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.
It can feel like the classic situation of the person who goes into business for himself to gain some independence then ends up working 70- or 80-hour weeks. Perpetually overwhelmed, the reasons for creating the job in the first place — fun and independence — are lost.
The same can be said for a full-time student who's always surrounded by lingering reminders of schoolwork left to do. If they are always hanging out with friends struggling to deal with the same issues — working their job, studying, going to class, seeing family who keenly ask how school is going — there's no way to stop thinking about that paper that's left to write. Given all this, it shouldn't be a surprise that so many students feel overwhelmed.
Universities should be helping students with more opportunities (or make better known the offerings they already have for them) to see things beyond their personal struggles with coursework. If they can't offer help in the form of school credit or simply creating more chances for students to just do something else, then garnering real-life experience should be made more of a central part to the coursework.
After playing a set in Iowa, we had to drive 10 hours overnight (myself at the helm) to Cheyenne, Wyo., for a show the next day. As I approached the Wyoming border, the sun had started to rise amid the immaculate, sprawling landscape I had read about in books by my favorite authors. With everyone asleep in the van, I was taken aback by the simple sight of dozens of cattle grazing next to a group of elk, practically a replica of the mental picture I had of this part of the country before ever driving west of the Mississippi. With no other car, building or, for that matter, any sign of human life in sight, it was a moment of complete solitude — one I have so few of — where, without thinking, I stopped driving to get out and admire what was in front of me. No, I'm not sure what the lesson of that particular morning was. But, seeing something like that firsthand is something I never garnered from a class.
There's a good chance your college years will in fact be the best time of your life. Just make sure not to spend all of that time in college.
Ryan Felton is a recent Wayne State University journalism graduate and a Metro Times editorial intern.
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