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Articles / Applying to College / College Students Share Their Biggest Complaints

Feb. 25, 2020

College Students Share Their Biggest Complaints

College Students Share Their Biggest Complaints

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Probably the biggest complaint about college is its cost. There are lots of other realities that students don't like, though. In reading the College Confidential discussion forum, I see numerous threads about struggles students are having with both their college life, in general, and how their college is being run, a.k.a. the administration.


Wanting to cast a wider net to see what other kinds of perceived problems collegians are dealing with, I did some Googling (weird word!) and found a great compilation of College Complaints on Campus Grotto, a helpful college info site. CG "surveyed over 1,000 college students nationwide and asked them what their biggest complaints about college were. Here are the most popular answers that were given about what students hated most about their college experience."

These 38 Complaints Topped All Others

The list is long, with 38 complaints featured. There are no anecdotal comments, however, so I thought I'd add some to those that inspired me, based on my own college experience and those I've heard from friends, family and others. I'm sure that you'll be able to add to CG's list. My selection below may bring some to mind.

Note: I combined those complaints that seem to speak to the same core issue. The College Grotto items appear in bold italics.

- Parking. The school's parking situation sucks and the parking rates are crazy.

Agreed. Way back when I went to Penn State, the parking police had a field day with illegal parkers, of which I was one, having never bought a parking permit in my three years there. I used to have my license plate (Pennsylvania requires only one plate) on magnets. When I would park on campus, I would just remove it, toss it into the trunk, and go to class. I never got a ticket (probably because they couldn't identify my registration), but today they would either "boot" my car or tow it. So many cars, so few parking spaces!

- The price of textbooks! You spend hundreds of dollars on them and only use them for a few months. It seems like such a ripoff.

Another legitimate complaint. I had to buy some books across the years but subsisted many times on class notes and even public library books, when possible. Example: Janson's History of Art was available in our public library and I had it checked out for the entire 10 weeks of my History of Western Art ("Art in The Dark") class. Be resourceful and save money where possible.

- The cafeteria food is gross.

While some colleges are known for their cuisine, many flunk the taste test. My first year of college was at a small liberal arts college and every time I watch Animal House, I remember how bad the food there was. To top off the crummy food, the head of food services at this school was (I'm not making this up) Mr. Bloodgood. Yuck!

- Having to take mandatory prerequisites and electives.

This isn't all bad. In general, though, I can agree. After four terms of German at Penn State, all I could (and still only can) say with confidence (in German) is, "Yes, that is a window!" However, my cultural diversity did profit from my Religious Studies class, which taught me some interesting facts about world religions that I still recall today.

- 7 a.m. classes.

During my first year at Penn State, I had an 8 a.m. English Comp course Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Mondays at 8 a.m. were bad enough, but I was a commuter student living 45 miles away, so I had to be up, ready and on the road no later than 6:30 every MWF. Live and learn. I never again allowed myself (or my adviser) to schedule a class that early. Plan carefully.

- When TAs end up teaching most of the class instead of the actual professor.

This happened to me more than it should have. My advice here is to do some preemptive research before choosing a college to attend. Granted, at large state universities, this is a common practice. Even smaller schools inflict this on their students. While some TAs can be impressive, big tuition dollars aren't being well served whenever senior faculty is not teaching every class.

- The time constraint it has on you. College is a lot of work to handle all at once.

- All the required reading homework.

- Too much to do and not enough time to do it.

- Homework keeps you so busy, it's hard to hold down a job.

My response to these four similar complaints is in the form of a question (like on Jeopardy!): What did you expect? College is not high school. I would look at all that work as an excellent way to saturate the high cost of college. In other words, lots of work = getting your money's worth. Get organized, plan your work and work your plan. You're there to learn, not party! Right.

- Having a roommate.

- Not getting enough privacy.

- The lack of independence when you live in the dorms.

- Three people to a dorm room.

These are essentially a hangover from living at home in a cushy bedroom with all the comfortable conveniences required. Of course, it may be possible to get a private dorm room, even for first-years, but most incoming and even upper-class students have at least one roommate (or "suitemates"). Being a big introvert, I would have preferred a private room my freshman year, but having a roommate gave me the chance to get used to making some compromises in my former selfish lifestyle and also to make a friendship that lasted many years beyond college.

- Having to walk through the snow in the winter months.

Poor babies! You'll get no pity from me about this one for two reasons. First, the maintenance crews at most colleges are up during the wee hours clearing walkways and steps for you, both for your convenience and for your safety (too many lawsuits these days). Second, if you can't stand snow, then why the heck did you enroll at a Northern-climate school? Want some cheese to go with that whine?

- The pressure on students to complete their degrees in a specific time frame.

This is good pressure. The average time to get a bachelor's degree today is 5.1 years. With student budgets at some colleges approaching $80,000 per year, why wouldn't a student want to graduate on time? This complaint harkens back to the "college is too hard" group above. That fifth year (some collegians take more than five years) can add a crushing blow to student loan debt, which in many cases is already alarmingly high. Thus, I would view that "pressure" as a college doing all that it can to deliver on the term "four-year degree."

- I disliked the fact that sometimes it was hard to get the classes I wanted.

This is a fairly common problem due to faculty sabbaticals and oversubscribed courses. It's a legitimate concern that can lead to the dreaded "four-year-plus" degree. One possible solution to avoid this would be to register at the earliest possible moment, although even this approach won't do you any good if the professor in question is going to be in Tibet researching the meaning of life. You can work carefully with your academic adviser and plan ahead to optimize your course acquisition. In some cases, though, it's a roll of the dice to score all that you want. Do you feel lucky?

There are more complaints on the Campus Grotto list. Check them out, then see if you agree or disagree. You may have additional complaints of your own. If so, maybe you'll get a mention on next year's CG survey.

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Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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