It’s been three semesters and I still don’t know how to “do college” right. I attended an amazing summer program that prepares inner-city students for college-level work and professional networking for two consecutive summers before college, yet there are still trap doors I fall into every now and then. Eventually wasted time or vain aspirations that do not help me achieve my goal of succeeding in college added up, and here I sit, confused and aimless.

The summer program helped keep in perspective how college is supposed to serve as a springboard to professional and economic success, laying the foundations for a nascent career that will take years to cultivate. While useful, there is more to attending and doing well in classes, despite how following through with these tasks is harder than it sounds. This semester I learned the difficult way about email etiquette with professors: by disappointing professors and sometimes even upsetting them. My shortcomings in this area may seem ridiculous- why didn’t I know better than to not respond to a professor’s email at all? Want advice? Email your professor as early before class as possible if you’re going to miss it- not fifteen minutes or even a few hours before. In small colleges, professors notice absences and may even detract participation points. I need to discipline myself for next semester, but it’s also important for me that I distinguish laziness from how my undiagnosed mental illness and declining emotional health undermined my success. I claim everything.

Besides failing to pick up on the nuanced relationship between a student and a professor, set with unspoken expectations, I also prioritized the wrong things considering my risky situation as a low-income, first-generation student. I focused too much on my social life, let myself analyze friendship and friend group dynamics more than I analyzed my assigned readings. I should leave that to kids who got enough money to care. Wealthy kids in college have proven themselves to be immature because they just haven’t dealt with things that have afflicted us low-income kids. They probably don’t even fill out their own FAFSA!

Low-ses kids, we need to focus on getting good grades to qualify and retain scholarships, and to be competitive for internships- daddy’s friend from work is not going to be giving us the employment we’re studying for if daddy works as a bus driver. Mad respect for bus drivers, by the way, but what I mean is that low-ses kids don’t have a professional network the way that students with educated parents do. Unfortunately, most of the internships I would like to apply to have a 3.0 GPA cutoff. Attaining a 3.0 GPA at Reed and other schools that do not practice grade inflation is more difficult than it sounds. Furthermore, we need to find employment in prestigious positions at our schools to gain job experience. This is assuming one does not work just to eat, a sole reason that justifies employment completely. Not only do I need the money I will earn for my Social Justice Internship at my school’s Multicultural Resource Center next semester, but I need such a lofty title to be competitive. And I haven’t even begun to cover other issues that are more worth low-ses students’ time, such as providing for one’s family, or securing a place to sleep when school is in break.

College will not always be a dream come true, and it certainly won’t be the answer to all of your problems. Sure, being away from home and learning to articulate who I was away from the environment that grew to define me throughout the years was necessary for my growth, but I need to stress self-improvement and self-discovery don’t stop in college.You need to make deliberate choices in order to be happy. My most important deliberate choice so far this year was to reach out to prominent professors in the English department to guide me and help me be successful in college. What’s yours?