When College Kinda Sucks

Before I left high school, I compiled a book with letters and notes from friends and teachers. I still own this book, and it has served its job in reminiscing and inspiration many times. But one thing that still guts me a little is that so many messages from teachers proclaim, “You are going to LOVE university!” and well… it just wasn’t as awesome as they promised it would be.

Of course, I don’t BLAME them. How were they to know?

For the longest time, I blamed myself. I felt so guilty. I had the opportunity that only 7% of people around the world have – to get a tertiary education – and a much smaller proportion of Africans and South Africans. My parents were busting their asses (sorry Mom and Dad – it’s the best way I can put it) to support my education and to help me with my loans. My teachers and played a massive role in preparing me for university – and I truly was WELL prepared.

I should be making the best of it, I told myself. I should be having all the fun so many young people don’t get to have, and be excited for every class, and stretch my abilities and wallow in every wonderful minute of it, as one teacher aptly put it. Not just because I owe it to myself, but to the parents and teachers who put so much into my growth up to that point.

Tertiary Education around the world, courtesy of world mapper. Click for link.
Tertiary Education around the world, courtesy of world mapper. Click for link.

And yet… I could not.

I had thought that university would be an intellectual crawling-ground. I expected highly analytical conversations and open-minded debates and yes, STRETCHING OF MY ABILITIES, and somehow… it was sub-par. It failed to live up to my expectations. Maybe my expectations were too high, coming from what I can only describe as a supreme high school experience that would be pretty hard to beat.

It took a while, but I finally learned that I was not alone. I was not some kind of design-flaw, or some horribly selfish individual who looked a gift horse in the mouth. There were others like me. On my campus, and around the world. Here’s a PostSecret collage with just a few examples.

I’ve been avoiding writing this because I know it comes off as extremely negative initially, and I know that a lot of high school students read my blog. I don’t want to scare anybody, but I think it’s time that we stop perpetuating the lie that everybody loves college, because it isolates those who don’t – and those who don’t are more numerous than you could guess.

So what’s the deal? I think the first part that I’ve already mentioned is that I had high expectations. And we do – a lot of us have extremely high expectations of tertiary institutions. And why should we not? It widens our world view and exposes us to people more like and unlike us than we have ever met. We SHOULD have high expectations of universities!

For the astronomical tuition fees I pay, I believe that I should have the right to have high expectations of my university, and I expect all universities to build their missions and visions around the expectations of their students, and not some highfalutin hogwash that looks good on paper. Unfortunately I think we are in an age where tertiary education around the world is pretty preoccupied with their business model and PR and not preoccupied enough with the wellness of their actual students. It is a generalisation, but not one without foundation.

So my solution (which I have slowly but surely been succeeding at) has been two-fold: first, I had to decide what it was that I wanted from my college-experience (because when it’s non-specific it’s very hard to tell WHY you’re unhappy) and secondly I forced myself to recognise that I could get those things from places other than college, and in ways other than the expected.

So, I had hoped for intellectual conversation, but what did that mean? I am on a medical campus, so I surely was not in a barren wasteland of IQ. But what I wanted was people who could talk about politics and education and public health and space and dragons! Could I get those at university? Partially. By getting involved in student media and later student government, I finally met some like-minded diverse individuals. I started attending events organised by other parts of campus, and I felt enriched.

I also started reading again, and read books that challenged me in weak fields. I researched online. I started random conversations with some of the nicer professors. I started dating a mathematician and for the first time felt a little stupid – and challenged.

I had wanted to broaden my own life experiences, so I looked at ways to travel (and I have travelled on three separate occasions, once around the world on a ship). I looked at doing things that I had rarely done – such as running! I did extra classes at the paramedic college when I was still a first year and not allowed to see patients in hospital yet.

The thing is, when your only expectation of college is to get away from your hometown and to go to loads of parties, it’s pretty awesome and you won’t be let down. College is good at that stuff.

But when you have higher expectations – as is your right, methinks – then fulfilling those expectations are going to take some effort on your own part, and that in itself is part of the college experience, and the growing-up experience. If your goal is self-enrichment and exponential learning and increased life-experience, then the first hard lesson to learn is that it is not going to fall in your lap. You will need to leave your comfort zone. You will need to look for those opportunities. You may need to drive, or send a million emails, but you will find the opportunities if you know what you are looking for.

This awesome note was written to me by my science teacher. Although I often felt guilty about not living up to the expectation, it also served as a massive inspiration to get out of my rut.
This awesome note was written to me by my science teacher. Although I often felt guilty about not living up to the expectation, it also served as a massive inspiration to get out of my rut.

You may find that you become friends with people you never expected you would like. You may find that they salvage your last scraps of sanity.

The second important lesson is not to let yourself become bitter. I was certainly embittered a few times. At one stage, I just wanted to leave university. But I didn’t know where to. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And if there is one sure way of making a rocky start to college a sustained nightmare, it is to become bitter and miserable. It’s a vortex, but you can get out of it with a little effort.

Has college been the time of my life? HELL NO, and honestly: I can’t wait to get out of here. But the closer I get to the end, the more I realise that there are some things I will miss. I have learned so much here, and allow me a moment of pride in the progress I have made, and the way that I have made bad things work out for good.

Never feel guilty for not enjoying college. If you do not recognise it and admit it at least to yourself, you can never find a way to change it. At least half of it is a system error, and the other half is NOT a “you-error”, but a mind-set error. You have simply been taught to expect the wrong things, and that is easily fixed.


  1. Peace says:

    Best post ever. I am thankful I came across your blog.
    I didn’t enjoy college, being in my final year and getting a lot of questions from fresher about what to expect I feel uncertain. I don’t want to terrify them because I felt mostly “stuck” in college and I was not particularly happy. But I am lucky I had the chance to experience many awesome things and meet lovely people. I am grateful to be a college student.

    1. We should certainly be grateful – and sometimes remembering that helps us to survive. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I can relate to this completely. This year is technically my Senior year, but after changing schools twice and choosing a new major I still have another year or so. College is a good experience, whether you like it or not. Some easily adapt and get involved, and feel infinite. Others, like myself, want it to be amazing, but have trouble knowing what they want out of it. Maybe if I had stayed on a campus (I now commute) it would have turned out different. There are so many ways to earn a degree now, making the varieties of college lifestyles wide. My advice is to make yourself have a positive attitude no matter what. Become an independent adult, and do things by yourself, and for yourself. Do not be opposed to meeting people, or learning who you are.

    1. So true. Sometimes you just have to be positive although you feel like a cloud of gloom, and you start feeling better and getting good experiences. Good luck with the final bit of college – I hope it goes well for you!

  3. I hated my uni years, most of them anyway.
    We have free uni here, and we actually just pay for library and administration, which cost me less than 40 € every year. I can’t complain here and won’t, I don’t mind free school, but I think it shows on quality. If we had 500 € a month, that’d be doable for serious people, those who actually want to come, learn something, get an education. It’d be a burden off professors, classes would be smaller, we could all focus more… And hopefully the money would raise quality as well.
    We also had 12 classes a year, which is A LOT. It means about 10 seminar papers with 10 presentations on AVERAGE a year, and 12 exams a year. Sometimes more if the big exam was in 2 or even 3 parts. Or there was oral exam along with written exam. So a lot of work. We had 2 semesters and 6-7 exams per semester. We luckily have 6 chances to write, but 1-3 are free, 4 is super pricey, 5 and 6 I think are both for only serious cases (coma or any other serious accident that made you take something 5 times). So if you miss first 2 chances, you have 2 more end of next semester. But that means you have old exams along with new ones and it can get up to 9 exams per exam month, which is too much! Last year I did all my exams on my first try, and it still meant having 2 exams per day, both at the same time. Great organization, mate. I luckily had one awesome professor that allowed me to be late twice on his exams to make sure I was able to sit down for all 4. Thing like that really pissed me off.
    Then we had an optin to pass a year with 10 exams only, which sometimes was a relief when you struggled, but that meant having 14 classes next year! It was just not doable. And if only those 12 were all related to my program. I studied politics and defense, yet I studied economy, statistics, organizational management… I had a semester of law, philosophy, anthropology and religion to name just a few, just because those were electives options. Some I utterly enjoyed, some were a must because I ran out of options. I studied wide and broad and as much as it’s nice being well read in general in any topic, I want to do that on my own time and volition. I didn’t go to uni to study something specific to get that wide a range of classes. It was unnecessary distraction and too much additional work.
    I had no fun in uni. I horsed around my first year, went to a million parties, stuff like that, but I failed and had to redo half the classes. After that I got serious, worked hard to pass, which meant I barely went out, had no fun easy experiences, and quite isolated myself as well because of so much work. Everyone said “you’ll have fun, you’ll have no homework, you’ll study something you love”. Right. I had less and less fun the more in I was, I had shitloads of homework, I studied far more than I signed up for and half the classes were total bore and gave me loads of problems and anxiety attacks, and it was instantly obvious if I was missing because they all called our names, noted the absences, and they could flunk you if you missed over 10-15 % of classes. So yeah, it’s been even worse than high school. So no, I had no fun in uni, besides meeting new friends I hope to keep after I’m officially done. But it’s been murder for me. The classes were boring in majority, exams were a nightmare, I developed some anxiety and panic attacks because of the whole experience, and my social life was a mess. And for what? My education is a joke here; my school is not very popular and is the protag for many jokes. I can’t get a job in my area and after 6 years at uni, I actually hate politics. It’s a mess and if I could, I’d redo the whole thing, maybe not even do it but specialize in something before uni already. I nearly quit it 2 yrs in but said: I am already half done, I worked hard for it, so I won’t give up now. I am glad I didn’t but I doubt it’d change much anyway… I am finishing masters now but that’s just going into such over-qualification it’ll be a bigger nightmare now.

    Sorry I vented so hard hahaha 😀

    Uni versity sucked for me mostly, and it’s really not all that!

    1. Wow! That’s such a different system that sounds pretty good when you first mention it (free uni, yay!) but it really seems to have a lot of downfalls. I’m sorry it’s been awful for you, but I’m glad you’re almost done. I get the feeling that if universities actually asked students for their opinions and experiences, they could improve on a lot of the problems.

      1. Bah I meant 500 € a year…
        Yeah free uni sounds like a dream to most people I talk to, but with free uni comes a lot of crap – state pays a lot of students to not be students who just milk the status for cheap meals and untaxed work. It ends up costing the state a lot of money it doesn’t have. If we paid small amounts directly to the school, they could fund the pays and such with less help from the state, and that money could help other sectors and people in need. Now we have thousands of people that don’t actually study but explot the bad system, which isn’t good for most participants… :L
        Stuff like that can’t be solved over night but it could help to listen. We have questionnaires every year but what we say goes against personal interests of the deciders, and you get what you get in any politics. 😉

  4. SCMLife says:

    I’m also a senior at my university and I found this to be 100% accurate. While I am not nearly as outgoing as you are nor do I especially care to get into the different types of organizations such as you have joined, being someone who doesn’t enjoy partying (or alcohol/ drugs for that matter) can resonate with what you have posted. I can especially relate to how meeting different people can help and may not be what you expect. Thank you for the great read (you’ve got a new follower! That is if I can figure out how to..).

    1. Great, thank you! I’m so happy that you can also identify with it. Here’s to forging our own way of university!

  5. nihoa83 says:

    I also found like I was missing some cosmic understanding of what university was supposed to be (mostly gleaned from watching movies and the success stories of older siblings, I admit) and had a not-so-wonderful time there. It’s nice to know there are others who have felt the same way.

    1. It always helps to learn that we have compatriots in our trials! I have to say that the way movies glamourise college probably isn’t very useful. It gives us pretty unrealistic expectations!

  6. Anajean Jandayan says:

    Reblogged this on On the Way to Stars! and commented:
    This is a real perspective of a college student who expressed authentically her thoughts about tertiary education. I realized it wasn’t bad to feel that college isn’t 100% “walk-in-the-park” after all. 😀

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