Getting Ahead: The College Catch 22

Sleep: a college urban myth. The ever elusive act of sleeping can only be witnessed on the Emerson College campus if you wander into a History of Media Arts 1 class where you will surely find a room full of sleeping college students. You may think it would be more common to find students asleep at night, however, you’re more likely to find a bunch of Emerson students wandering around campus at 11 p.m. having just finished up their nightly org meetings, red bulls in hand, as they migrate back to the dorms for another homework-filled all-nighter. Not exactly the college life that most of us envisioned growing up and certainly not the college experience that we are bombarded with in the media. However, in recent years, it has become both an expectation and a commonplace that college students maintain balance among the pressure to succeed in all aspects of their lives.

Today college students are expected to maintain stellar grades, work a part-time job, intern, be involved in (if not lead) clubs, volunteer and have a social life that rivals that of the Gossip Girl cast.  The result of all of this is to prove that they are a well-rounded person, whatever that means. Students who do not measure up to these qualities, or choose to not follow this format, are labeled slackers, or even worse, deemed failures. While college students have always been busy, in past generations students who did everything listed above would have been considered highly ambitious or successful. Now doing all of these things is simply average, and in order to be ambitious or a success, the minimum criteria is you need to have your own start-up. It’s no longer enough to simply go to school and perform well, expecting to find a job upon graduation. Today students are encouraged to constantly be building a resume with relevant experience before even graduating. With the job market more competitive than ever and the lack of weight a college degree carries anymore; students often push themselves past their limits in order to just keep up with their peers.

But are we really getting ahead or are we simply getting by? There is only a certain point to which a person can stretch themselves before their work starts to suffer. At some point the constant busy way of life will lead to an eventually burning out. Yet, it seems our society has grown accustomed to expecting quantity on a resume rather than quality.

Personally, I’m one of the biggest offenders of this lifestyle. I go to class and work during the day and once I get back to the dorms at night, I do homework and work on projects, leaving around four hours for sleeping. Naturally, 20 hours a day, six to seven days a week can lead to being burnt out and I find that I will often crash sleep for 12-15 hours increments every few weeks. Then, there are times where there are literally not enough hours in the day to get everything done, so I have to find ways to cut corners. I’ve heard multiple times from friends and peers that they feel class is a waste of their time, because there are other things they could be working on. It’s not uncommon at Emerson, and I’m sure colleges around the country, to see students in class on their laptops, doing other class work or applying for jobs and internships. Even though classes are the purpose of attending college, the actual class time seems to take a back seat to students’ other commitments.

While it’s not about fleeing from commitments and responsibilities and longing for the simpler days of high school, it’s important to find a wholistic college experience, where students can be engaged in everything they are doing, rather than simply going through the motions. It can be tempting to try to seize every opportunity that your college or university has to offer, and in doing so bulk up your resume. However, come graduation you may feel like you never experienced any aspect of college to the fullest. That’s the college Catch 22; either gain experience or have a college experience.

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