I found myself in the strange position last week of researching program requirements and available college courses for the first time since I was a student myself. Even though my research was only for the purposes of my mystery WIP, I couldn’t help feeling nostalgic as I browsed my old university’s online course catalogue.
Once upon a time, picking my classes was another part of my late-semester routine. As an honors student I had the option of diving in early to reserve my spot in this seminar or that workshop, but getting a jump on my classmates didn’t exactly erase the ticking clock in my head. It’s hard to gauge how good a class will be from its basic description online, but I still remember how important it was to get into the classes I perceived to be good, even if I later turned out to be wrong.
It got me thinking, honestly. Not just about the kinds of things that are important to college students, but about how important college itself feels when you’re there. Maybe it’s because we spend so much of our lives preparing for it on an academic level and anticipating it on a personal level that it’s easy to dive headfirst into university life when we finally get there and forget about everything else.
Plus, university life is awesome. There’s always something happening and something to do. You’re surrounded by people your own age–potential friends or potential partners, classmates and study buddies and new BFFs. I still have fond memories of late nights in my dorm talking about Really Deep Stuff with my roommate and our friends, or running random errands at 2am just because we could.
The best thing about college, in my opinion, is the feeling that your whole life is about to start. Maybe it’s living on your own for the first time, or having the freedom to run your own life in a (more or less) safe and controlled environment. Maybe it’s the way in which choosing a major can feel like your first big commitment to a future career, if you happen to pick the right one. Whatever the reasons, simply being at college has a way of revealing all the possibilities ahead of you–even the ones you might’ve never considered before.
Sometimes, I miss that. I miss the freedom of newfound adulthood without the responsibility, the sense of possibility in every choice I made. It’s not as though I have fewer choices available to me as an adult with my own income and my own apartment, but I also can’t just up and change my career or move into a new place without a lot of strategizing first. And even though I have more of a safety net then some, I also have to spend more time considering the consequences of the decisions I make than I did as a 20 year old with no bills to pay.
On the other hand, I’m not sure I’d want to go back and re-do my college experience even if I could. As much as I enjoyed those four years of my life, they weren’t all fun and games. There were plenty of long, stressful weeks and sleepless nights, boring classes and unpleasant professors. I had confrontations with friends and lost more than a few. I second guessed myself a lot and too little all at once.
In my memories college was glorious, but those memories are tinged with the same nostalgia I felt flipping through the course catalogue, and that nostalgia has a way of making us forget the truth. Yes, it was glorious, but it was also painful and messy and freeing and a whole bunch of other things too.
When I write the college experience for these characters, that’s what I want to remember.