Dear Harlan: I’m a sophomore, and this current semester is my third semester at my school (I transferred after one semester at my old school). My school is very demanding academically, and social activities are available, but they’re not a very important aspect of campus life. I have found plenty of ways to get involved on and off campus, but I don’t seem to be enjoying myself. All I hear is how college is supposed to be “the best years,” but I feel trapped and ready to get it over with. My school is very far away from home, and I have no family around the area. I look forward to coming home weeks beforehand, and I dread having to go back to campus every time. When I am home, all my problems seem to go away and my mood is great, but it quickly shifts back once I am back on campus. I am struggling with my grades, and I am not happy with my social life. I feel like I am just a number, which I technically am at such a large school. What should I do? I’m thinking about taking a semester off after the summer term so I can figure everything out. Or should I transfer to somewhere smaller and closer to home? My old school was much smaller and closer to home, and I never felt this way while going there. However, I transferred thinking I wanted something larger and more diverse. I’m almost halfway through my “best years,” and sadly, I haven’t enjoyed much of it. I really could use some feedback. Thank you!— Tom
Dear Tom: I was at a huge conference last week, and Anderson Cooper delivered the opening keynote address (you know, THE Anderson Cooper from CNN). He reflected on his college experience and mentioned that his college years were not the best time of his life – not even close. He felt lost and confused. He didn’t know what he wanted to do. This was while attending Princeton. He said if the college years were the best years, he was in big trouble. I had the same experience. Millions of other people have, too. There’s a reason about half of current college students reported feeling hopeless over the past 12 months, according to ACHA-NCHA data. Sometimes the most valuable and productive years can be some of the most difficult and challenging. Forget other people’s expectations and trust that the best years are in front of you. I still think my best years are in front of me. I try to make every year better than the previous year. The more you get to know yourself, the more you can challenge yourself to make each subsequent year better. I have three questions for you: What do you want? Where can you get it? What will be different this time? Those are the questions you need to answer before transferring. The campus isn’t the biggest problem; it’s not having a plan. A plan consists of people, places and patience. You don’t need to define a career; you just need direction and a plan. Wherever you are, you need to identify three places, five people and a timeline before going forward. For now, make your big campus smaller by finding a couple places where you can do things you love. Surround yourself with people who inspire and excite you. Call this practice for next year. Should you decide to transfer, have a specific plan of where you’ll find your places, how you’ll find your people and how long it will take to get where you want to go.