Sept. 15, 2020
While reading about all the issues colleges are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, I couldn't help but imagine how those difficulties have cascaded down upon students in various forms. Let's face it, college is hard enough without having to be concerned about quarantines, masks, social-distancing, COVID testing, virtual classes, pivoting, grab-and-go meals, tiny gatherings, hybrid curriculums, etc.
But there are other problems, those perennial difficulties that plague, so to speak, students regardless of flattened curves, asymptomatic friends, and incubation periods. I was thinking about these non-virus-related problems, having experienced some of them myself, and wanted to address some of them and offer some solutions. Naturally, I went searching on the web.
My exploration was rewarded with a recent article from February 2020, just prior to the onset of the novel coronavirus. In Ten Common Problems Students Face in College, owlcation.com's Garfield Gates alerts high schoolers to some of the difficulties they may face when they head off to college, aside from, of course, dealing with a pandemic that may linger into 2021.
Here's a selection of six from those ten problems. If any of these are currently bothering you, pay attention to the solutions noted. You may be able to brighten some of the darker spots of your life.
Problem: College is academically challenging. For many, college courses require much more effort than high school classes did. Unlike most high schools, colleges often pack two years of content into one year. Many students take a full 15-credit semester, while others try to cram in up to 18 or even 21 credits. At times, it seems impossible to stay on top of it all.
Solution: Know your limits. If you can't handle 18 credits in one semester, it is worth it in the long run to slow down and take only 15. While the purpose of a college education is to learn as much as you can, that doesn't mean studying all the time. It is important to schedule time for fun and to take breaks to keep your mind fresh and clear …
Next, if you're a regular reader of my columns, you'll recognize one of my frequent topics:
Problem: Tuition costs are rising at alarmingly high rates. Add to that the cost of housing, meals, supplies, transportation, and textbooks, and you have a recipe for unmanageable debt. Most financial advisors recommend borrowing no more than one expects to earn their first year out of college. However, soaring tuition costs make this rule difficult to follow. According to an article in U.S. News, almost half of today's students say that the cost is making them reconsider finishing their degree. Students are increasingly dropping out of college because they cannot afford the expense. Others are forced to juggle full academic schedules with full-time jobs to make ends meet. Graduating debt-free is almost unheard of.
Solution: Student loans are relatively easy to get. Many students, however, don't know how repayment works and how many years they may spend paying off their loans. This lack of understanding only adds to the stress. An important part of your education is educating yourself about the structure of the loans you take on to pay for that education. Sit down with a financial advisor to get a firm grasp on the debt you're taking on …
Unfortunately, the next problem is more prevalent than students (and parents) realize. In fact, many students may be experiencing a form of low-level anxiety that masks the root cause of their malaise:
Problem: Every problem on this list can raise a student's stress level and contribute to emotional lows. Some find temporary relief in partying which, in excess and in the long run, may contribute to depression.
Solution: If stress and depression are an issue, seek professional support. Many campuses have free counseling programs for students. Counselors are trained to listen and help students get back on track.
In case you're wondering if you're suffering from any level of depression, here are some signs to look for. If you're experiencing these, it's a good idea to ask for help.
Problem: If you're lucky, you'll make many new friends. Establishing connections and spending time with classmates and roommates is important for building community. However, spending too much time together can be challenging, and conflicts can arise. Social relations can become a distraction.
Solution: Take some time out for yourself. If possible, get away from campus for a break and visit a coffee shop or a mall, take a walk in a neighborhood, or visit a local park. Prioritize time for studying and taking care of yourself. If conflicts do arise and you need help, get your RA or another friend involved.
Problem: Relationships are good, but they can be overwhelming. Sometimes they take a lot of time and can begin to encroach on your education. There are times in every relationship when a couple will have a disagreement which can distract them from schoolwork and add to stress levels. Break-ups can drive some students even further into depression.
Solution: Relationship advice is hard to give, since the solution varies on a case-by-case basis. Establish a clear communication of your needs and expectations from the outset. If you do break up, consult with a school counselor to work through the experience.
If you're currently in a relationship that's less than you imagined it would be, or in one that was once idyllic and is now showing signs of stress, you may be interested in The 7 Stages of a Breakup and 7 Ways University Students Can Cope. Here are the stages; check the article for coping advice:
Problem: There is a lot of pressure to choose a major. It is easy to think that your major will determine your future career and how much money you will make, which means that making the right decision now feels hugely important (and stressful).
Solution: College majors are important, but they do not chisel your future career or wages into stone. Choose something that you like. If you are unsure about what major to choose, choose something broad and versatile, such as communications. Many students who get their undergraduate degrees in one field progress to get a Master's degree in a different area. Worrying too much about your major is simply not worth it. Focus instead on gaining knowledge and life skills.
Yes, as with life in general, college will present you with problems. Does that mean that you shouldn't go to college? Of course not, but if you're wondering if college is worth it, you might care to check out a couple of my past columns about that, here and here. Meanwhile, keep in mind former Beatle, the late John Lennon's advice: "There are no problems, only solutions."
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