Going to college was supposed to be the most exhilarating time of my life. When you’re about to graduate high school, all anyone can ask you is, “Where are you going to school next year?” For me, that answer was muddied. I made a last minute decision on the school I wanted to attend because I received a later-than-expected acceptance letter, and it happened to be for my dream school. What I didn’t realize then, was that this would lead to my ultimate transferring of schools, and shift in my major.
I grew up loving the university with all of my heart; I attended football games growing up, and I watched their basketball games on the television in my living room. I sported the school’s colors and mascot, dreaming of the day I would be able to attend college. When I found out that I had been accepted to the university, I was ecstatic. Except for that fact I was accepted to enroll during the spring semester, not the fall, like almost every other college student usually does.
For me, the decision was pretty easy. I figured I could handle waiting it out just a few more months to attend the school of my dreams. So, I did exactly that. I graduated in June of 2019, spent the summer with my best friends from high school, and watched as they all left our small town in August of the same year. I couldn’t have anticipated the way I would have felt when everyone left, and when I found myself as one of the only people left at home, attending a community college for the semester.
I watched what felt like everyone else in the entire world go to college, start a brand new life for themselves, rush sororities and fraternities, meet new people, and enjoy their fall semester. It felt like I would never make it past the New Year, to January of 2020 when I would finally be able to move into my dorm room, but I did. I made it there, and once I got there, I was so happy. I don’t remember the last time that I felt so blissful, so excited for what my future could be.
I didn’t return back to my home town until spring break rolled around. Spring break happened to fall in early March of 2020. The same week that I went home from school, I was being told I wasn’t going back. COVID-19 had officially made its way to the states, and everything was swiftly being moved online.
I didn’t want to believe the news. I had just become so fulfilled with my life at school: I had a new set of friends, I was living on my own for the first time, and I was slowly getting involved on campus. I was devastated, to say the least. But, yet again, I waited and waited until the fall semester of 2020 rolled around, when I went back on campus.
Immediately, I sensed a shift in the climate of my university’s campus. I mean, clearly this was going to be the case: The pandemic was very prevalent and at the forefront of everyone’s minds. I was so angry, so upset, that a worldwide pandemic was impeding my already altered college experience. At that point, I had lost my entire freshman year, which many refer to as the best year of college.
The devastation continued to creep in throughout the duration of the fall semester. Social interaction was limited, and things weren’t how I planned them to be in my times of isolation. Looking back, it’s a silly thing to stress about and be so upset over, but it was real for me, and it felt like my “college experience” was slipping away moment by moment.
The Loss of Hope
When the spring semester of 2021 rolled around, two of my closest friends decided to move back home. This contributed to the destruction of my time as a college student at the university, but I blocked it out and made the most of my final semester of my sophomore year. I had thoughts about withdrawing from the university, but I was already wrapped into a lease that wasn’t ending until July of that year. Try as I might have, I couldn’t find anyone to take over my lease, so I decided I would ride the semester out. I fostered a friendship during this time of my life that made things bearable, that made it so that I could enjoy my time still at school. But then, summer came around.
I was stuck in a lease for an apartment in a city I was slowly growing to despise. The one friend I had made moved home during the summer, and I felt no reason to stay in my college town. I slowly started going home every weekend, and weekends turned into a few days, and a few days turned into me forging up enough money to pay for the rest of my summer’s rent so I could leave the apartment and never return long term.
I kept contemplating if it was worth it to suffer through these feelings of loneliness and utter despair that I felt in my college town just for the sake of doing what everyone else my age was doing, which was going to college and living the “best years of their lives.”
The Trip That Opened My Eyes
I traveled a lot during the summer of 2021. I went to New York City and Los Angeles for the first time, and I knew once I left my home state, I really wouldn’t want to return back. Once my sister and I landed in California for the first time, I knew it was where I wanted to be. From that moment on, I was really starting to consider withdrawing from my university, contemplating how I could finish school somewhere else and just live a life entirely different and not on course with what I was “supposed to be doing” at my age.
Things got hard at this point in my life. My family and personal life was a complete and utter wreck. I didn’t know what to do, I just continued going through the motions. When August rolled around, I went back to school and tried to move on from my personal troubles.
They caught up to me, though.
The Fall Semester of 2021
I created my academic schedule so that most of my classes were online, having only one I would need to be on campus for. I found myself going home every weekend after I moved back to school. Weekends began turning into a four day stay, and then a five day, and then a week. I retracted myself from my life at college, miserable in the city and around the people I was surrounded by.
Everyone around me was so happy, I couldn’t understand it. How could one place that so many people adored be a living nightmare for me? How could I try to have a good time with my friends at parties while my life as I knew it was falling apart around me, slowly and suddenly all at once?
I was set to participate in an internship at my college town’s science museum during that same semester. The internship got moved online, and I felt like my world was crashing down around me. One of the key reasons I was holding onto my life at this university was so that I could participate in the internship, in person. I expressed my concerns to my internship advisor in an email, and he immediately asked me to talk over the phone.
That phone call is one I will never forget. In my email message, I told him about the misery I was experiencing being at school, how the internship was the one hope I was holding onto. He stepped back as my advisor when we spoke on the phone, and quite frankly felt like a therapist. He really pushed me to think about why I was throwing myself into a situation that I didn’t want to be in. I had already expressed how unhappy the town I was living in made me feel, and he really encouraged me to do what was going to be the best for me. He told me to put the internship and my schooling aside, and to evaluate where I wanted to be, and if my mental health was enough of a sacrifice to stay somewhere and do what I thought was expected of me.
I think after that moment, I knew I was leaving college. I officially withdrew from the university about a week later, and only told one of my closest friends. I didn’t tell the other friends in my life until I had been withdrawn from the school for a few weeks.
None of my peers asked where I was. No one really noticed. When I would sometimes return on the weekends to see some of my friends, people thought I still went there. I remember one time, I saw an old acquaintance, and she looked at me and said, “McKinley, I haven’t seen you in so long!” All I could say was “Yeah,” with a big, are-you-serious? smile on my face.
How could no one have noticed? I didn’t want people to catch up on the fact that I was gone. I didn’t understand how I could be falling apart at the seams, feeling like I was crying out for help, with no one even bothering to notice. I would never want to compare my personal struggles with someone else’s, but it just felt like I was drowning in the middle of the Atlantic ocean while others were on the shore of a beach in Mexico.
The Moment of Realization
Withdrawing from that university was the best thing I could have ever done for my “college experience.” It wasn’t necessarily the university’s fault, a lot of it stems from where I was mentally. I was chasing something bigger and better, so I changed my major. As a previous STEM major, I decided I wanted to pursue something that was more me. I’d always been creative, and watching my sister foster a flourishing career as an influencer was more than enough ammo for me to completely change my career path.
So, there I was, a junior in college, taking a semester off, living at home again. I was hesitant to change my career path, but it couldn’t have worked out better. Around one year ago, during November of 2021, I started a new internship, my first one that had anything to do with writing. I’ll be frank — when I started the position, I thought it was going to be more marketing and social media based. When I was thrown into the mix and instructed to start writing articles, I just picked it up. I’d always loved writing growing up, and even wrote for my old school’s Her Campus chapter during the spring semester of the same year.
I was bamboozled as to why I never thought about pursuing a career in writing before that moment. Writing is something that has always been natural to me, I love the feeling of expressing myself and being able to come up with creative concepts. I fell right into it, and I felt a sense of relief. I had something else to focus on besides my troublesome personal life, something that gave me a sense of purpose with a new path to go down.
I had never dabbled in writing about real-life things until I got that internship. Now, I find myself constantly writing about people, things, and topics that are important to me. Just one year ago, I was starting my journey as a writer, and now I sit here writing this piece as a National intern with Her Campus Media and a virtual student majoring in Communication, about three months away from graduating.
I knew I had everything in me to land where I am today, but I still have a long way to go. I have a lot to learn, and a lot of healing to do. I was desolate when my “dream school” didn’t turn out to be everything I thought it was. I watched as the life I thought I was going to live dissipated before my eyes, in every aspect of my life.
I didn’t know what to do until I did. Withdrawing from school, changing my major, and deciding to not live the conventional “college experience” was a daunting decision, one I didn’t want to make for quite some time. At a time where I just wanted to be seen, heard, and understood, I gave myself all of that and more. I saw what I was going through, I listened to my intuition, and I realized exactly what I needed. I’m a long way from where I’m hoping to be (professionally and emotionally), but taking that leap of faith and doing things my own way was the best decision I could have ever made for myself.
If you find yourself succumbing to the pressures of college culture, I urge you to take a step back and think about yourself. Sure, staying in a major you’re unhappy with because you may be halfway through with college could be easy, but who wants to take the easy route? Sure, living it up and partying your days away with friends can be fun, but it gets kind of old. I’d trade my personal wellbeing and all of the opportunities I have now if it meant I never got to live out the traditional, better-than-it-looks college lifestyle.