When your college years come back to bite you in the butt

I am currently working on applications for nursing school. As part of the process, I have to manually enter in every course I took in university, along with the grade I received. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t do so hot in my undergrad, so this has been quite the cringe-worthy exercise.

It wasn’t until my 4th year of college that I finally started earning the occasional A and by then, I had already sealed my fate with mostly Cs and Bs. At the time, I wasn’t planning on ever getting a master’s or another degree, so I wasn’t too worried about it, but ten years later, here I am, wishing I had gone to a few less parties and a few more classes.

My roommate in college (pictured above) was a wonderful girl named Keira and she somehow had the whole school thing figured out. She and I were best friends and we went to many of the same parties and activities, and yet she was getting straight As and taking much harder courses than me. I remember thinking she must just be super smart (which she was), but looking back I can also see that she was motivated and knew how to work hard while still playing hard. It wasn’t that I lacked the intelligence to do well in school, it’s just that I didn’t realize what it took (and I wasn’t really willing to try).

The truly sad part is that I took so many awesome courses, things like Dinosaur Earth, Classical Greek Comedies, Symbolic Logic and Intro to Computer Science. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy my courses, but I knew I could get by without trying to hard and I just wasn’t motivated enough to put in the extra effort it would take to get an A. Looking back at all the courses I took, I wish I could redo my college experience and study just a little bit harder. I wish I could take all of those classes again from the perspective I have now and be joyful for the opportunity to learn so many interesting things!

At the time, I was unable to appreciate how special it is to have access to this kind of education. And as a Canadian, my education was relatively inexpensive. Through a combination of money from my grandfather and parents and working throughout college, I was fortunate enough to be able to graduate with no student debt.

It saddens me to think how I squandered such an amazing and precious opportunity. So many people on Earth have to fight for their right to be educated or have to drop out to work and support their families. Now that I am older and wiser (or so I like to think), I am able to go back to school with a new perspective and actually be engaged in and excited about what I am learning. I am so grateful for this second (actually, third!) chance to earn a degree in something I am interested in. I wish I could impart what I have learned in hindsight on the many 18-year-olds starting their college degrees, but I guess it’s just one of those lessons you have to learn for yourself.

Moving forward

While I am kicking myself for not working a little harder in my undergrad, I also know that there is no use in getting down on myself for my past mistakes. Regardless of my poor grades, I had an amazing undergraduate experience and learned and grew in so many ways, if not always academically. Working as a Residence Advisor, singing and dancing in musicals, participating in the Arts Undergraduate Society, going on exchange to England, acting in The Vagina Monologues, and playing rec flag football and dodgeball were all amazing experiences that educated me in different ways and helped shape me into the person I am now.

In addition, I did enjoy a lot of what I was learning and to this day, I find linguistics, psychology, philosophy, and yes, even computer science, such fascinating subjects. I love studying other languages and exploring topics of language acquisition and I am grateful for my exposure to these subjects.

Although I can’t go back and redo my undergrad, I can move forward from where I am today. I kicked ass in my master’s program, earning an ALMOST 4.0, and have done very well so far in my prerequisites for nursing school. Rather than dwell on my previous academic blunders, I can use my desire to improve to motivate myself in my current and future studies and learn from my mistakes. After all, I started college when I was 17 years old – that was 14 years ago now!

Earlier this week, I met up with my Anatomy & Physiology teacher to get some advice on applying to nursing schools. He straight up told me that I shouldn’t waste my time and money applying to OHSU, or pretty much anywhere on the west coast, because I won’t get in. Unfortunately for me, the schools I want to go to around here are very competitive and weigh your college grades quite heavily.

While this was difficult to hear, I was grateful for my teacher’s honesty and it has opened up a whole other set of opportunities. Because I’m not averse to moving for my degree, I am now exploring a whole bunch of other schools across the country that have accelerated programs and are actually much cheaper than OHSU. I’m actually getting excited about the possibility of living in another state for a couple of years and I can always come back to Oregon once I’m ready to practice.

My point here is that I can’t change my past. I can’t go back in time to my undergrad and get better grades and my current self has to live with the consequences of my younger self’s actions. I could whine and complain that the schooling system isn’t fair, that it shouldn’t be so competitive, that my master’s should count for more than my undergrad, or I can take responsibility for my actions and move forward with what I’ve got. I now know the amount of effort it takes to actually do well in school and because I am excited about being a nurse, I have an end goal that makes the hard work worth it.

At the end of the day, what really matters now is that I work hard in my pre-reqs and put time and thought into my applications for nursing school. I may not get into the program I initially planned on, but sometimes the best things that happen in life are the ones we didn’t plan.

We all make mistakes or make decisions that come back to bite us in the butt and there is simply no point in wishing we had done something different. The best thing we can do is to learn from our past, not repeat the same mistakes again, and be realistic about our options given where we are at today.