“Adulting” and College

Any senior writing thesis yearns for the academic schedule they had freshman year: simpler days, lower level classes and general education requirements, enough time to finish all of your reading AND go out on a weekday. But no, thesis season is for all-nighters, forgotten readings, and waving at deadlines as they whoosh by with a paper disappointing for both student and teacher. For me, and many other students, it’s not actually about the workload. It’s about taking on more “adult” responsibilities and spreading time and effort across various obligations that just didn’t exist in the first year(s) of college.

A rundown of my week will show exactly what the schedule of a senior looks like. I have one project (15% of grade), one debate (25% of grade), two mini research papers (15% of grade), and a congressional simulation (25% of my grade). On top of that, I have readings for classes and a 40-page thesis draft due in less than a week. On top of THAT, I recently moved and need to unpack, work two full days a week, and have familial obligations planned to take up the entire weekend.

It’s a lot to do. Individually, these assignments or responsibilities are not daunting. In fact, they’re enjoyable. But together, they require me to spread my attention and resources so thin that it seems like nothing is being done adequately. This wasn’t the case in previous years, and it’s extremely frustrating to have the high expectations I have for myself tempered by a finite amount of time and effort.

Students reaching the end of their undergraduate careers know what this feels like. With job and graduate school applications taking precedence, optional readings and extra research are put aside. With financial obligations looming ominously, taking an extra shift is more important than revising a term paper. Learning becomes deadline management, because the “real world” is coming up fast. This semester I am taking three classes (and thesis) with professors who I have taken once, twice, and three times before. Never have I struggled to finish coursework for these amazing educators. This semester, I find myself up until three in the morning regularly, just trying to get through mandatory readings.

It’s a truth that has challenged my understanding of higher education and society’s expectations of students and young adults: you have to have your life together by the time you finish college. Yet the actual and perceived pressure this places on students nearing graduation is immense. It jeopardizes the ability of students to be fully engaged with their coursework, because they must also balance job-searching, house-hunting, and learning how to pay bills and navigate the transition from student to “real adult.”