COLUMN: The pressures of having the quintessential college experience

By November 2, 2017 No Comments

By Alice Bello


As teenagers, it is easy to succumb to an idealization of college. Movies, books, and an overarching dialogue sell college as three or four years of freedom, knowledge, and new friendships. Granted, this discourse is fruitful as it acts as an incentive to perform well in high school, but as our freshman year of college rolls around the corner, we are left with the pressure of having the quintessential college experience. What does it entail exactly?

You need to have a social life, get good grades, and get enough sleep. In terms of social life, you need to be a part of at least one association (but not more than three, or else you’ll crumble under the workload), you should try to be on a team for the Minicrit, you should go out on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday nights, and you have to be good at beer pong. In terms of grades, you either just want to validate your year or you want to aim for a 14.75 average that will allow you to study abroad in one of the best American universities. Sleep? Forget about it. You either sacrifice your social life or your grades, but it’s impossible to have all three.

There’s a certain pressure to accomplish all of these things and a preconceived idea that if you fail, your college experience will flounder. Quickly, one becomes overwhelmed by the infamous Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) which drives us to try to take part in as many events and activities as possible. At Sciences Po, it’s almost impossible not to experience FOMO. Simply opening Facebook results in trying to grapple with the sheer number of events taking place at Sciences Po and in Reims over the course of the week. Do you want to play tarot around a pitcher of beer, watch a documentary on migrants, or get mind-numbingly drunk on a Thursday night (#Minicuite)?

Newsflash, the quintessential college experience is a myth. The choices at hand are endless, but in reality that’s what college comes down to: choices. Sure, there might be a pressure to do as many things as possible in a ridiculously small time frame, but we have to break free from the expectations that we had and were given of college and simply live each day as it comes. If you’re shaking your head at how utterly tacky that last sentence sounded, I apologize, but it does have some truth to it.

If there’s one piece of advice I would give incoming freshmen, it’s to not be afraid of making mistakes. Join an association and realize it’s not the one for you. Make friends the first week and come to the conclusion that perhaps they’re not the ones you want to spend the next three years with. Get a bad grade, make poor relationship choices, play too much ping-pong, and most of all, don’t overanalyze everything. You’ll only ever know what you enjoyed about college once it’s over. So for now, go into things with an open mind and you just may be pleasantly surprised.

On my end, my first two months at Sciences Po have exceeded my expectations – positively and negatively. I never thought I’d experience crippling self-doubt about my place at Sciences Po, or that I’d have such thought-provoking interactions on a regular basis. Long story short, college is a rollercoaster that is both exhilarating and mystifying, and that’s what makes it enjoyable. Don’t listen to those who tell you these years will be the best of your life: it’s a bit dreary to think that we will reach the epitome of happiness in our early twenties.

Your college experience doesn’t have to fit into a specific mold: there are thousands of experiences at our fingertips and it is our prerogative to do with them as we please. Do you want to become a champagne connoisseur? Join the champagne club. Do you want to stay home on a Friday night and get a full 10 hours of sleep? Be my guest. Don’t let anyone dictate what your three years at Sciences Po are supposed to look like. College is all about being free, is it not?


Alice is a Parisian New Yorker or a New Yorkan (is that a word?) Parisianer (that’s probably not a word either) hoping to conquer the world of journalism one day. Interests include drinking coffee, reading the New York Times, and reading the New York Times while drinking coffee. The Parisian New Yorker runs the first Thursday of every month.

Neyla Belmaachi image

Photo: Neyla Belmaachi//The Sundial Press. Students at party.

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