Changing in college

May 25, 2017, 8:00 p.m.

One of my favorite authors in the world, Leo Tolstoy, once wrote that “true life is lived when tiny changes occur.” Since Tolstoy managed to produce two of the best novels in history, I trust any and all of his tidbits of advice. But what is a “tiny change?” And when is change too big?

When you arrive to Stanford as a college freshman, you’re prepared for a year filled with change. You’re away from home (likely for the first time) and surrounded by new people, and you have essentially a blank slate for recrafting your reputation. This opportunity to re-establish your reputation is both exciting and terrifying, because it could go horribly wrong.

I’ll never forget something I was told by a college junior who’d attended my high school and was warning me about starting college next year. She was telling me about another girl who’d been in her grade, who’d been studious and quiet in high school. “She went crazy in college,” she told me, “She’s a walking disaster. She decided to completely reinvent herself in college.”

There’s certainly the trope of the “good girl gone wild” that has appeared in maybe a hundred movies and songs. You know, the perfect straight A student in high school who goes to college and decides, f– this, and goes totally off the rails? 

But then again, change can be a positive force. If we didn’t evolve from high school, then we’d all remain immature, awkward teenagers incapable of making logical decisions forever. We’d never evolve to become, you know, adults. “College is your time to grow” and all that.

And now that freshman year is (tragically) coming to a close, I thought I’d see what my fellow freshmen have to say about their evolution during this year.

There seems to be a consensus on stressing about school less (and procrastinating more). After all, we’ve already been accepted to college, and there’s less pressure to always be the best in the class because when you’re at Stanford, everyone who surrounds you seems to be a genius! Instead, students are (theoretically) more interested in their subjects, and attend class because they love what they’re learning instead of being forced to take the class.

“People seem to be a lot more carefree!” said one freshman girl. I’m not sure if that’s Stanford or college in general, but studying in Starbucks and sunbathing outside and going out on weekdays is certainly less stressful than the isolating pressures of high school. We’re more comfortable in our own skins here.

Some of the students interviewed mentioned they’ve become more relaxed about romantic relationships, for example. One freshman girl noted: “Hookup culture is huge here … I’ve definitely become more aware of it on campus.” She then went onto to note that she didn’t find talking to guys so terrifying anymore either. I’m not sure if the Stanford hookup culture is necessarily the best indicator of our maturity, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

College is truly the time for funny experiences, especially at frat parties. “I’ve become way more comfortable using the bathroom next to boys than I expected for sure,” laughed another freshman girl, reflecting on that “oh-so-college” experience of going into a frat house bathroom with empty beer cans and red solo cups lying around on the floor and seeing random guys in there, um, using the restroom.

It’s also the time for crazy experiences that you’d never imagine doing in high school, like staying up till four in the morning playing beer pong and then waking up at four in the morning a day later to drink a bottle of wine and run Bay to Breakers in SF.  

As much as we focus on all our crazy life experiences at college, living away from our families does instill in us a greater maturity as well. “[College] has definitely altered my outlook on relationships and friendships,” said Nina Randolph ’20. “I look for more depth in these relationships, since these people have become my family away from home and no longer just the people I like to have fun with.”   

On the whole, everyone interviewed felt content with their evolution in college. One international student noted: “I come from a very conservative culture, so I feel like I’m freer here and that students don’t judge you as much.” Obviously, everything isn’t perfect. “I am more myself, more confident, freer and happier,” noted another freshman girl, “but with that freedom comes more stress and insecurity at times as well.”

And people definitely comment on this evolution as well — from friends to siblings to parents. I know I recently got a text from one of my friends with about a billion sad faces, writing “I feel like I don’t know you anymore!” (which may or may not have prompted me to write this article … don’t worry people, I really haven’t changed all that much). My friend was mostly joking, but it is a little strange.

We’re supposed to change in college — to become the adults we were supposed to be when we turned eighteen — but it’s also a little terrifying for everyone else still trapped in that time warp from high school. I’m also skeptical of how crazy anyone really would go here, because everyone cares about school (no matter what they say). Even my craziest friends will miss parties to study, because we all do have plans for our lives besides majoring in partying and alcohol.  

If this article were anonymous (instead of being read by, you know, my parents) I’d probably launch into a rendition of everything I’ve personally learned over the past few months as I’ve evolved in college … but if there’s one thing that I have learned since coming to college, it’s that I need to stop oversharing personal events of my life with perfect strangers, so I think I’m going to stop there before I reveal anything else even more cringe-worthy!


Contact Caroline Dunn with your stories about your college antics at cwdunn98 ‘at’

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