Graduating high school, I thought college would be a simple continuation of what I had been doing, but, you know, different. That wasn’t right at all; well, for the most part, anyways. My first semester was through the Summer Bridge Scholars Program and in a way it was like high school. We had predetermined classes at set times and we all got to know each other pretty well. Classes started at 8:30 every morning and there were two lunch periods. We were all done by 4:30 p.m. and after classes we would meet up to play basketball, bet on video games or maybe watch a movie. Kind of like high school but, you know, different.
As I conclude my second year at the University of Michigan, I would like to reflect back on my time here, what has led me up to this point and what I wish I had done differently (thanks for the idea, Writing 350). If I could write a letter to my high school self, reminiscing on how I screwed up or the times I didn’t know any better, it would probably start with something along the lines of “Dear Me, you have no clue what you’re getting into,” or maybe more like “Dear Dumbass, please try harder,” or possibly even “Dear Idiot, if you don’t put 110 percent effort into the coming months you are absolutely going to regret it.” After that first summer, I was overconfident, unprepared and just straight-up not ready for college.
Flash forward to fall semester freshman year and I actually had to pick my own classes (which I had never done before) and basically decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Or so I thought. Ambitious as ever, I signed up for the earliest class times and, as a hopeful Engineering transfer, thought it would be a splendid idea to take all the core classes at once (Engineering 100, Chemistry and Calculus). To top it off, I also took the LSA language requirement as I was still an LSA student and had not yet been accepted into the College of Engineering. I scheduled my classes back-to-back-to-back-to-back, figuring I would just get them all out of the way, do homework for a little bit afterward and hang out for the rest of the day. Spoiler alert: that is not how college works.
I wish someone would have given me a reality check about what college was really like. Being a first-generation student, I wasn’t able to consult my parents in regard to how I was supposed to go about the whole college thing. I didn’t have many friends in college either, and I was afraid to ask those who were. In high school, I never thought very highly of those who dropped out of college, but I wish I had taken the time to ask why they did. After that fall semester I was seriously considering taking some time off myself. After that, I was a little more sympathetic to those who did decide to take a break from school. College sucked, man.
I have now been able to settle into college and I feel much more confident in my ability to manage the work involved, but if it hadn’t been for the high expectations of my family and friends, I might be flipping burgers for a living right now. I thought I was alone in my situation, but I later found out that this was not the case. In fact, according to the First Generation Foundation, “Nationally, 89 percent of low-income first-generation students leave college within six years without a degree” and, “More than a quarter leave after their first year.” Feeling unable to finish college has become a pretty significant problem facing first-generation students and, for me personally, it was due to the lack of preparation for college. I guess it would seem I managed to dodge a pretty large bullet.
If I could write a letter to myself, knowing what I know now, it would probably look something like this:
Dear idiot, dumbass me,
First and foremost, you are done with high school. It’s over. Please don’t go out partying if you have homework to do. Yes, even if it’s the weekend and all your friends are going. Stop procrastinating and do not prioritize a social life over school because you are really going to kill my GPA, dude. Second, please take a more manageable course load, especially in your first semester, because you will have me considering dropping out, for goodness sake. And last, but definitely not least, sit down and take some time to think about your future. Plan out what classes you need to take and how you are going to go about taking them. Talk to an advisor if you need to (just do it, man) — they are way smarter than you. Oh, and that calendar/schedule thing that you thought you were too good for? Well use it, idiot: it’s so much more helpful than you know.
You, on a come up
Lucas Dean can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.