Breaking down the college years

Originally Posted on The Triangle via UWIRE

Recently, it has begun to dawn on me that my days as a Drexel Dragon and a college student in general are coming to an end. I have known this since the beginning of this year, but the notion has taken on a more surreal feeling as I’ve talked more often about graduation with my peers. Because of this, I’ve started to reflect on my college experience as a whole and ironically, out of the four years, senior year has been the best. This is only ironic to me because when I first got to college, I was like most college students in that I dreaded the very idea of senior year.

Since it was four years ago, freshman year has become a very incoherent blur that my brain fails to recollect accurately. While I didn’t spend my weekends partying excessively, I was always out doing something. How smart some of those things were is debatable, but like most freshmen, I was hellbent on exploring as much as I could.

The novelty of freshman year is its strongest appeal. For many people, myself included, it’s the first time that we really had a sense of complete freedom. The independence was exhilarating, and while the novelty of that feeling wore off by sophomore year for me, it was amazing while it lasted. The downside however, was how the lack of real life experience that came with freshman year could cause problems. It only took me one wrong decision of going to see the much-anticipated “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” movie on a Friday night to put me brutally behind in my studies for a math exam the following Monday. Those four hours seemed like a small amount of time, but they turned out to be vital.

Sophomore year was the second-best year for me, and a lot of people would probably agree that it is the year where you go through the most personal growth. Personal development is something that makes us like a character in any form of fictional story, and if college were a tale of fiction, sophomore year would be where the most major changes happen.

Most students have gotten over the novelty of college by the beginning of sophomore year, and they start living the real college life. Many of my friends have said that their sophomore year was either really good or really bad, and I can somewhat attest to this because mine was really good. My theory as to why this is the case is that people start finding their cliques in sophomore year. In freshman year, everyone is hanging out with everyone. Everyone knew each other on the fourth floor of Kelly Hall where I lived, and that was a blessing because it made the experience a lot more fun. However, it was also a curse because most of us knew that the group wasn’t going to stay together after freshman year.

The cliques that form are great if you find yourself in one with people that you really like, but they can be absolutely awful if you don’t have a group like that. I had a group in sophomore year, and while I didn’t socialize more than I did in freshman year, the socializing that I did do was much more meaningful to me because it was with people that I cared more about. In addition to this, there is also the improvement in studying habits. Most students overcome the learning curve of freshman year and have better studying habits that make the academic aspect of college less stressful. That, combined with a good group of friends to spend time with, are what make sophomore year great, but its potential to be very bad is undeniable.

Junior year is strange because a lot of growth happens, just like in sophomore year, but this growth is better defined as being intellectual rather than social. My view is partly skewed to this perception because junior year was when I had my one and only co-op. During this year, I went into a bit of a social withdrawal where I fell of the radar of my various groups of friends. While I would still meet the occasional friend for lunch or a movie, there was a drastic decrease in how much I did this because I was taking a lot more time to focus on myself and my career.

This is where junior year becomes a precursor to senior year much more so than freshman and sophomore year. Between the time spent figuring out how to exist in a new environment, adopting better study habits and solidifying friendships, not much time and energy is put into one’s career path until junior year. Some people are very diligent in figuring out their career path even in freshman and sophomore year, but I wouldn’t refer to them as being extremely common. Junior year is when many of us start laying down the career cement so that we can watch it dry in senior year. While it doesn’t have the same level of stress as senior year, junior year is the most draining because of all the choices you start to contemplate.

To put it more simply, your decisions start to really matter in junior year. They do matter in freshman and sophomore year, but those years are much more forgiving when it comes to testing the waters and figuring out what you want to do. By junior year, you want to start having some semblance of a concrete plan to put into action. That’s how it was for me, at least.

While I already said senior year has been the best, it certainly isn’t without flaws. Last quarter, I told one of my fellow English majors that senior year was the first time I felt like I even remotely knew what I was doing in college. This can be taken as a joke, but I’d imagine most students find it quite satisfying to look back on previous years and see just how much progression has been made. All the gained knowledge and experience really shows, especially when it comes to the academic side of things. Classes and homework are still stress inducing — that aspect is always there regardless of the year — but in senior year the cycle of midterms and finals are no longer anything new. At that point, they are just par for the course.

One of the more obvious reasons for why someone might dislike senior year is the return of that novelty aspect from freshman year. In freshman year, it was great because there weren’t any major worries as we were transitioning from home into a lifestyle that would take up the next four years. There was an element of certainty. In senior year, however, we’re trying to transition into our careers for the remainder of our lives, and there is nowhere near the same level of certainty in that transition.

Despite that downside, senior year still has more positives going for it than negatives, one of the biggest being your solidified friendships. The friends that you have in senior year are the ones that you will most likely stay connected to after you graduate, especially the ones who are graduating with you. It’s always comforting to have people that are going through the same uncharted territory as you are, and in that way, senior year and freshman year are very similar. There was a sense of camaraderie on that fourth floor of Kelly Hall because we all got tossed into a new and mysterious environment together, though the stakes then were admittedly far less stressful than ones seniors face.

I find senior year to be the best, followed by sophomore year, freshman year, and junior year. You, no doubt, have your own order for them, and the personal ranking of them is really just something that is fun to think about. The real takeaway is that every year teaches us something invaluable. I didn’t fully realize that until now, but it’s quite astonishing. I was always a skeptic of the idea before, but maybe the people who say that your time in college are some of the best years of your life have a point after all.

Read more here: https://www.thetriangle.org/opinion/breaking-down-the-college-years/
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