This is incredibly exciting, but scary- In September I’m entering my last year of college! There have been tons of things that happened junior year- I’ve traveled (to New York, South Africa, Los Angeles, Nevada, New Orleans); I’ve developed meaningful friendships; I’ve earned grades that no longer require me to hide from humanity- in fact, they make me actually feel excited about potential graduate school! I’ve loved my classes, and really got to delve into the topics like I never have before. I even partied a bit!

I think, however, what I am most excited (and scared) about is my newfound sense of ownership of my life. I own my life in a way that I haven’t before. I have my own finances. I decide what I do and how. I decide the direction of my life. I’ve made my own decisions for the last three years, as a sorta adult. And that’s interesting to me because I thought I had that before, but not really. I am basically in full control of my life. I’ve moved from doing only what is necessary, such as doing well in school so that I can get into college and support myself and my family, to also doing what I want, like considering graduate school because I enjoy research, not because I need to go; going to New York, Los Angeles to visit my friends, even though there are “other” things I could be doing with my money; considering moving to New York after college because I want to be in that city.

I think when I was thinking about college, before I started, I knew that at the end I’d have a job and I’d be on my own, completely, equipped with particular skills to survive on my own, but that didn’t really hit me until now. What have I learned in college that is different from not going to college? How am I so much more equipped to live life because I will graduate in a year? How does college give me so much more security than not? How am I a different person from when I entered college?

For me, even though I have one more year left, I already feel I understand how I’ve grown as a person. I am a much better critical thinker. I am more empathetic and understanding of the experiences and values of others. I know how to navigate different worlds. I can write a 20 page paper in a day, and survive on cookies and coffee (though I wouldn’t recommend it). I understand what it means to stick with something for a long long time, and feel the sense of achievement from being done. I feel that even now, with college, I’ve stuck out college for THREE YEARS! That’s huge for me! I’ve been able to see my closest friends grow and change from kids to thoughtful, compassionate, multifaceted adults, yet keep this core sense of self. Likewise, I feel like there are so many more layers of me, as though college has helped me further discover what makes me tick.

This and more has all been possible because I have been forced to be independent, to make decisions for myself, and understand and experience the repercussions and rewards of those decisions. And through those multiple decisions, I’ve learned about myself, and people around me. I’m a different person because of this, in the sense that I feel I’m new and improved.

In short, yes, college is important because it gives you more freedom, allows you to get a better job and better support your family, and allows you to have new experiences. But it also allows you to develop your mind in a way that helps you think critically about so many aspects of your life. And in a world where inequality is still a frustrating occurrence, being able to develop your mind is powerful. No one can take away your ability to think. With a college degree, not only do I feel that more ownership of the direction of my life, but I also have a better ability to use that power responsibly.