Freshman FrenzyIn our age of overbearing parents and high school students driven to the point of exhaustion because they define success by the number of extracurriculars on their resumes, it’s no wonder the life of an adolescent has sped up light-years. Fifty years ago, being young was associated with contemplation and rebellion, but today the free time needed for such luxuries is not only unavailable but disdained.

Too many students are sacrificing a great college experience to the goal of overachieving.

My visits to colleges should have been a warning. It seemed as if every student tour guide had a double major plus a minor, played on two varsity teams, belonged to eight clubs, and spearheaded three or four community service projects.

In a 2010 survey on American college freshmen cited in the New York Times, more than 75% rated their drive to achieve and their academic abilities as above average. But the percentage who rated their emotional health as below average was 48%—up 12% from the year before. An American College Health Association survey found that 84% of college students felt overwhelmed during the previous 12 months and 27% had sleeping problems. Meanwhile, more than 50% reported having “more than average” or “tremendous” stress.

Like many high school seniors, last year I celebrated the end of an era in which every moment of my life was accounted for in an attempt to win awards, high grades, and ultimately a spot at a prestigious university. It required a boxer’s mind—constantly on the move, plotting and pinpointing the best plan of attack. But as a college freshman, I’m shocked by what followed: more of the same.

My visits to colleges should have been a warning. It seemed as if every student tour guide had a double major plus a minor, played on two varsity teams, belonged to eight clubs, and spearheaded three or four community service projects. I couldn’t imagine how these super-collegians had time for anything else.

Now, near the end of my first year, I can see that the difference between high school and college life in terms of the frantic search for success is not all that grand. In a school of more than 8,000, I rarely see a student simply relaxing with a good book or having coffee with a friend. Most race through campus to their next engagement or hunker down alone in the library or student center, glued to their laptops doing coursework or planning their next ambitious club endeavor. Sadly, enjoyment doesn’t appear to be their main motivation. Too many friends have confided in me, “I’m not sure I even want to do all these things…I just feel like I should.”

I thought that after the sweat and struggle to get accepted to a good college, I’d have the opportunity to engage in more independent thinking and sharing ideas with fellow students and professors, rather than continuing to jump through the same hoops. But the constant grind of logging up new memberships, attending more meetings, and multitasking 24/7 seems to trump everything else—from relationships to even getting the most out of challenging classes. Who has time to reread that difficult Weber passage or meet outside class with a professor when you have play rehearsal to attend, a political event to organize, and four other classes to keep up with?

Many college students seem to value quantity over quality. I’m guilty of this, too, so that what should be fun activities feel more like obligations. It’s not easy to form close friendships with students or good relationships with professors when each day is hectic and stressful. Every morning I wake up to 20+ emails and texts, all from listserves with not one intended for me personally. I’ve had to reschedule a lunch date six times with the same friend because of our overpacked agendas. This way of life comes with a sad air of anonymity. How can we fully develop ourselves at this impressionable age when we’re not connecting with others on a deep level along the way?

Luckily, I’ve managed to break free, at least somewhat, from the busy-at-all-costs attitude since starting college. I’ve tried to limit my activities to those I truly value and that give me a lot of fulfillment. I can’t help but wonder, though: What exactly is it that we’re searching for? When can college students stop pushing ourselves to the extreme and reward ourselves after all our hard work with more time to think and hang out with friends? I hope we don’t spend our whole lives counting up achievements, or we’ll miss the pleasures right in front of us.

4 Comments

  • Barbara Botta
    Posted April 27, 2014 9:08 am 0Likes

    Beautiful article by Violet Decker. Too much for students to endure. Sounds like she’s on the right path to peacefully enjoying college life. More power to you. .. 🙂

  • Pamela
    Posted April 27, 2014 9:30 am 0Likes

    I agree completely. Beautiful article. It seems this schedule-filling habit carries over long into adulthood as well. If there’s an open slot on the calendar, it gets filled….as if we’re all afraid of the void.

    Nicely done, Violet Decker.

  • Jessie
    Posted April 27, 2014 4:33 pm 0Likes

    You have really captured something that most kids your age don’t question. Thanks for putting it into words so well. College should be a time for freedom and exploration!

  • Holly
    Posted May 16, 2014 12:33 pm 0Likes

    Violet,
    My 18-year-old daughter will graduate next week from a high school where the majority of the students have spent the last four years focused on that ultimate goal of admission to the college of their dreams. In your sentence, “It required a boxer’s mind—constantly on the move, plotting and pinpointing the best plan of attack”, you beautifully capture the attitudes of my daughter and her friends.
    Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom on the benefits of enjoying the pleasures of college life. I am forwarding your article to them now, with the hope they will consider your words as they spread across the world for another four years of student life.

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