10/08/2013 06:20 pm ET Updated Dec 08, 2013

Reflections on College: The Myths, the Mistakes and the Magic

You will arrive at your first day of college, shoe organizers and PBTeen storage drawers in hand, and you will think, this is it, this is my time. You will think how everything from this moment on will be nothing but remarkable. You will party and study and dance and learn and make the greatest friends and you will find yourself and discover your confidence and become the person you were always meant to be.

And you're right. This will probably happen. But at that moment when you first arrive and gaze at the ancient, ivy-covered architecture beckoning you to change the world, you aren't thinking about the in-between times: all of those difficult moments that you'll one day look back on and realize are the ones that built you.

No one tells you that you will be filled with anxiety freshman year -- that between the wonder and joy of the new and different will be the fear and loneliness of the strange and unfamiliar. You'll go to parties you don't want to attend because you think you're supposed to. You'll cry the first Friday night you have nothing to do. You'll drink too much before you have friends good enough to take care of you. You will do every single reading for all of your classes. Tears will well up in your eyes the first time you eat a meal by yourself. You will spend a lot of time on the phone with your mom.

You'll wonder why you're the only person who feels this way, and if there is something wrong with you because you aren't wholly enjoying the first of the "best four years of your life." "Why is everyone having a good time but me?" you will wonder. You won't realize that within those frat party mobs, you are not the only one wishing she were home on the couch with her dog.

You won't realize at the time that it won't always be that way, that as time goes on -- as you figure out the right teams and clubs and groups to join and you decipher the type of people with whom you want to spend your time -- things will start to change. You will blink and your college friends will feel like home. You won't understand how or when it happens, but suddenly, between the late-night cram sessions and 4 am pizza parties, you will notice that they have become your people. You will stop counting down the days until you get to go home and instead spend breaks counting the days until you get back.

Or maybe you won't realize it at all. Maybe it will happen so naturally and fluidly that it won't be something you notice until the end, when you look back on your four years at school and remember that once upon a time this place didn't feel like home. And when it finally feels like somewhere you could spend your life, it will be time to go.

You will think how unfair that is, how some institution shouldn't get to tell you when you have to leave the people and the life you love. You will cry because you have finally mastered how to exist at this place. You can finally stay up hanging out with friends until 2 a.m. and still pull a 95 percent on your final exam 10 hours later. You'll think about how shakily you entered your first-ever college course and how confidently you strode from your last. You'll think how easily you make friends now; as you laugh about nothing with your roommate for one of the last times, you will remember meeting her on the very first night four years earlier. You will think how here you both still sit, having changed so much, yet remained so much the same.

You will avoid thinking that soon your life won't be centered on your friends, and that so many of these people who fill your days will soon be reduced to weekly phone calls or monthly Facebook chats. You try not to wonder which ones will remain in your life and which will fade away.

"Everyone has to do it," you'll tell yourself. Because what is the point in learning all of these valuable lessons if you don't go out into the world and use them? Everyone has to do it, but it won't make it hurt any less and it won't make it any less scary when it's your turn.

So for those four years, appreciate everything. Appreciate that your sole purpose is to fill your head with knowledge and have a good time. Don't let it take you too long to find out that there is no "right" way to do college, that it doesn't matter if a pre-game consists of two or 22 people, as long as they are the people you want to stuff your face with and the people who will sit with you at 2 a.m. while you cry.

Appreciate that in college you can walk into a bar and know every single person in it. Appreciate that everyone you know lives within five minutes of your front door. Appreciate the espresso shots you take with your friends while staying up until 5 a.m. to study for an exam. Appreciate the exams you didn't study for because instead you were dancing on a bar, celebrating your best friend's championship win.

One day you will blink, and it will be graduation day;you won't understand how you could have ever wanted to leave this place. So appreciate everything, even the bad stuff, because it is the bad, scary, anxious, lonely parts of college that teach you how to take advantage of the happy, fun, exciting, amazing parts. And when you think back to that wide-eyed freshman staring at those ivy-covered walls, you'll realize you were right all along. Everything from that moment on was truly remarkable.


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