The Workload of College is Overwhelming

As the fall semester starts again and I start my third year of college, I have been thinking about the pressure that society puts on us at a young age. We’re told when we’re young to do well in school so that we can get into college, get a good job, buy a house and have a family, and that it’s relatively straightforward to succeed as long as you just work hard. Unfortunately, when I take a break to rest from working hard, I feel guilty about it. 

There’s this myth that college students are lazy because we complain about work that other generations have previously been able to do. Boomers will say, “When I was your age, I was able to work and pay my way through college, why can’t you?” Well, I don’t know, maybe because tuition costs have been inflated so much that there literally aren’t enough hours in the day to work enough to pay for it. I want to address all of the time, energy, effort and stress of being a college student. No matter what your personal circumstances are, it’s a challenge to get through college and be successful.

Photo courtesy of Element5 Digital on Unsplash

To analyze the typical college workload, I was inspired by this triangle that basically encompasses the college experience: 

Photo courtesy of Ben Butler on Medium

The first point on the triangle: good grades. Obviously, the main point of college is going to class and learning, but your course load depends on your major. Most students take four to five classes, and as a sociology major, I spend about two to three hours per day doing homework. I can’t even imagine the work that a biology major has for instance. With five classes, students can have readings, quizzes, discussion posts, essays and exams all due within days of each other or even on the same day. Some students are in the “Cs get degrees” mindset, which is fine unless the plan is to go to grad school, in which case GPA matters and there’s no room for error in the growingly competitive job market.

The second point: social life. College is where you’re supposed to meet your lifelong friends. That can be true for some, but for others that commute or live off-campus, it might not be the case. Socializing in college can be hard, not to mention maintaining those friendships. Some people just don’t have the time to go out almost every weekend. Sororities and fraternities can be great for making friends but they’re also a huge time commitment and investment, as is any club or organization. 

The last point: enough sleep. In America, colleges have a popular no-sleep culture. All-nighters happen all the time, especially during midterms or finals. It’s normal to see people sleeping in the library and addicted to stimulants. On campus, you’ll hear conversations like “Dude, I had six hours of homework last night and didn’t get to bed until like 4 a.m.” or “Last week I had three papers due on the same day, so I pulled an all-nighter in the library and only drank coffee for two days straight!” 

Why do we brag about overworking ourselves? I think that we feel forced to juggle and maintain all of these things, and instead of being honest when we’re struggling, we pretend everything is fine, as if we all genuinely love challenging ourselves to the point of exhaustion. 

Photo courtesy of John Schnobrich on Unsplash

If I were to add one thing to the concept of a college workload, I would also bring up work. Even with scholarships, grants and loans, being a college student is expensive. Some people are fortunate and have a full ride including housing or parents that will cover expenses, but most of us have to work part-time or full-time jobs on top of being a full-time student. 

A report from the American Association of University Professors found that nearly 10 percent of full-time undergraduates work at least 35 hours a week. It also noted that juggling work and school “creates high levels of stress and anxiety, making it less likely that students will complete their degrees.” 

Photo courtesy of Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

After discussing these various things that college students maintain, clearly the combination is overwhelming. I used to beat myself up for not getting more done in a day, but if you push yourself to exhaustion, you’re going to end up in a worse place than if you had just said no to a few things. As we get back into the groove of college life, remember that the time that you sleep, eat and rest is not up for grabs. We’re not only valuable when we’re being productive.