to college seemed to slip out of my hands and I couldn't grasp it. After being denied admission at LSU I think I was just hurt, intimidated, and lost my confidence as a student, which took years to rebuild. At this point I was scared, how hard was college and could I really make it through? Being admitted into a university usually means that the admissions group could see you succeeding at their school. I wondered what potential did OLOLC see in me that LSU didn't? My advice is to never take an admissions decision personal. That's SO much easier said than done, but I wish someone would've told me that back then. Even if you're accepted, don't put so much stock into it. Those people don't know you personally. They don't know you from Tommy Wong. They don't accept or deny you as a person, they know nothing of you. Don't take it personal.

Now that I was officially in, how hard would it really be?! If just getting in was indicative of the difficulty level, I was screwed.

Part II: [Freshman Year] F2009-Sp2010
My visit to the school was during orientation. Orientation seems intimidating, but trust me you're going to forget 90% of what was said about 48 hours later (unless you take notes). My second visit was when I met with my academic advisor about a week before school started. He told me about what classes would be offered in the fall and what I should take based on my major. He was a very nice guy and he made me feel a little more confident about the upcoming semester. Since I was a first generation college student, I didn't go to my parents for advice about scheduling classes. I have an aunt who has a degree but that was thirty years ago, things have evolved. I trusted my advisor because he has a Ph.D and I believed with all his education and training, he knew what was best for me, but of course the only person who knows what's best for you is YOU!

He told me it would be best to take all the freshman level courses that were available and I did so. I signed up for SIX classes (16 credit hours). Coming from high school, where I took 7 classes per day, I truly thought I was getting off easy. In college it's different. Each class is much more heavily weighted than a high school course. You spend less time in class, but you're also supposed to spend more time doing out of class work. Also, unlike in high school where your classes are back-to-back, in college your schedule can be all over the place, and if you're a commuter like I was the drive time just makes it a bit more tiring. You can also have classes on different parts of the campus, if you attend a large college your 10AM class might be two miles away from your 11:30AM. These are the things advisors and orientation speakers don't tell you. When you're in high school, you're at school for a set block of time (ex. 7:30AM - 2:30PM). You don't have to think about driving time, traffic, parking, lunch, and how to work all these things into your schedule. It's a lot worse if you have a job as well, but I'll get to that la. First time college students are usually foreign to the idea of planning their schedules, it's been planned for years! I said all that to say, six classes was overload! That was the first and the last time I would take so many classes, but in the moment I thought I could handle it.

Here was my class schedule:
General Biology I - Monday 6:00PM-8:45PM
Chemistry I - Tues. & Thurs. 9:15AM-10:30AM
Chemistry I Lab - Wednesday 11:00AM-1:45PM
English I - Friday 8:00AM-10:45AM
College Algebra I - Wednesday 6:00PM-8:45PM
Intro to Baccalaureate Education (aka Freshman Seminar) Tues. 6:00-8:45

This is an example of the WORST class schedule one could ever have. I'm sure there's worse, but this is pretty bad. I had class everyday, three evening classes, and one super early class on Fridays. Thankfully my job was very flexible and I could work around my school schedule but still, my days were often very long. Another tip: If you want an ideal schedule, get your classes scheduled early! I am a huge procrastinator and It took a few years before I understood that getting the best schedule meant early planning.

Do I even need to tell y'all this? That semester went awry really quickly. I had no time to really study because I was tired all the time. It was mentally very taxing taking so many classes, having to remember everything, and maintaining a job. It was one of the most stressful semesters because I was trying so hard to keep up with everything, it just all failed. I had a 2.3 GPA that semester, which was the lowest I had ever earned academically at that point. I wanted to take all those hours because I knew of other students taking those amount of hours and being just fine...Why should I be different?

The next semester I took five classes, which was better, but still a little more stressful than I would've liked. My schedule was a little better and the classes were a little bit easier. I had great teachers during the Spring 2010 semester, I enjoyed it and my grades improved a little, not drastically, but some.

All in all, I know this is going to sound to cliche but freshman year is about finding yourself. I don't mean discovering all your hidden talents and unlocking the key to your future, it's really about finding what works for YOU. This is another piece of advice I wish someone would've told me when I was a freshman. I think if you're a first time college student you should take the least amount of hours you're comfortable with*. Even if your advisor says you should take more, you know yourself better than anyone. It's also your money funding your education, choose wisely.

I think the best part of my freshman year was just the general experience of it.  There's a different dynamic in college as far as the people and the feel. There are lots of people from all different backgrounds, ages, experiences, etc. I had my first college crush as well, which is hard in itself since a semester only lasts a few months. You don't have all school year long to fawn over your crush. His name was Taylor and he spoke Cajun French...Sighs....

*Note: If you're receiving financial aid, you're usually required to be a full-time student for some grants/loans/scholarships. Full-time is usually 12 credit hours. I'm saying 'usually' because all colleges/universities have different measures for these things. Check with your financial aid office before you make any decisions. 
Part III:[Sophomore Year] F2010-2012
Will be posted sometime in August
Part IV: [Junior & Senior Years] Spr2013-Spr2015
Will be posted sometime in August