College: Hard truths, harsh realities

Published by Savannah Peterson on

College can be a time of stress regarding deadlines, activities, financials, and countless other issues. Many students are not alone in their struggles.
Mason Ramirez / The Mainstream

Being a college student is so much more than getting a degree. Being a student means that, for the next several years of your life, you are consumed with not only receiving an education but learning how to cope with life.

Something that many people who are no longer in school don’t understand is that being a student means that your life is consumed with class and homework. But the bills don’t stop, life doesn’t get put on hold and the constant load of everything from family to work doesn’t get pushed out of the way; in fact, the load almost feels like it’s highlighted or glorified sometimes by people watching you struggle. That type of thinking can be more than discouraging; it can be defeating.   

One of the hardest struggles is the financial burden of tuition and fees, especially for students who are paying all or most of their education bills. While many students are supplied with scholarships to aid them throughout their education, some don’t receive any scholarships at all, even though they’re working just as hard or harder trying to learn and excel.

It’s easy for the latter student to let the lack of support from the educational scholarship system get in the way and make them feel like they should stop, because how is that fair? Others begin to wonder if they lack the promise that scholarship committees see in someone else and get discouraged. It’s challenging to feel that even though your peers around you received scholarships and you didn’t, that the people behind the scholarship application believe in you. And, many other students wonder if the time spent on scholarship applications is worthwhile.

For a lot of students, filling out the FAFSA forms required for scholarship applications can be intimidating. It’s like doing taxes, worrying that you’re doing something wrong. When students must submit all income, they’ve earned plus income their spouses and parents earn, they must rely on the knowledge and good will of others. It’s a group effort, usually, and it’s hard not just for students but for their families as well. These days, not all parents are comfortable telling their adult children exactly how much they do or don’t earn for the FAFSA application.

Just like scholarship applications, FAFSA forms are due every yearat just the “right” time when finals are coming up and end-of-the-term assignments are due. The last thing that a student wants to do after they submit a 10-page essay is stress about the FAFSA application, but they have to.

But college can be accomplished without scholarships. The students who don’t get them shouldn’t give up. After all, receiving scholarships can depend on a plethora of things: Did you have the resources to put in the volunteer hours? Did you have time to do any extracurricular activities? Did you participate in a leadership program? Did your GPA meet the standards? And, every scholarship application is read by different people, and that matters. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to who will receive the funds.

Another struggle our students face that is often overlooked is housing. Spring term is the time transfer students and graduates start looking for housing and filling out housing applications while going to school; but their income is low, their credit might not be very high and they still have to submit assignments. Filling out housing applications is stressful for people who aren’t in school, but it can be even more stressful while going to school.

Working while going to school is a common thing, but it can be extremely difficult. A full-time student sits at 12 credits, but many UCC students take 16 or 18 each term to graduate on time. Since students put in roughly four hours per credit in homework, an 18-credit student is doing up to 72 hours per week in homework not counting the class time, the same as having two full-time jobs. That being said, there’s not a lot of time to actually have a job. Every student wishes that the world better understood that going to school all day and immediately going to work is too much. How are you supposed to learn when your brain is constantly working?

Students go to college to get an education to learn and grow, but when it feels like they’re not learning and not growing, often from this exhaustion, it’s easy to feel like a failure, to feel like they’re doing something wrong, to feel like they’re letting their professors down and ruining relationships outside and inside school. Not being successful on an assignment or in a course because life got in the way or a student was just too tired is a tough realization, but it’s a realization almost every student has.

It’s hard to imagine that all the stress you go through as a student will be worth it in the end.

But it is.

To help with the load, we can give each other and ourselves a bit more grace. It’s so easy to compare yourself to other people in the classroom and feel bad because you don’t understand the material; but you may not have as much time as them, they may only be taking one course, maybe this is their second time taking the course, or maybe they just get it here but not in other classes. Regardless, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you could’ve understood the assignment if you just would’ve pushed back sleep a couple more hours a night. Don’t do that to yourself.

It’s also easy to constantly think “I could be doing this assignment” or “I should be studying for this test,” to the point you are constantly working on school every moment, or feeling guilty when you aren’t. But when it doesn’t ever quite seem like you’re doing enough, by asking for help and showing perseverance, you are.

In addition to comparing yourself academically, it’s easy to compare yourself financially. Sitting in the same room as students who don’t really have to pay for much of their college education themselves is hard. Avoid the jealousy, though, as you can succeed even with these struggles.

While getting through college is hard, thinking about graduating and being done feels so good. One day, the stress will be over and the assignments will be turned in, the scholarship applications will be finished, the FAFSA will stop and the home you applied for will be furnished. One day it will be worth it. And that day is so close.

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