I’ll admit. I wouldn’t be the person I am now if I didn’t go away to college. I was that person who knew from middle school that I was going to go away and have the whole college experience. I knew I deserved it and honestly being home was mentally and emotionally draining. I needed to get away. Thankfully, I went to a small school in the Bronx, New York that specializes in math and science and because of the size, everyone had access to AP classes, Honor classes, PSATs, SATs and ACTs. I lost count how times I took the PSATs and SATs but I know they started early like ninth grade. I transferred there from a big school my sophomore year and was shocked at how many resources I had at my disposal compared to my last school.
There were 100 students max per grade and about 90% of us were hard working, smart, in the AP and Honors classes and cared about our academic careers. Our guidance counselors were a Godsend. They definitely groomed us for success by making sure we took all our Regents, SATs, and ACTs on time. I even got to take my SATs three times and I took SAT IIs. Since I am Adventist, I got a special note so I could take my ACT on a Sunday instead of the traditional Saturday morning. When it came to college applications, I applied to almost 20 and didn’t pay for not one. I was always given a voucher and when I didn’t get into my #1 choice, Fashion Institute of Technology, my counselor took it upon herself to call the admissions office directly to ask why I didn’t get it. I was crushed but I now know everything happens for a reason. I am so grateful for every adult in that school and believe 100% that I was meant to go to Binghamton University.
I would sum up my experience at Binghamton University as mentally and emotionally eye opening. I was enrolled in the Educational Opportunity Program(EOP) so I was again inducted into another support system that had my best interest at heart. A mandatory introduction to the program was attending the summer program which was about two months where me and about 80 more strategically hand picked minorities took classes to give us a jumpstart to our college career. I know. It sounds brutal but the most bittersweet part was that we couldn’t use our phones the entire time. In the long run it was a blessing in disguise because we were able to focus all our time and energy on classes and building these connections with each other.
Before the end of the summer, we became a family and I cherish every moment we shared. We also got to start the fall semester with the college credits we earned from the classes we took, knew the campus and already knew each other. We had a huge reunion Move-In Day and stuck together making outsiders feel envious of our authentic and strong connection. On top of all that, we had EOP Counselors that were there for us the entire four years helping us in every single way possible. Whether it be mapping out our classes, recommending alternatives, networking and just being there to vent to. My counselor definitely got a handful with me.
However, though I did exceptionally well in the program and was so excited about my college experience, I had no idea what I wanted to major in. Well I thought I knew. I spent my freshman and sophomore year taking prerequisites to get me on the premed track, specifically integrative neuroscience. Yes I know. I was pretty ambitious. Those were the hardest classes and because my heart wasn’t into it, my grades suffered. I spent my junior year finding something new and was an Econ major for a while until I found my final major, Urban and Regional Planning: Retail and Economic Emphasis (no I didn’t make it up) through the geography department. I know it’s a mouth full but I genuinely enjoyed those classes and as a result, did well. However, as we all know, once you mess up your GPA the first two years, it’s nearly impossible to get it back up unless you get straight As for the next two years.
By that time, I had a few Fs (sorry mom) on my transcript whether it be from going the Pass/Fail route in a tough class or straight up flunking and Ws from withdrawing at the last minute when I realize I was gonna flunk anyways. By the spring semester of my senior year, I was still playing catch up when it came to my grades and core classes I needed to complete my major. I even had to petition to walk Graduation Day because my transcript was incomplete and still ended up missing graduation because I got so sick. When I look back I wish I took advantage of office hours, listened to myself more and less from my family and put my happiness first. Deep down, I knew I was in denial about being pre med in the first place but kept at it because it would make my family proud and it sounded nice.
The most rewarding thing that I got out of college is the rollercoaster of self discovery. Before college, I was insecure, shy and an introvert. I still am an introvert til this day but in college I learned how amazing I was, how much I had to offer, how much my voice mattered and how to be my own best friend. I didn’t even start going out until my sophomore year and if you read my post about How Marijuana Changed My Life For The Better, you’ll see how impactful weed was to this journey. Every time I had an epiphany about myself or life in general, I would write it down and it was fulfilling in a way. Through uncomfortable situations, I grew up and became the Shantel I am today. I became a leader of my own life, very blunt and learned my worth aka someone not to be fucked around with. I feel powerful.
The biggest take away I got from college after being $40k+ in debt is that college is an experience. It’s not an end all. Going away was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made but the skills I gained from college were interpersonal skills and not educational. Though I met some amazing people and built friendships that I hope last a lifetime, I can barely remember anything I actually learned in my classes unless they were my EOP classes or core classes that I enjoyed. I just remember being so overwhelmed and stressed to figure my life out so young when I didn’t even know who I was in the first place. I feel like it is unfair to force any child to do this no matter what society says. There is a reason why so many college students commit suicide.
I truly believe that you can be successful without a $40k (even more for most people) piece of paper. It does not define you and all those people who say that you need it are kidding themselves. Those people are mostly adults who grew up in another time when the cost of living was lower and life was more clear cut. It was much easier to get a job straight out of college in your field as long as you had a bachelor’s degree. Nowadays, most kids leave college and struggle for years before they get in their field and still end up in an entry level position. It’s not like I’m saying that there aren’t benefits to having a bachelor’s degree but it does not determine your value. I was one of those kids that got my dream internship before I even left college but found out quickly that it wasn’t exactly what I imagined. That no matter how much I worked, I wasn’t making the money I thought I would because I had to bust my ass every single day and the position just wasn’t the right fit.
In this time of social media and influence, entrepreneurship is at an all time high. People now know that in the long run it’s better to work for yourself and most of them learned everything they know from hands on experience. Not reading a textbook or listening to a professor for three or four hours every week. It’s an empowering time right now to do whatever makes you happy. There is more opportunity to turn your passion into a career if you’re smart about it and be self made making more than you would make working for someone else.
In conclusion, college isn’t for everyone. The experience is one of a kind but academically, it’s more about how strategic you are can work the system to your advantage. I was lucky enough to have people backing me but if you aren’t as lucky, it’s literally like being thrown into water by people who expect you to start swimming as soon as your body touches it. It’s unrealistic and damaging. If you always knew you wanted to become something concrete like a doctor or lawyer, it’s worth following that instinct. However chances are you’ll have some eye opening experiences that may convince you otherwise or at least make you question your path in life. College is about exploring yourself. Trying new things.
Becoming aware of other cultures and backgrounds. Learning how to do one thing multiple ways. Trial and error. It’s not a race you should try to sprint to the finish line for. It’s a marathon that last past your four years. Would I recommend you going to college ? Absolutely, you never know until you try. If you find out it’s not for you, listen to your intuition and save yourself the time, energy and money. If it’s something you see as valuable to your success, jump in and get all you can out of it. At the end of the day, it’s your life and you know yourself better than anyone. Stand up for yourself and don’t let anyone tell you any different.