I’m not entirely sure who is responsible for the mental image of college I painted in my head, but until I actually stepped on campus and experienced it, I had a lot of false ideas of what it meant to be a college student.
Maybe it was society that painted the carefree, scrambled vibe that allowed me to imagine college as a period of having nothing figured out while struggling, studying and laughing yourself crazy. In my mind, college was a time when things were still unsolved, and everyone was okay with being lost, stressed and confused.
It was okay to enter college unaware, and it was okay to stumble blindly through four years as long as you left with a clear path and a promising future. I have found, however, that although college may seem to promote the “it’s okay if you have no idea what you’re doing because nobody else does either” behavior, being a college student involves more pressure than I ever imagined.
I expected to be thrown into four years of classes. I pictured myself working and studying non-stop to obtain my degree. A job was the furthest thing from my mind. I had heard others tell me that grades and school would become my main priority, and for some naïve reason, I convinced myself that I would work once I graduated.
That’s how I thought it was supposed to work: Spend four years going to college, choose a career, graduate and spend the rest of your life working. I quickly found that my thoughts were only a fantasy, and although people claim that studying and being a student is the first and only “job” a person should have while attending classes, it isn’t a reality.
College is expensive. Whether or not tuition is paid from financial aid or personal funds, money seems to be constantly disappearing. The slap of reality truly hits when you realize how much cheaper it really was at mom and dad’s house, and even if campus housing may not be everyone’s problem, rent and utilities stack up pretty quickly too. The Red Bulls necessary to pull all-night study sessions don’t come cheap, and that morning cup of coffee that’s your only motivation to make it to class the next morning comes with a price too.
Not only do real-life expenses make it feel almost impossible not to work, many programs, especially graduate programs, focus on how involved a student is. Hours spent in the work force, both volunteered and paid, are often a prerequisite for serious consideration as a candidate within a program. Good grades do matter and GPA counts, but universities want to see a well-rounded student who is capable of managing time, stress and multiple things at once.
Working becomes inevitable.
I sometimes find it unfair, especially after late shifts when I am defeated by the long day or my spirit has been crushed. No matter how long the day has been and how unhappy I may feel, there is always an assignment to be completed, a test to study for or homework to do. Conversely, when my professors have just unloaded a surprise essay due within a time period that feels almost impossible, if I have encountered a day of unforeseen, unfortunate test results, or if my classes seem to be piling up, I can never quite commit to moments of school and school only. They are interrupted always by the demands of work.
It’s a difficult balance and at times it feels impossible. Each thing is indeed important and every task deserves the best effort and end result. At times, it feels like too much. However, college is one step closer to the real world and the challenges faced by college students shape and mold them into better versions of their freshman selves: versions able to handle pressure and stress, equipped and ready for the real working world. Though it may be hard and despite the times it feels unfair, it is necessary.
Life won’t forever be dorm rooms, campus events, and weekends filled with outlines and essays and discussion boards. There is no better way to prepare for what the world after college holds than to be both a student and an employee.