College is hard. It doesn’t take long to realize, upon arriving, that the institution you likely spent all of high school getting into is not just a reward but a new challenge. I, like most Yale students, was determined to make the most of it. These four years would be the best of my life, academically, socially and otherwise.
A year ago, I published my inaugural opinion piece in the Yale Daily News: “Don’t expect to enjoy college.” I warned prospective first years that college won’t always go their way. The unexpected is part of what makes college incredible. I was fresh out of freshman year, and I was still high on the idea that college was something that happened to me, and if I strapped in for three more years, it would be well worth the ride.
Now, I am entering my junior year. I am well into my mid-college crisis, and with the sobering wisdom of sophomore slump under my belt, I am aware that college is not all fun and games, nor is it a series of pleasant (or unpleasant) surprises. The frightening march of time chips away at my college years, and how I spend them is increasingly shaped by choices.
Last semester, I made one such choice when I begrudgingly sacrificed a course slot to “Intro Microeconomics” at the urging of my father and the demand of my quantitative reasoning requirement. In my first class, I learned that economics is the study of choice under scarcity. As long as resources are limited, we will always have to make sacrifices. Even in the most ideal conditions, one resource will always be finite: time. You get 24 hours in a day, 365 days in a year, 80 years if you’re lucky. Only four of those years compose your college experiences. These four are supposedly the best of your life, and they’re over before you’re a quarter through it.
It’s no wonder we feel so much pressure to spend our time wisely. Each moment studying is a conversation lost, each extracurricular a passion abandoned, each friend is another person left a stranger. Each action has a cost, and we bear the burden of decision.
Course selection is just one example of the commoditization that enters all realms of life at Yale. In hindsight, as wonderful as my first year was, I made a lot of choices that attempted to optimize my college experience, and really made it worse. I rigidly scheduled my homework. I limited socializing to meal times. I was practically married to my Google calendar.
While I was exceedingly productive, I ground myself into the ground trying to keep up with my Directed Studies readings. Chronic “fear of missing out” compelled me to spend my limited free time with old friends, or making new ones. I scarcely could enter the dining hall alone — and I didn’t need to, considering my lunches, dinners and brunches were almost all scheduled with someone else.
Now, as a junior, I am much less productive, much less social and much happier for it. My first year, Yale was an endless adventure. Now, it is home. I make it so by choosing the night in, the book in bed, the dinner alone.
So whether you are a first year or a senior, make good choices. But also don’t. Sometimes you will not use your time wisely, and that’s ok. If you try too hard to maximize, you will almost certainly minimize the joys of college, which isn’t just studying or partying. It’s the freedom to waste your time like the not-quite-adult that you’re still allowed to be. It’s home, in all of its comforting mundanity, if you choose to see it that way.
ARIANE DE GENNARO is a junior in Branford College. Her column “For Country, For Yale” provides “pragmatic and sometimes provocative perspectives on relevant issues in Yale and American life.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.