College Guide 2012
Want to survive college?
One grad's advice: Join a band, get out of town
Published: September 7, 2012
I am declaring war on "The College Experience."
No, I am not talking in the vein of Rick Santorum, who apparently hates the idea of giving every child the opportunity to attend college. (You may recall this past May at a Tea Party rally in Troy, the then-presidential hopeful hurled an onslaught of words toward President Barack Obama, calling him "a snob" for "wanting everyone to go to college.")
See, I like college — big fan of learning over here. But, as a recent graduate, I can say I have some underlying concerns with the full-time experience of being sequestered in the halls of academia. I feel there is something intuitively wrong with an incoming student mainlining the socially accepted reasoning for going to college: the secure career.
I sweated it out behind the pages of books I would never care to read again, but I made sure to find time to breathe fresh air that wasn't tainted by the worries of a passing grade. We are here to learn, and the added help a degree offers in landing a job later on in life is the extra bonus. It is certainly not life or death, though.
Moreover, college is supposed to be "the best time of your life," right? Right?
A 2009 survey from the American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment found that one of every four students will feel so depressed they'll find it hard to function; 47 percent will experience overwhelming anxiety, and a whopping 84 percent will feel overwhelmed by everything they have to do.
And there is no better place to examine in fine detail the overwhelming sensation of the college experience than a university library during finals week, or, more appropriately, Hell Week.
Students pounding books, notes and PowerPoint presentations can be seen fending off fears of failure by studying the night away while flying high on cup after cup of coffee and, in some cases. Adderall. Giving students a good head start on life? Hmmm?
Where's the time-of-your-life fun? Is there indeed still value in attending college? The Washington Monthly recently reported on a poll that found 41 percent of Americans find college to not carry as much value as it did 20 years ago. The cost is going up and more are finding less worth in the process.
So, is college the beautiful last hurrah that bridges the gap between high school and becoming an adult? Or is it a glorified, extended version of high school — one that still subjects a student to exams, projects and a boatload of homework all in the name of a piece of paper and a boost to your résumé.
It is not as unreasonable as it seems, even considering the potential costs of a short jaunt and the procrastination of schoolwork. (If anybody were to tally how much time they spend avoiding their studies on a daily basis, well, that should be the least of concerns.)
One good example was before the start of fall 2011 semester: I went camping in the Upper Peninsula with a friend for a week. I slept on the shores of Lake Superior, hiked through Pictured Rocks Lakeshore and saw the Lake in the Clouds of the Porcupine Mountains. The cost of renting campsites, food and gas was somewhere around $300.
This summer, a band I play guitar in toured the West Coast — my first time seeing that part of the United States — for 24 days. Gas was covered by what we made at the shows, we stayed at houses, camped and slept in the van, eliminating any lodging costs. So I had to personally account for food and anything else I may have wanted to do: Again, it was roughly $300 to do so.
The point? I'm trying to say it's necessary to get away, away from the constraints of daily life. Experience the real world in order to better prepare for life after school and to actually enjoy learning if you do want to attend college.
Want something small-scale? A day trip to Chicago or Cincinnati make for a much more memorable time than racking up an impressive bar tab. (Gather a party of four and a reliable vehicle; you'll be looking at maybe $30-$40 depending on your spending habits.)
Each time, as soon as I got back in the grind, though, the same exasperated feelings would return, and I'd be eager to flesh out the next set of travel plans. I've found nothing resolves stress better than being absolutely removed from it.
I fail to understand how universities can make the case they appropriately prepare their student body for the realities of life with such a consistently strenuous undertaking.
With a full-time class schedule and workload, I've developed an ability to juggle and appropriately budget my expenses — a necessary trait for survival later on in life — but, at many points, I've completely lacked a feeling that what I was doing was truly beneficial and worthwhile.
> Email Ryan Felton