Why I wish I could redo my college years

All things considered, it wasn’t a bad choice. But it definitely wasn’t the dream. And every time I reminded myself that I was making the right decision, there was another voice whispering that I was backed into a corner grabbing the only option available.

When I graduated from high school, I wasn’t excited about college. I was just excited to be done with high school. While my classmates and friends would excitedly chatter about which university they’d been accepted to, I’d stay quiet and smile. I didn’t have the same exciting news to share, nothing that felt worth bragging about.

In the fall, I was going to be heading off to a small state school. The campus was about 3 miles from where I lived at the time. To be fair, I can absolutely recognize how privileged I am to have been able to go to college at all. It was/is a good school. Looking back, I have few complaints about the quality of my education. But it definitely wasn’t the same experience you’d get from somewhere like UCF – the university I wished I had the chance to go to.

When you’re a teenager, college is talked about constantly. It’s when you get your first real taste of independence, your first attempt at adulthood. Freedom from living at home, freedom to choose your studies, freedom from your hometown. The chance to get out on your own and make your own way.

As a kid who was constantly being hovered over by adults and felt like they had pretty much no freedom at all – college was something I used to dream about.

I’d imagine my dorm room and how I’d decorate it. I fantasized about all the friends I’d make, giving them all fake names and stories to keep my mind busy while I was lonely at lunchtime. For hours, I’d read about different degrees and jobs, and then imagine myself in each and every one of them.

But when the time came to actually start thinking about college seriously, all my daydreams and fantasies fell apart. Saying I want to live in a dorm room is one thing, actually doing that is a whole other story. A lot less fun one, too. I had to confront the fact that going to UCF like everyone else wasn’t going to be an option for me. I didn’t have a full ride scholarship and didn’t want to drown in student debt. There was no way I could live in a dorm room without a full time aide, which I definitely couldn’t afford. And it was too far to commute. I could fantasize all I wanted, but it was out of the question.

Those three reasons cut my choices down to basically one school – Seminole State College. A lot of my classmates were going there for the first two years before transferring to their university, so I thought at least I’d maybe see a few familiar faces. It’d also just recently become a state school instead of a community college, so there were new degrees being introduced – including a handful of BA programs that started while I was a few semesters in.

All things considered, it wasn’t a bad choice. But it definitely wasn’t the dream. And every time I reminded myself that I was making the right decision, there was another voice whispering that I was backed into a corner grabbing the only option available.

Looking back, all I did was set myself up for disappointment.

I didn’t bother making an effort to get excited about the school I was going to. All I did was compare it to every other school and convinced myself that I’d automatically hate it. It wasn’t my first, second, or even third choice, and I think it’s fair to be disappointed. But that disappointment shouldn’t have determined how all 5 years I spent in school went.

I really wish that I would’ve tried to embrace my little college. Tried to find some cool programs to join, try to find a group I fit in with. There were some aspects where my feelings were more valid, like the inaccessibility of my campus and the ableism I experienced from students and professors. But all that aside, my resentment at having to go to a state college instead of a university was unnecessary.

Different doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and I think that if I had a different outlook I could’ve enjoyed my time a lot more. And even though I felt like my circumstances forced me into a decision I wasn’t thrilled with, I could’ve made the best of it. At the very least, maybe I would’ve dreaded going to class a little less.

Speaking of classes, I should’ve fought harder for a degree that interested me.

I waited a while to choose, going back and forth between a few options. Eventually I landed on graphic design. I could only get an associates, but it was a creative avenue and that’s all I wanted. Something creative. I remember the printout my counselor handed me with all the classes I’d be taking for the program. I could see myself falling in love with it, and I actually let myself get a little excited.

But it wasn’t long before I had to pick a different route. I had been working with Voc Rehab to go to school. The basic deal was they’d pay for my classes if my scholarships/grants didn’t cover it (that never happened) and after I graduated, they’d help me get a job. But when choosing degrees, they wanted us to pick something “employable”. And graphic design wasn’t what they considered employable. They talked my brother out of the degree he wanted, too.

The other reason was the location of the classes. My college has multiple campuses. None of the graphic design courses were at the campus close to my house. So… new plan. And now my choices were limited once again. I went with Business and Information Management. On the upside, I was able to get a Bachelor’s degree. The downside, though, was it was the exact route I was dead set against from the beginning. I absolutely hated the thought of a business degree. Reading through the class list alone was enough to bore me and that filled me with dread. But I had to choose, so I did.

I always wonder where I’d be now if I had found a way to make graphic design work. Especially since they moved all my classes to a different campus halfway through my degree anyway.

With everything I know now, I wish I had worked on my social anxiety and internalized ableism years and years ago.

I’m always just so jealous when people talk about how much fun they had with friends in college because I spent the entire time lonely and anxious. Too afraid to introduce myself. Too afraid to ask for help. Definitely too afraid to try and do anything by myself. Most of my classmates didn’t make things any easier – I have vivid memories of me texting my internet friends about people avoiding working on projects with me or sitting at ends of already full desks instead of taking the empty seat next to me. I remember feeling like I was contagious and not understanding why I rarely felt like I belonged there.

But I could’ve spoke up or tried to show them that I was literally just like any other 19 year old in college. I just wanted to pass my classes and make a few friends. My social anxiety was so intense that I could barely even make it to class without panicking, much less start a conversation or call anyone out for being weird around wheelchairs. So that definitely meant I was too afraid to ask for help 9 times out of 10. And because I was already afraid people thought I was weird, I never tried to do things on my own. What if people saw me try and fail? Or just look ridiculous in the process? Nope. Couldn’t do it.

I went to class and went right home. No more, no less. And that meant I left college without a single standout memory to look back on. Without a single friend to reminisce with. And that sucks, especially because I’m to blame for so much of it.

All things considered, I’m still incredibly lucky for my college experience.

First of all, I got a degree. That’s a huge privilege that I’m not trying to take for granted. Degrees don’t go as far as they used to, but it’s still a decent degree that I could potentially take with me to nearly any field. And honestly, even though I didn’t enjoy my experience there’s a part of me that thinks it was all worth it purely for the fact that I graduated with not one penny of debt. More privilege.

Five years is a long time to spend unhappy, though, and that’s my biggest regret. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish I could redo that time in my life, but I’m doing pretty alright now. I can’t go back in time to change anything, but who knows. Maybe I’ll just go back and get another degree one day. Either way, I’m just glad I haven’t had to think about filling out a FAFSA in years.

2 thoughts on “Why I wish I could redo my college years”

  • Oh my goodness, Karly, this makes me so sad. Our society has such a way to go in terms of making any disabled person feel like a welcome and needed part of our world. I am so sorry for your experience, because while, yes, you could have introduced yourself or gotten involved, we have created an exclusionary society that contributed to your social anxiety and feelings of being an outsider. We, as a society, need to take responsibility for that and correct that. I feel your words will help dispel the perception that everyone has about disabled people(although I absolutely believe you shouldn’t have to do that). I know that I will make sure my child will NEVER be the one to avoid a seat or a group project just because of a handicapped person. I love the hopefulness of this message, and I am so glad you are doing well now!

    • Thank you so much for such a kind comment! Ableism in society is something I’m trying very hard to spread awareness of, at least in some small way. I don’t think any of my classmates had any malicious intent – they just had limited interactions with disabled people. Hopefully, with more accessibility and representation in society, we can start to shift things in a positive direction!

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