Column: pressure on college students has increased over time

By Lia Hillman, Editor-in-chief

I grew up with college students. My mother was a private vocal and piano teacher as well as an accompanist for a college choir, and when I was a little girl, I spent many afternoon and evenings hanging out with 18 to 24 year olds while they waited for their lessons or babysat me on the weekends.

I didn’t know much about college, generally speaking. I just knew that those students had a lot of homework and occasionally broke down crying in my mother’s office because they forgot to practice their music.

However, all-in-all, every student seemed optimistic and hopeful about their college experience and their future. This made me very excited to eventually be in college one day. Now that I’m a senior in college, I often reflect back on those times spent in my mother’s office admiring her college students. I compare their experience with my own, and it just seems so different.

In conversations that I have now with fellow students, I sense most people are scared and worried about the future. It could just be that my little eyes and ears were naïve to what those students were really going through. However, it could be also the fact that today’s students are feeling more pressure and worry about the future.

With curiosity, I decided to talk to my 11-year-old brother. He’s seen what I’ve experienced these last (nearly) four years. He’s heard about the anxieties I’ve had, and he’s been able to formulate his own opinion on what he feels college will be like in 10 years.

“College sounds really hard,” he said. “Sometimes my teachers talk too much about college.”

It really surprised me that my brother, who is in sixth grade, has teachers already talking about college. When I was in sixth grade, I was worried about missing the newest Hannah Montana episode. College was just this distant thought I didn’t hear about often.

I then decided to call my mother. She’s taught nearly every age from pre-kindergarteners to college students. I wanted to get her thoughts on what my brother had told me. My mother now teaches fourth graders, so I asked her if she ever talked about college with her students.

“I always try to encourage them about it,” she said. “I don’t want them to be scared of college like some high school students are.”

My mother said most of her fourth-graders are very excited about their future, but she is a little concerned they’ll lose their optimism in high schools.

“The high school teachers are too worried about their kids making a high score on tests that they’re not helping the kids look forward to the future,” she said. She felt that this pressure to only and always get good grades might stick with students when they go to college.

“The best paying jobs went to people who went to college and were successful with grades, but that’s not necessarily the case anymore,” she said. She was right. Now, there seems to be such a highly competitive work force, and good grades do not always reflect the hardest worker. I reflected upon my life. All throughout elementary school, high school and now college, I’ve tried to get the best grades that I could. Now I wonder if all those times I spent with my head in my notes and textbooks, flipping flashcards and memorizing dates about American history, I missed opportunities that would make me better prepared for life after graduation.

I wonder if I’m really prepared to get a decent job come May. I wonder if instead of enrolling in 16 hours each semester and trying to maintain a high GPA, I should have taken a job in retail or the restaurant industry just to add different skills to my resume.

“You’ll be fine,” my father told me. “If not, you can come back and work on the farm.” My mother, knowing I don’t want to live on the farm the rest of my life, reassured me that I  will find something to do. My mother also didn’t seem too concerned about my brother’s future and the potential job opportunities he’ll have.

“I think it’ll get better,” my mother said. “There will be new opportunities for him that people your age are not quite getting just yet.”

My brother wasn’t too worried either. “I’m hoping that I can go to college for Minecraft or YouTube or something.”

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