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Freshman Disorientation: Muddling through my undergraduate years.

By: Shane Carpenter

This is my confession of 5 years post adolescent confusion. Think of it as a "college application essay" of sorts. But I always lied when I wrote those. I want some helpful incite on the situation I am in as a student. I would be especially interested in hearing from anyone who has already graduated from the initial 4-5 year drag of being an undergraduate.

For the past 4-5 years, I have made poor use of my time as a student. I graduated in 2004, and since then have avoided all the internal dilemas with making smart life decisions.

Enter phase I. 2004-2005

I started out at a four school which I hated. I started at Eastern Nazarene college, a 4-year christian college in Quincy, MA. There are not many real, bible-belt like christian colleges in New England, so I knew it was a poor fit for me. I was never very religious. I only applied there to appease my Dad, who was an alumini. It was my "safety" school, and I only diluted my self into thinking I would "manage" attending there, but never "enjoy" being a student. And I never did. This is when I first developed the tendency of avoiding social contact and being honest to myself. I became very withdrawn and went through phases of depression, never seeking help of any kind. I left that college as a freshman with few credits and valuable life experiences.

Enter phase II. 2006-2007

I went back home to attend a community college part time. I never flunked out of my previous school, but I wanted to just make it seem like I was "doing something". I took easy classes a few days a week. I avoided people, opportunities and any situation where I thought I would be judged. and again left with rather few credits than I should have and went to another four year school.

This is where the story gets to the point I want to make. After two years of going part time, I was still only a sophmore credit wise. I again deluded myself into thinking it was a good fit for me. I already knew what real college was like and what I really wanted was to just to get in to a program at a typical 4-year college. The University of New Hampshire (UNH) offered a co-opt program for liberal arts students in community colleges. However, to make a transition to the UNH, I would have to pass a college calculus course and a college level science course with a grade of a "B" to qualify. I suck at these two subjects. I would have to go through a semester prep-courses, then take the actual course in a subject I do poorly and have no interest in. Going that route would easily take me another year or two to get into UNH. And only then, would I even be able to start as a sophmore and begin an actual college program there. I canceled out that prospect out of frustration and feelings of inadequacy.

In short, I didn't want to spend another year or two at the community college just TRYING to get into one school, and end up not studying anything I was interested in. I was also subconsciously obsessed with how friends and family viewed my life choices. All I was prepared to do was to "look busy". So I transfer to Umass Boston.

Enter Phase III. Fall of 2007- Present.

In the summer of 2007, I transfered to the University of Massachusetts at Boston. I procrastinated on applying to as transfer student and did little researching in how life would be there. The entire thought of figuring things out put my into avoidant/ panic mode, so I avoided the details about the school itself. I just "liked" the idea of going there initially. This was a poor choice. I just got so caught up in anxiousness of appearing normal to people who asked me, "what I was doing?" with life.

I was fully transfered in to the school, and because I was so anxious about finding out the details of the school, that I didn't realize there were no student housing on campus. I live in NH. I could have just moved out on my own, but I was struck with the sharp fear of becoming the recluse I was during my first year of college. Now I had a few friends who were actually close to graduating and getting their careers started. Just talking to people my age who had good jobs and success in college made me feel inferior. I desperately wanted to look normal and productive on the outside.

So I tranfer to Umass Boston in the fall of 2007 and major in political science, which I thought would be a good match for me. This is where I make another anxious ridden decision: Since I avoiding looking for a place to live in the Boston area (It's expensive as hell down there btw), I decide to go part time and commute while living in southern NH at my parents. Only someone with severe social anxiety and weird confidence issues would do this sort of thing. It was not practical at all, but I did it of desperation and fear. I wanted to "look" like I was doing something productive, but I didn't want to make friends and influence people. I ended up commuting 50 miles to class three days a week for each semester. I've repeated this cycle, semester after semester since fall 2007.

I never liked this routine and I've wanted better situation for finishing college. I have avoided looking for alternative schools, or making my situation easier by moving out of state. Since I began going to Umass Boston, the commuting from 50 miles away made feel completely withdrawn, reclusive and socially anxious. I was in state of mind whenever I thought about going to each class there.

It was such a weird choice, and I was afraid of being seen as the "that guy" who commutes 50 miles from another state. I was so afraid of taking social risks, either at Umass Boston or in at home in NH that I became a social recluse from late 2007 to early 2008.

This past summer, I finally acknowledged my SA and confidence issues, and have tried to improve myself socially and emotionally. Registering for classes is actually a very emotionally draining experience for me, so I have not done so yet and time is running out. I feel if I continue where I left off, with the ridiculous commutes and feelings of being an outsider, that I'll fall back into being withdrawn and depressed about my life and my future.

To anyone who read this rant

I know I could easily come off as a conceited brat who has the luxury of complaining about the opportunities of college. I know I probably sound like an immature man-child for never leaving the easiness of living at home. Part of my attempt to improve myself was coming to terms with adulthood. I'm sure there are plenty of frat boys who spend 6 years at college and an ungodly amount of their parents money and never come to terms with adulthood. You know, the kind of college kids who honestly like that awful "I love College" song.

For years I've avoided life experiences because of intense anxiety and fear of looking like a screw up. I also avoided positive things, such as student programs, internships, etc and setting out a career path. I avoided that because I didn't want to seem like an immodest know-it-all who thinks they are a genius for simply getting a bachelor's degree. In many ways I continue to be a basket-case. In any case, I need to sort things out about finishing college and improving my self worth. I'm not sure I can do both right now. My predicament of living at home and commuting 50 miles for classes has had allot of bad consequences on my mental health. I would gladly like to hear anybody's advice.

PS. I didn't expect this to be this long, but just writing it out helped me feel somewhat better. I still may be an undergraduate, but I no longer want to be an underachiever.
 

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Which one are you choosing - Do you have to increase your self worth to finish school or can you finish school with your low self worth. 50 miles - how many minutes are you commuting? You seem to think that moving out will help your mental health by being closer to the school you want to attend. Is there any way that you can go about doing this?
 

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For the next semester, I will continuing the commuting routine which wears me down emotionally and physically. But right now, I also cannot really afford to move out and I can barely afford to take a few classes at all, so whatever the case my choices are limited. The commute is about an hour if there is no traffic.

I feel like its a catch 22. I feel like its necessary for me finish school to value myself more, but each time semester I've gone through I end up feeling worse. This summer, I thought I made allot of progress in valuing myself more, by being more social and generally being happier and more comfortable with people. I'm afraid of losing that if I start the commuting routine which leaves me feeling isolated from people my age.

When I ever explain to people college age about my situation, I almost always get confused looks from people, and I feel like I have to go out of my way to justify it. I don't want to look insecure or immature in front of my peers. I'm also afraid that students down in Umass (who are mostly working class) would think I'm somewhat spoiled, even though I'm middle class if anything. The campus is in the Dorchester/south boston area. So, think of the movie "The Departed" or "Mystic River" and you'd have an image of what type of Bostonians attend Umass Boston. It's definitely not like BU or Emerson.
 
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