College Students: Are They Really “Living Their Best Life?”

My daughter is a brand new college freshman. I joined a Facebook group for parents of her university. It has amazingly helpful content. In the first few weeks of school it also seems to have a zillion (I exaggerate) parents posting about how their child is “living their best life” and “thriving.” I’m so sick of those descriptors.

The current college admissions culture is crazy intense and competitive, even if you don’t personally buy into it. The rigor of classes, the importance placed on grades, the AP classes and AP exams, SAT/ACT tests, and then the college application process.

confident college student
When someone says their college student is “thriving,” there may be more to the story. (Twenty20 @Elisall)

The implication is that a “good college” means your kid is set for life

All of this to get into a good fit college. The implication is that once your child gets into college they are SET FOR LIFE. The movie fades to black and these young adults go off to their dream schools, find their tribe, discover their destined careers by following their passions, thrive and live happily ever after. Right?

Not so much.

Life is a journey. Full of ups and downs, discoveries and missteps, exploration and hopefully some good adventures.

Some of the experiences I’ve heard from my parent friends of college Freshmen

  • In his first week of college my son landed in the hospital with alcohol poisoning.
  • My daughter is having a hard time meeting people. After years spent in Covid-times, her in-person social skills have faltered.
  • My son fell in with a group that’s not a great influence. He’s struggling. And wondering if this school was the right pick.
  • My son is struggling academically and won’t access support on campus.
  • My daughter isn’t clicking with her roommates.
  • Since week one my son has been sick with one thing or another. He’s frustrated and sick of being sick.
  • My kid thinks maybe she picked the wrong major but has no idea what to change into.
  • My daughter is going to transfer. She thought this was her place. Turns out it’s not.
  • My son picked this rural college campus because the program is amazing but truly, he’s a city kid and can’t wait to graduate and get back to tall buildings and the energy of city life.

My husband and I were chatting with some neighbors recently. They have 2 kids in high school. They asked how our daughter liked college. I was honest. I said she loved the campus and the school, but the food was pretty bad, and her roommate situation isn’t ideal. My husband cut me off and said- she’s doing great. She’s living her best life. Ugh, that annoying phrase again.

I told the neighbor the truth about my daughter’s struggles

I was sharing details with our neighbors because I want them to be ready. To be prepared for the ups and downs our kids experience when navigating the biggest transition most of them have ever faced.

When we got home my husband explained – nobody needs to hear all the details. Just tell them she’s doing great because she is. After much thought I think I’d prefer the phrase “they’re figuring it out” to “they’re living their best life.” I think it’s more accurate.

But I also realized, we parents need to believe our kids are doing great. That they’ve got this. That they’re ok and safe and “thriving” while away from us for the first time. Because our parent hearts can barely handle it when our kids, no matter what age, are on uneven ground. And this transition is big for us parents too.

So, the next time someone tells me their college student is “thriving” and “living their best life” I will smile with my whole heart and understand not to take those words so literally. And know it’s maybe not the full story. But, that’s ok.

More Great Reading:

College Senior: These May Not Be The ‘Best Years of Your Life’

About Jill Millstein

Jill Millstein lives in Los Angeles, am I mother of two teen daughters, and have a keen interest in personal growth and promoting awareness and access to social and emotional health in my community. Through my local volunteer work in social emotional wellness I started writing blogposts.

Read more posts by Jill

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