Expectations vs. experience: Why it’s OK my plans in college changed

A student leans against a tree in the CSU Oval studying and thinking

As far back as I can remember, I had always looked forward to the day I’d be in college. I thought college was going to be the place I discovered exactly who I want to be, what I want to do in my life, and the place where I would meet lifelong friends. I remember feeling so excited to thrive in college.

While college has been fun (I’ve made a lot of amazing friends and have had many valuable life experiences), there are some things I know now that I wish I knew coming into it all. Going into college, I set some pretty high expectations for myself. I had my life planned out: I would go to college, make friends with everyone I met, be super involved, and work toward being a teacher. I didn’t expect to break away from these plans at all, and thought I was set to go.

Here’s what actually happened: I made a lot of friends in college, but that big friend group I expected to have turned into a small, close-knit group of friends. Former classmates from high school went their own ways, I made some casual friendships, and my close relationships began to form. My expectation of being involved in every club possible turned into one very committed involvement in a student organization, and I found made it difficult to do more than that. And, those dreams of working toward becoming a teacher? CSU gave me the opportunity to volunteer in an early childhood classroom, and I found out that teaching wasn’t actually what I wanted to do. Talk about eye-opening!

The interesting part about all of this is that I don’t regret any of the changes I’ve gone through. In fact, I’m thankful for them. College really showed me the meaning to the phrase “when one door closes, another one opens.” At first, these changes really bothered me because they didn’t align with my plan. It would stress me out because I thought these new interests were somehow translating to failure, and I tried to compensate by stretching myself too thinly between commitments. As time went by, I’ve realized that some of life’s greatest components come out of our perceived failures.

Having a smaller group of friends has allowed me to form meaningful relationships with people I care deeply for – people I fully expect to be lifelong friends. Experiencing a career interest change gave me the chance to explore new areas I wouldn’t have considered otherwise. Being involved in a manageable amount of activities has given me the chance to take care of myself and take part in activities not directly related to school. I’ve found new interests, hobbies, and activities that bring me so much happiness.

As I look back on my 17-year-old self applying to college, I wish I could give myself a bit of advice. I’d tell anyone else the same things: First, rethink what failure means to you. For me, it meant something not going according to plan, which wasn’t a fair expectation to put on myself. Things change. Life happens; that doesn’t mean things will change for the worse. As my senior year at CSU approaches, and I look back at my time here, I may not be where I envisioned myself four years ago, but I’m excited about where I am. I’m embracing the changes that I’ve experienced and I’m excited about the future. I certainly don’t think I’ve failed anymore. My best advice? Go to college with an open mind and some flexibility. You never know what hidden gems may be presented to you if you are open to them.

Sophie Matthews

Sophie is a CSU student from Lakewood, Colorado. She is majoring in Human Development and Family Studies with a concentration in Early Childhood Professions and minoring in Spanish. She is an Admissions Ambassador, part of the University Honors Program, and is a member of the CSU Concert Choir. She enjoys hiking, crafting, watching movies with friends, trying new recipes, and spending time with her Wheaten Terrier, Wallace. Before Sophie graduates, she has a goal of exploring every CSU-owned building — even the ones she doesn’t have classes in!