Retiring The Four-Year College Experience

The world we live in is constantly changing, and we, as people, are constantly evolving. The current societal norm expects high school graduates to dive immediately into higher education. On top of it all, there’s a four-year timeline put on graduating. At 18, many students do not have financial means to support themselves, while it is estimated that only 29% of parents plan to pay for their child’s tuition in full.

Currently, the annual cost of attending a public and private university averages $10,560 and $37,650, respectively. However, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. (For context, as a full-time minimum wage worker, a student would only receive $15,080, pretax. This does not factor in the cost of living or other general expenses). This forces students to take on massive student loans while possibly juggling a job or two while in school. The current United States student loan total sits around $1.56 trillion (yes, trillion with a T).

Beyond monetary concerns, the mental health of students has been jeopardized by force entry into the most competitive environment for jobs in history. Currently, 53% of American students who have completed their bachelor's degrees are either unemployed or are working a job that does not require a degree. Student mental health decline is also becoming a major concern. According to a survey, 41.6% of College Counseling Center Directors believe anxiety is the top concern, followed by depression at 35.8%. With this many students suffering from mental health challenges while completing their degree, what can be done to relieve the anxiety and burden that is instilled by a four-year timeline? woman spreading her arms at the beach Photo by Fuu J from Unsplash

A post high school gap year allows students to take time to save money to cover tuition costs. While choosing the shortest graduation timeline may initially seem like the smartest decision, taking a gap year is a more beneficial option when examining the long-term return on investment. By taking a gap year or two, students are able to put money aside for school without looming debt as a factor through school.

On top of it all, the expectation for students to know exactly what they want to do and how to survive at 22 is unrealistic. The human brain does not fully mature until age 25, meaning impulsive and harmful behaviors will have dictated a graduate’s life before they enter the job market and post-college world.

So, what can you do in a society that demands so much from students at such a young age? Take a break. Take a breather. It’s okay to retake a class or to switch your major. The world will still exist, and there will still be a place for you at the end of the day. Progressing directly from high school to college is one of the biggest life transitions. As young, naive students, we are forcefully expected to adapt to a new environment without adequate preparation or life experience.

At the end of the day, your body and mind know what they need — especially during an entire pandemic. If that means taking the minimum amount of credits possible, that’s okay! Need a semester off to recharge? I don’t blame you. The most important thing to remember is who you are, what you desire in life and to keep that fire inside you alive.