I'm Not Ready to Go: On the Universal Fear of Leaving College

Posted by Taylor Nigrelli on February 03, 2015 · 17 mins read

The calendar reads April, but Mother Nature, as she so often does in Western New York, is stuck in January on a cold night during my freshman year. I’m sitting at my desk in one of those uncomfortable dorm chairs in my room fit for a convict, decorated for a mental patient, confidently typing away at my laptop. On the heels of my successful first year, I recently accepted an editor position for the campus newspaper; I’m banging out a piece on St. Bonaventure’s women’s lacrosse team.

I’m typing a sentence about midfielders and shots on goal when a thought crosses my mind… and just like that, I know what I want to do with my life — that I am doing it right now. Why not? I’ll spend my life doing something I enjoy.

At a certain age, after the innocence of youth drifts off to wherever it goes, a fear snuck into my head that I might eventually settle for some crappy  job, dragging myself somewhere I hated every day — that despising your occupation was some sort of right of passage to adulthood. But just like that, writing about women’s lacrosse, of all things, a feeling of comfort washes over me, and I return to crafting my next paragraph.

It’s a Friday in September and the sun is just about to set. I’m a sophomore and I’m on a bus with the cross country team, heading to Notre Dame for a meet. I’m an intern with the school’s sports information office, working as a media contact for the team. We’re driving through some beautiful rolling hills in Pennsylvania as dusk begins to move across the skyline. As I glance at Twitter, I see one of the girls on the team has tweeted something to the effect of “Bon Iver + this sunset = perfection.”

Ah, the brilliance of portable technologies. I pull out my iPod and start playing the song “Holocene” as I take in the landscape. I’ll never forget the calming feeling that came over me. Plenty of trouble had piled up over the first few weeks of school – girl problems, schoolwork stress, new responsibilities, a broken laptop. Yet, they all seemed to disappear as that lovely man sang me through the Pennsylvania hills.


It’s the middle of the night — well, it’s 6 a.m. — and I’m a drunk sophomore, stumbling down Clare Road back to my room. I’m pissed. It’s only the first night back from winter break.

Most of my anger stems from my hero Peyton Manning losing to Ray Lewis and his merry band of attention whores earlier that night in the NFL playoffs, but there’s something deeper. I’m not sure what to make of the upcoming semester.

The first one had been interesting and adventurous, but troubling. Suddenly, only months later, I’m in a relationship that isn’t working out; I’m losing confidence in my work; and being at school — the “college experience” — has become, well, stale. Just a few months after thinking I had figured everything out, the feeling of being lost in the world is returning. I feel empty.

I crack open another beer; how many has that been now?

I’m nearing the half way point of school, the end of sophomore year, drinking with a bunch of my friends in the suite next door to mine. My early-semester worries are still troubling me, sure, but that comes and goes. Nothing about hanging out in this suite feels stale… Another game of flip cup? Sounds good. There isn’t any time for dwelling, only frivolity.

How did I get here? I’m sick, my head is pounding. I’m back in my townhouse and what happened last night — the shouting, anger, hateful text messages — is gradually coming back to me.

I need to stop being so angry, so irresponsible. When did I shed my sunny outlook? When did I get to be so destructive?

There are wonderful people here at school. I need to let the past three semesters go. Starting now.

Deep breath. All right, now time to find out what damage control needs to be done today.

Life is flawless. I’m waking up at my girlfriend’s house on a Saturday morning, strolling happily back to my townhouse, enjoying life as a second semester junior.

The best part about Saturday? I’ll walk into my house, talk with the roommates about how our Friday nights went as we make our plans for the night to come.

There are no issues, no problems. Life is marvelous… How did this all happen? This school, this place, these people — it’s given me everything I could ever hope for.

I’m relaxing, watching Parks and Rec in bed, enjoying life as senior. I can’t pinpoint why, but I feel more emotional than usual; perhaps it’s because I’m watching the episode where Ann and Chris move. As the couple drives away for good, I begin to cry. Then, a feeling strikes me: I’m gonna quit grad school. I’m gonna graduate college this year.

It had been so long since I opted for the plan I was on — a four plus one graduate program in Integrated Marketing Communications — but the more I learned about the program, the more confused I became as to why I picked it in the first place. I couldn’t lie to myself any longer. I’m not a marketer. I don’t like this stuff. I can’t do this.

And then I realized the only reason I was doing it was to stay at college an extra year.

Then it sets in. I’m FUCKING GRADUATING.

It’ll be ok. Six months is a long time. It’ll be ok.

college 2

Freshman year, mid-semester break. I’m in the car with my dad. ”Halfway through your first semester, huh?” he said. “You’re one-sixteenth of the way done with college.”

That math was oddly comforting. The first few weeks at school had seemed like its own lifetime. I get 15 more of these? It’s like I’ll never graduate.

But now I am. We all are.

Looking back, each experience at St. Bonaventure made my life better in some way. I’m a different man than I was when I entered college. But this change was not gradual or progressive – it happened in fits and starts. I was many different people and experienced a variety of lifestyles. But I’m not alone in that – I know plenty of my classmates and college students in general can say the same thing. Your life changes frequently and drastically during college, and it doesn’t stop changing at that pace until you leave.

I’m not ready to leave college. I always knew leaving would be difficult, but I had no idea how not ready I’d be.

I don’t just love the idea of college – being on my own but not yet needing to be a responsible adult, drinking every weekend with all my friends – but I love St. Bonaventure. I love the people, I love my routines, I love the newspaper I write for. It is insane the life I’ve lived for four years will evaporate after a single ceremony; that I’ll never again see most of the people who made up this private community I joined because a piece of paper accepted me.

And I’m not ready to be a professional, to be an adult. I wake up at noon, I’m constantly late, I can’t remember to pay bills, I still spend more time talking about what I’m going to write than actually writing. I’m not good enough to have a real writing job yet. I’m not ready.

Once it hit me that I’ll actually be graduating, my mind returned to the second semester of my freshman year. When I first decided to pursue journalism and immersed myself in the field. When I began reading as much as I could, and more diligently attending to that sports blog I created some time before. I would read each edition of our campus newspaper from cover to cover like a God-fearing man serves his religious text.

In the last issue of the semester, each senior wrote a farewell editorial, basically summing up their time with the paper and thanking those who had helped them grow along the way. They were fascinating – I hoped the next three years of college would mean as much to me. Just after leaving school that year, I came across a farewell editorial that blew all the others out of the water.

It was called “The Opposite of Loneliness” and it was written by Marina Keegan of the Yale Daily News. Keegan wrote an amazingly relatable piece on the fear of leaving college. For her, it was more of a fear of what she was leaving behind than a fear of the future. This made sense considering she had a job at The New Yorker lined up and was, in a word, brilliant.

Five days after graduating, Keegan was killed in a car accident.

Just like that, all that potential, all that beauty and intelligence was gone.

I didn’t think about the Keegan piece again until recently, until the time for me to leave college was lurking over my shoulder. A lot of time had passed and much had changed. When I first read the piece, I thought I’d be able to write like her when I was set to graduate. Now I’m here and can’t help but feel wholly inadequate. I can’t write like her, and that, as much as anything, is why I’m not ready to leave St. Bonaventure. The fear of the future might not have been an issue for her but it is for me. I imagine it’s the same for a lot of us scheduled to graduate in May. We’re not ready to become journalists, accountants, marketers or teachers — adults — yet.

I look at Keegan’s writing and I can’t believe she was my age when she wrote it. I feel totally inferior, but it’s not just because of her. I can barely enjoy beautiful writing anymore without catching the dreadful “Why can’t I write like this?” blues. I get nervous and jealous so easily. I pretend to be happy when other young writers land jobs and internships or win awards — but truthfully, honestly, I don’t feel any joy for them. It just reminds me that I haven’t done enough to prepare myself for this field. I haven’t applied for enough internships or won enough awards. I’m just not good enough yet.

I have so far to go and I’m not sure I’ll ever get there. What if I fail? What if I’m not good enough to hold a job? What the hell will I do? The thought of losing the only type of work I’ve ever enjoyed – of losing the feeling that struck me that day freshman year – terrifies me. I must succeed. I have to do better. And I imagine it’s much of the same for my classmates in their fields too.

But we also don’t have to be ready. Knowing exactly what you want to do and how to do it as a college senior is extraordinary, but not the expectation. The first few years after college should be a learning experience too. You shouldn’t have to be successful immediately. You should be expected to fail and learn from that failure.

No one’s expecting us to dominate our respective fields the second we’re handed a diploma. But that can be so hard to remember for soon-to-graduate seniors.

“We’re so young,” Keegan emphasizes in her essay. “We have so much time.” Cruel irony aside, Keegan has a point. We are young. We do have so much time. Time to continue having fun. Time to try different things. Time to learn a new skill. Time to improve at our vocations. Time to fall in love. Time to figure out this whole writing thing. You can’t be the best version of yourself at 22.


It’s the night before I go back for my last semester of college. I’m sitting on the floor of my room at home amid a slew of half-packed bags, wondering how I always seem to accumulate more and more stuff as the year goes on. I’m scrolling through Twitter and I see all the “excited to go back to Bonaventure” tweets. Saturday night should be pretty damn fun.

I have entered each of my previous seven semesters with a set of goals, and while each semester has been different, there has always been one constant: to have as much fun as possible. Each semester has been distinctly enjoyable; I see no reason why this one should be any different.

Yes, we’re all about to leave each other. But we’re acutely aware of what we’ll be leaving. We’re fully capable of enjoying every day of these next few months. That’s what I intend to do, at least.

I finish packing and get ready for bed. I’m not thinking about personal or professional problems. My mind is drifting off to power hours, drink specials and the most wonderful people on Earth.

It’s a comfortably warm summer night and I’m laying down to go to sleep. My hands are shaking, my mind’s racing, my stomach is in knots. I leave for my first day of college in the morning and I’m not ready. I’m not ready to leave high school behind. I grab my iPod and start to play “Sleepwalking” by Modest Mouse.


Tears roll down my face as I wipe them away with a shivering hand. I loved high school. I can’t believe I’m leaving this all behind.

The song ends and I turn my iPod off. I resolve to at least try to go to sleep. I don’t know what to expect from college. I just hope I can have some fun.