College is tough. It's intimidating, it's overwhelming, and most kids go into college not knowing what to expect. Everyone has this construct in their head of what college should be, and how it should be done: graduate high school, ship out in August, live in a college dorm, graduate in four years, only come home for the breaks. There's a real stigma around the "college experience" as most people think of it. To many, it's partying every weekend, struggling in your classes, alienating yourself from your family, and leaving your old life -- and your hometown -- behind.
I'm here to tell you what college has been for me, and why it's okay not to follow the same path that everyone else does.
I did what most high schoolers are expected to do. I applied in the fall of my senior year. I got my acceptances, and I chose Towson University (this seems obvious, but it's important to the timeline). My best friend chose Towson, too, and we requested to room with each other. My family and I spent all summer shopping for my dorm, and I said goodbye to my friends. In August of 2016, I said goodbye to my hometown of Rising Sun.
It turns out my goodbyes were short-lived. My freshman semester was terrible. I made one new friend all semester, and while she was wonderful, she was far more social and outgoing than I was. I went home every weekend to see my family and my boyfriend, because I didn't have anything keeping me here. I didn't join any clubs, I didn't go to any games, and I spent all of my time getting my homework done early so I wouldn't have to do it during the weekend when I went home.
I realized I didn't like my major and I didn't know what I would do with it in the job field. I spent every week counting down until Friday and I dreaded coming back on Monday. My overall misery, and my depression about not making friends, drove me to my ultimate decision of moving back home for the spring semester and enrolling in community college.
Backwards, right? Aren't you supposed to start out at community college and then transfer to a four-year institution? No. You can do things in whatever order suits your needs, and for me, I needed to be home. I spent the three subsequent semesters taking classes part-time at my community college and working at my old high school job. I was only part-time because I still had no idea what I wanted to do.
Fast forward to fall semester of 2017. Even though I despised Towson while I was a freshman here, I felt myself drawn to it again. I did really love the campus, and the faculty I worked with my first semester were wonderful (shoutout to Professor Baetjer of the Economics department -- I almost changed my major to Economics because of him). I started taking math classes at my community college and decided I wanted to be a mathematics major, specifically an actuary; Towson happens to be one of only three universities in Maryland that is accredited for its actuarial science track.
I ended up right back where I started, here at Towson. While I was so desperate to run away from here the first time around, I can honestly say I'm so happy to be back and I love everything this school has to offer. I changed my major again, like most college students tend to, and I settled on accounting. I joined the Odyssey to create, to get my story out, and to tell everyone that however your college journey goes, it's okay. For me, college was never about going to parties or getting away from home. It ended up being about returning to my roots, finding myself, and then giving it another try. My college journey, while extremely unusual, is no less valid than anyone else's.
So for all of the kids out there who are terrified of college and are unsure of what you'll do: don't worry. Not everyone is built to handle college the same. If you need a year off? Go for it. If you aren't ready to leave home and want to attend community college? Do it. I probably should have started off at community college because I just wasn't ready to leave home yet. If you find yourself feeling stuck and unhappy at your university, there is no shame in transferring home. Really, college is for YOU, and YOUR personal development. As long as you make it in the end, it doesn't really matter how you got there.
What I learned from my backwards college career was not only to appreciate where you come from, but be grateful for where you're going. I'm incredibly lucky to have had supportive parents, and I'm lucky to have had the opportunity to attend Towson not once, but twice. The education I've gained from both colleges I've attended is a blessing that many people don't have access to, and it shouldn't be taken for granted. Everyone thinks college is an opportunity to "start fresh" and leave everything behind. But why leave behind everyone, and everything, that has shaped you into who you are? I'm grateful for the extra year and a half I spent at home. I had some amazing professors at my community college who ultimately inspired me to choose my current major and made for great connections. Going home, and then returning to Towson, has only made me that much more ambitious and eager to join the real world.
Don't be afraid of college. Wherever you end up, whatever you end up doing, college is what you make it. Even if you don't do things "the right way," college is just as much about the journey as it is the destination.