Coming into college, many of us were told, “Watch out for the Freshman 15,” those pounds you may or may not pick up after late-night snacks and forgetting to go to the gym for a few weeks in a row.
It doesn’t end with freshman year, though. The Sophomore Slump, Junior Year Sucks, Senioritis — these expectations persist each year of college and rob us of our right to make what is arguably the most defining experience of our lives our own. And we need to stop putting up with it.
Three years ago, I — like most incoming freshmen — was excited to be in a new place, meet new people, figure out who I was without my family around and maybe even learn a thing or two in class. But as excited as I was for all that, I couldn’t help but worry about the Freshman 15.
Gaining a few pounds wouldn’t have been the end of the world for me, but knowing that it was practically expected, I found myself watching the scale, terrified to see those numbers rise. I couldn’t ward off the feeling that, when I returned home over break, my friends and family would be looking for those extra pounds.
It was the expectation that bothered me. Why should anyone else expect something from my freshman year? I felt like my experience at college wasn’t completely my own, like other people were watching and waiting for me to change in a prescribed way. The looming expectation prevented my freshman year from being defined by the friends I made or the things I learned. Instead, it was defined by the Freshman 15.
And it didn’t end after freshman year. The summer before I returned for my second year at Elon, I heard rumors of a Sophomore Slump.
Sure enough, my sophomore year, I was prepared for things to go downhill. Everything that went wrong that year — a fight with a friend, a bad grade, a bout of sickness — I blamed on the Sophomore Slump. In the face of the expectation that I would have a bad year, I did, and I felt helpless to stop it.
By junior year, I was finished listening to what other people expected from my year. And, lo and behold, I had my best year of college yet.
Now, as a senior, I’ll tell you a secret: each year of college is not defined by anything, unless you let it. Focus on the experiences you have throughout the year and wait to determine what defined your year until you can look back on it. Don’t go into this year expecting it to be a certain way just because your older friends or parents told you it would be.
Yes, things happen. Yes, sophomore year may not be your best year, or you’ll have a hard time staying focused in class senior year. But don’t go into this year expecting these things. By perpetuating the idea that each year of college is defined by something negative, we are affecting how we — and any college students who come after us — experience these years.
So let’s decide not to announce to the world our determination to avoid or achieve the Freshman 15, or the Sophomore Slump, or Senioritis. Let’s agree to let each year be what it is, defined by the experiences we have during it, not by expectations others give us. I think, if we do that, we’ll all enjoy this year a little more.