Supposed To?-Do College Your Way

Tracie Mooneyham is a student at Randolph-Macon College in the “center of the universe” Ashland, Virginia. She is finishing her bachelors in English, with a minor in Fine Arts with the hopes to teach high school upon completion of her degree. She also works as a professional in retail while in school. Her hobbies include photography, painting, and reading historical fiction novels by authors such as Phillipa Gregory and Diana Gabaldon.

Upon graduating high school it’s expected that you transition right into a 4 year university unless you have already begun work in a career field. It’s the natural progression of how your life is “supposed to go”, or so we are lead to believe. However, when I graduated I was too scared to follow the majority of my classmates. I was accepted into a few colleges in my home state. I even had my pick of where I wanted to study. From the outside it looked like I was steps away from moving on in life. I just couldn’t bring myself to follow through.
What was I afraid of? Well the cost for one thing. I am the eldest child of a middle class American family. My parents didn’t go to college, and did not have the income to set aside for any of their children to pursue that ideal. I was told from Kindergarten on that if college was what I really wanted, then it would be up to me to make that happen. That early in life I didn’t realize exactly how much college costs. I just knew that that’s what I wanted to do. Upon looking at the tuition and board for the schools I was accepted to I quickly realized that student loans would be my only option. I wish I had realized sooner how many scholarship options would have been available to me, to lessen the blow, if I had just applied.
I was also afraid of being outside my comfort zone. I was the quintessential shy kid throughout grade school; being in a new place with new people caused me to become super anxious. How would I keep in touch with the few friends I had? How would I be able to adapt to living without my immediate family? I had a boyfriend I was serious about; what if it didn’t work out with the distance? All of these questions bounced around my head like ping-pong balls. My senior year was a headache of expectations that I didn’t feel like I was ready for.
So instead of going straight off to a 4 year college like the majority of my peers I chose to work. I worked part-time while in school and transitioned into full time by end of summer post-graduation. I knew that I didn’t want to be doing menial jobs forever and understood that education was key. I decided on the community college route so that I could stay closer to home, work full time, and edge my way into a new environment. Many people, many of my fellow students, couldn’t understand why I made the choices I did. Why would you work and start out at a local college? Why not go straight to university? If you’re going to work then why do you need to go to school?
All of the criticism I received did hurt me, and caused me to second guess myself a lot, but from where I am now I’m glad for doing things my way. A few of my peers from high school couldn’t handle the home life to college life transition and moved back home. A few more after that claimed that college was “too hard” or “not what they expected” and so they chose to drop out. All to the dismay of their parents who were funding this crucial step forward in their lives. I chose to work so I could save my money and then go to college when I felt I was ready- not just because it was next on the list of things that most feel we’re “supposed” to do. I have been able to grow up and live my life, make choices and mistakes, at my own expense. Isn’t that what growing up is about? I’m glad that I waited and did things my own way.
When my younger siblings came to me to ask about what they should do as they approached their senior year I made sure to emphasis following your instincts. If it feels like you’re not prepared, you’re not ready, or just not sure then say so. Don’t do something just because it’s something you think you’re supposed to do. You will ultimately be the one who has to live with the choices you’ve made. So make sure they are YOUR choices. To those who are looking at college, please, hear my advice. Take this next step in your life seriously and weigh the outcomes. Don’t be afraid to reach out or research what makes you anxious. Make sure to use any and every source available to you. Yes, it’s never too late to start school but let me tell you it only gets harder. Corny as it is, the old adage “follow your heart” is rooted in truth for good reason.

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