“I am so glad you will be able to have the ‘college experience’,” a couple of people have told me recently, when hearing of my plans to move out of state to attend college. After spending almost two years taking online college classes and living with my parents after high school, many are thrilled that I will finally have the “college experience” and get out on my own.
But the concept of the “college experience” confounds me. What do people mean by it? Should it be important to me? And did I waste the past two years of my life because I missed out on it in pursuit of other things?
What is the “College Experience”?
Dean College breaks down this idea of the “college experience” in this way: it involves attending classes on campus, eating in the cafeteria, hanging out with friends in the dorms, and joining in on extracurricular activities.
But I think there are additional aspects implied by this term, such as the ideas of “growing up,” becoming independent, and blossoming more into your own person.
When there are those, like me, who have chosen to miss out on the “college experience,” at least for a time, many might conclude that this individual has not yet learned independence or has yet to grow up.
I am not saying that having the “college experience” as defined by Dean College is not beneficial. I am greatly looking forward to life on campus when I move away this fall, and I have no doubt that I will learn and grow a lot. I know that the college campus is often a place where young adults have grown immensely as people and in their walks with the Lord and with others, being pushed to prioritize and make decisions on their own.
However, I don’t believe that the “college experience” is a necessary aspect of “growing up” or discovering who you are as an individual.
Why I Don’t Regret Missing Out
My life has taken a drastically different route than many others my age. Several friends who graduated high school with me have launched out on their own in various college campuses. There are times when I look around and feel a bit out of place since I didn’t follow suit as some expected.
But throughout these almost two years missing out on the “college experience,” I am filled with overwhelming gratitude and awe for how God has been guiding me and working in my life all along. And I would not trade that for anything.
Here are just a few treasures I’ve gained by missing out on the “college experience”:
1. The Friendships I Have Made
Working as a preschool teacher at a Christian school and attending a church where there is an average of approximately five college students, I do not walk alongside peers my own age and in my own stage of life on a daily basis.
At first, it was a bit of a struggle for me to relate with those who were either much younger or much older than me. There were many times I felt awkward because I didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. I knew that if I were on a college campus, I would constantly be surrounded by those my own age, who were experiencing the same stage of life I was in.
But the community that has surrounded me these last two years has been incredibly beneficial to me and my growth, and I’m immensely grateful for the friendships I have built. I have discovered there is great value in cultivating friendships with those in all different walks and stages of life. In fact, I feel that I am adding more and more to my family, sporadically “adopting” additional members. I have been able to pour into others, and been poured into myself, by those much older and wiser than I am.
2. The Relationships I Have Built with My Family
Because I still live at home with my parents and five siblings, I have spent much time hanging out with my family. As I have grown older, instead of desiring to separate myself from my family, I have grown much closer to them with each passing day.
I greatly treasure the time I’ve been given to spend with my family these last two years. I know I will greatly miss dancing, singing karaoke, playing games, having conversations, and laughing with them on a daily basis. While there are many friendships that come and go with time, I know that my family will always be there beside me. And because I’ve invested two more years with them, our bonds are stronger than ever.
3. The Life Lessons I Have Learned
While remaining at my parents’ house these past two years, I have learned several important life lessons that will be invaluable as I get out on my own.
I learned the importance of working hard. I did not merely sit back and enjoy the free rent and food that my parents graciously provided. I learned to balance home responsibilities, my social life, schoolwork, job responsibilities, church activities and ministries, and various other things all at the same time. I was pushed to constantly be aware of what my family needed from me rather than merely what I had to get done.
I have also learned contentment. When I struggle to fit in, God has shown me the blessedness of having friends of all different walks of life. When it was tempting to look around at those who live independent and seemingly free lives and covet what they have, God has been working in me to love the life He has given me.
What Will You Do?
Dear teen, as you pray for God to grant you wisdom for your upcoming college decision, please know that your life may not look the same as many others’ lives. Do not be swayed by the common expectation to immediately move away after high school graduation. The “college experience” might not be the path you should take, and that’s okay.
To the one who feels you are missing out on the “college experience,” do not lose heart. The “college experience” is not the only path there is in life. Your life is not wasted. Your years not living on campus are not worthless. And just because you are not eating in a cafeteria with your peers, does not mean you are not growing.
As Christians, we must be “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). Wherever you are, and wherever God has called you, is the best place you can be. Choose to make the best use of your time, whether on a college campus or elsewhere.
As Jim Elliot once said, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” May this be said of us, no matter where the Lord leads us.