OPINION: College is romanticized

Bethany Hendren, Opinion Writer

College is very romanticized, especially when attending a four-year university. Moving to college can be difficult, and people do not tell you about the hard parts. When students confront the difficult parts, it can be confusing. The confusion connects to false ideas produced by social media and personal stories, setting students up to have a blast. However, loneliness and negative feelings are normal. 

Before moving to college, students hear about freedom, parties, skipping class, etc. People love to share fun experiences and their highest points throughout the year. The stories create excitement for the future, but changes in people’s environment can be quite difficult. Moving away from family, leaving friends, changing eating habits, not having pets around and learning the way around campus are some of the many reasons that can make the beginning of college tough.

The experience can be very humbling and make new students feel small in such a huge place. Being one person amongst the 20,000 people residing in Boone can make someone feel small. Boone is not a big city; the area is approximately six square miles, and it is easy to learn the way around Boone. However, there are many activities for students and locals though it can be overwhelming for new students to find them. Taking on the challenge of normal student activities creates anticipation to get those experiences. Students compare their worth to their peers who are doing activities around them. A study done in 2017 shows that perceiving peers as more socially connected results in a lower sense of belonging. 

Finding people and making a way into a particular social group can take a while. The process of finding friends can prove to be lonely. Not having a friend group is a reason to feel major FOMO. College students all over America go to parties, eat at the dining hall and attend events. But some individuals are still sitting alone, wondering when that will come. Another thing is that parents, friends and peers talk about meeting lifelong friends in college. People hardly mention how long it takes to make those connections and build those friendships. People attending college are pushed into social groups that already have a foundation. It is hard to find an appropriate fit within that group.

For some people, there are many challenging factors in building friendships, which most includes workload and potential social anxiety. College students have high levels of responsibility taking up most of their time. The workload can be large because of class time, homework, a job or club participation. Doing all of the tasks makes it hard to maintain a social life. College is framed to be free and fun, but students have an abundance of responsibilities to juggle. On top of the workload, social anxiety makes it hard to build friendships. An article published in 2019 showed 63% of college students felt overwhelming anxiety over the past year. Much of that anxiety is social anxiety. People with social anxiety feel stressed when introduced to new people, having social encounters, direct attention and more. The instances where people with social anxiety feel stressed are how friendships are built.

The biggest way college is romanticized is through social media. People post and create a version of a story that is beautiful and fun. The individuals posting leave the hard parts out, presenting false expectations to future college students. This is seen the most on popular social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. People post photos and/or videos that capture possibly a few seconds, or a few minutes of the whole day. The photos and videos portray the highlights and all the fun events the creator got out of something. For example, at the end of every semester, it is a trend to post a recap on TikTok of all the fun moments that a student captured. Compilation videos of the college experience can set a certain expectation. In the videos, it is seen to go out, make friends and have the best time. When comparing a current situation to the fun clips, it can make the experience less fun and invalidate it. Social media has impacted college students severely. Anxiety levels and depression can be attributed to social media platforms. Constantly comparing yourself to another person’s life creates a negative self-image, and people with a negative self-image are vulnerable to mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Social media and mental health issues being connected show it is no surprise that college students are negatively affected by constantly seeing other people’s experiences. 

However, students must not mistake those highlights for an accurate representation of what college life truly encompasses. Everyone is meant for a different journey. People are always exactly where they need to be. It is okay to not be okay during your college experience. Everyone struggles in their own way. Nobody is alone in struggling.