McWilliams: Don’t let fear of failure ruin your college experience

Leta McWilliams

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Dear incoming freshmen,


Earlier this summer, I sat outside the Lory Student Center after working in the newsroom and watched some of you wrap up your Colorado State University orientation. You were sitting in circles — surrounded by campus landmarks that probably don’t mean anything to you yet — discussing a variety of topics that were joined together by one common idea: the future.

I couldn’t help but let my nostalgic mind travel back to when I was sitting in those circles, talking to future English majors and trying to cover up my nervousness with excitement. In the lingering weeks before moving into the dorms, I couldn’t stop worrying. Was I choosing the right path? Would I be successful? At the end of my collegiate experience, would I have something beneficial to contribute to the world?

Maybe some of you aren’t worried, or the worry hasn’t kicked in yet. But for those of you in the same boat I was in three years ago, I want to emphasize that your experience at CSU is yours and yours alone. Don’t let the fear of failure ruin your college experience.  

A four-year path isn’t for everyone or even for most people. According to the Hechinger Report, over 64% of students take longer than four years to graduate. Some even take breaks in between and come back when they know what they want to do.

It’s okay if you change your mind, if you take a few extra semesters to finish, as long as your time at CSU fulfills you.

Many students’ stress comes from trying to get their degree in four years, hoping to minimize debt and pay it off as soon as possible. In reality, most students are incapable of completing their collegiate experience in four years. Seeing someone finish “on time” shouldn’t be discouraging — it doesn’t mean they’ll be more successful in the long run or that you’re a failure.

No one’s path is identical, so try not to let the four-year window get to you.

The world we live in can sometimes feel overwhelming. Many people go to college seeking ways to fix current world problems, knowledge they can use to benefit their future selves emotionally and financially and tools to help others.

Many students assume the only path toward completing these goals is through STEM or business degrees, and they become frustrated when these fields aren’t emotionally or mentally fulfilling. Whether this assumption comes from your own doubts, pressure from society or your parents’ expectations weighing on your shoulders, you should do everything you can to fight it.

Any degree you choose can lead to success. While harder to quantify numerically, liberal arts and humanity degrees still provide emotional and financial stability and help solve global problems just as much as any STEM degree.

On the flip side, many think science and math are too difficult and hastily turn to liberal arts because it seems easier, only to find that it’s even more challenging than they thought. I encourage you to take your time finding your passion and exploring all the degree choices CSU has to offer — this is your time to learn who you are and what you want.  


The last piece of advice is don’t become frustrated when your original plan doesn’t work out. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 80% of college students change their major at least once, with 10% of students changing it more than once. Almost every college student changes their mind at some point.

The bottom line is that you should choose a degree program because it fulfills you and because it gives you career choices that will make you happy. It’s okay if you change your mind, if you take a few extra semesters to finish, as long as your time at CSU fulfills you. If the stereotypical money-making degrees make you happy, pursue them. If they don’t, find something else that does.

Leta McWilliams can be reached at letters@collegian and online at @LetaMcWilliams.