This story was published in 2006 for FastWeb, an online education resource and scholarship search engine.
Questions are like itches. You know you aren’t supposed to scratch, but sometimes you just … gotta. One question that should remain tickly and untouched is the one everyone’s always asking: “So, what’s it like being a fourth year?”
I’ll tell you. It’s dreadful. To be a senior in high school is to gaze at your future with bright eyes, smiling serenely at the open arms of the world. As a senior in college, lack of sleep will prevent you from getting the old orbs open in the first place, and if you somehow manage it, they’ll be blurred and crusted over with Red Bull and pencil shavings because you zonked out with your head on your desk last night.
Fine. That’s an exaggeration. But, being in this transitory position forces students to make tough choices about their futures, while they’re simultaneously afflicted with nostalgia and a strong desire to reminisce about the past. And then we’re expected to go to class.
I’m pretty pleased with my performance in college. I haven’t made any unforgivable errors, though I’d like to remind readers that there are still nine months until graduation. There are, however, things that I wish I had done differently.
I regret taking the 100-level classes. I came from a very small high school where I wasn’t academically challenged. The thought that there were 10,000 other students in my college classes, all thrashing like fish to get the A, was knowledge enough to intimidate me into Music 101. Four years later, I know that class numbers usually correspond with grades – the higher I went, the higher I scored. This might have something to do with class size, but I think it also correlates with specificity of topic. I rarely learned anything of value in an introduction-level class, whereas when I rubbed elbows with older students, I discovered more about the topic and how the professors want arguments presented. The bottom line is if a course catches your eye, ask around; if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to swim along with the upperclassmen.
I wish I’d not had core requirements. A few fabulous schools – Brown and Vassar, for example – do not require an academic curriculum. (This means you don’t have to take math, science, English or history if you don’t want to.) Most schools have these requirements, and University of Virginia is one of them. I took four semesters – that’s two years – of science and hated every second. I like to pretend I’m equally as graceful with English as I am clumsy with chemistry, and if you’re polarized too, core requirements are absolutely something to consider when you’re mailing applications. By being forced to take subjects I didn’t like and knew I wasn’t good at, I was attending classes that bored me and lowered my GPA. Talk about a one-two punch.
Still, there are many things I’m glad I did. I lived on-campus for two years. I made an effort to stay in close contact with my high school, summer and first year friends. I filled my schedule up with activities and organizations. I attended hundreds of University sporting events and utilized gym passes, student parking, discounts and that most crucial of all perks, free food. Ultimately, I’m glad I’m a fourth year.
Now excuse me, I have to take a nap.