July 16, 2009
Word Count = 1,669
The Unnoticed Side of College
The campus streetlights can be seen ablaze through the windows, illuminating the way for the one or two cars that may pass by. The lights on the inside are dim, seemingly in correlation to willpower left in the nearby students. Professors who have even surpassed their normal office hours for the day have long left to their respective homes to decide on some greatly anticipated grades. Desks form tiny scenes of their own with mountains of cans and bottles, valleys of papers, all to be illuminated not by the setting sun but the dull glare of computer screens. The silence is broken by mere scratching of pens, rustling of papers, the procession of keyboards, and the occasional yawn. The scattered masses of students huddled over their desks takes on the appearance of a herd of cattle at dusk. The sluggish demeanor of cattle can also be sensed in the dim light, as the slow moving and concentrated students endure through the night.
This is the unseen side of college life. Wholly different from the hours of daylight where students migrating from class to class, Professors flipping through countless slide presentations, and lively cafeterias are the norm, is the side that commonly goes unnoticed and yet may best represent the life of the college student. Nightlife at the University is a time that best proves how incredibly hard many college students work in order to attain the degree holding status that they strive for. But in order to fully illustrate the strenuous lifestyles of students in college a full day’s recount would be a good place to start.
The alarm rings at 6:30 a.m. as it does every Monday through Friday. It does not fluctuate according to what time the student finally made it to sleep, but is unfortunately unyielding. Rubbing the grogginess from his or her eyes, the student must vie for the amenities of the bathroom, microwave, coffee pot, or other morning ritual necessities with his or her roommate or roommates. From there, the previous late night makes every step from the dormitory to class slow and labored.
By 8:00 a.m. a majority of students have overcome the first trial of the day, making it to class slightly unconscious and weary. Book bags transform into pillows, lines of steam can be seen periodically rising from mugs of coffee or tea, and the general populace maintains a similar disposition to that of a graveyard. The professor begins with the routine greeting, followed by the routine passing out of graded assignments, followed by the routine sighs of relief or grumbles of dismay. Grades are often times all college students have to show for their efforts, and the simple letter on the page can either rouse the student into a lively optimism for the day to come, or make them wish they had stayed in bed. The ensuing hours are then spent enduring the all too notorious lectures. If by chance you are one of the students still sailing on the jet stream of that pivotal A or B, then the lectures rapid succession of jargon may not seem so monotonous. Or, perhaps the repetitive power point slides are a little more understood, leaving ones hand less cramped than it was twenty-four hours prior. Those on the other end of the grade spectrum may unfortunately be retorting their earned grades with snores, and drooling on their desks.
Upon repeating this process a number of times before the much deserved break of lunch, the typical college student knows that the day is nowhere near complete. Pete Heibel, a junior in the architecture program at Judson University compares the usual day for a college student to be like year round schooling as opposed to school broken up by a summer hiatus. “Days kind of roll into one another,” he said “here at college there’s like a continuous circle made up of hours spent working with several short breaks like lunch, dinner, and sleep in between.” (Heibel)
After lunch usually comes another barrage of classes peppered with some usually just short of stimulating lectures or labs. I would say that compared to the morning class routine, this one does not usually fare quite as bad. By now those who have a designated lunch and not just another class will have at least partaken in one wholesome meal. The hours of forcibly being kept awake either by whatever preferred caffeinated concoction, or just having to stay awake for the sake of one’s grades have by now ridden most students urges to yawn.
To this Pete compared and contrasted the approximate eight to five of college to a normal forty hour a week career. “The first reality of going to school at a university that most people mistake,” Pete said “is when they compare the twelve to seventeen credit hour week to a usual jobs forty.” He said that not only can these numbers not accurately be compared, but when looked at more closely often end in favor to the student. He explained “for each class we take there are a certain number of hours spent in each class that admittedly does not add up to forty each week. This however does not include the prescribed number of hours that must be spent outside of class, for the class.” By pulling out a small stack of papers he proved his point. “The syllabus for each class I have right now tells the approximate amount of time I should spend outside of class, which I’ve found to be close to accurate.” He then pointed out some scribbled math on one of the pages, and explained.”Twenty-four hours minus seven hours for sleep is seventeen” He was also quick to point that seven hours of sleep is a rarity, and one will be equally likely to achieve a full nights rest as to a sleepless night. “Then you take that seventeen minus the six hours of class I usually have, and now it’s down to eleven hours.” At this point Pete acknowledged that the six hours varied, but also served as a good average before he continued. “ Then when you add up the number of hours each syllabus says you should spend on the class outside of class, you are bumped down another six hours for an ultimate five hours of free time per day. That’s five hours to eat meals, run errands, and on super rare occasions hang out with friends outside of class.” With a final “and we’re not even getting paid!” Pete seemed rather confident that the workload of your average college student is quite a bit more demanding than that of a forty hour a week career. (Heibel)
So as day turns to night and the highways fill with cars of those commuting from a hard day of work to the comfort of their own homes to rest and relax, the typical university fills with a different kind of bustle. Computer screens are reignited, papers are freed from their cramped folder residences, and the scent of coffee yet again consumes the atmosphere as the college student is back at it again. “After dinner comes the hard part” describes Brent Pickett, a medical student at Indiana University who considers actual class to be the lesser of his dual workloads. “It is because I love what I do that makes each morning of classes a bit easier than when I must actually get down to it and work.” Brent was quick to admit that his lineup of classes was no walk in the park, but when it comes to learning something that interests you versus memorizing an endless list of enzymes and what they do for the human body, he would prefer the learning. “Each night at dinner includes several cups of coffee, and that’s not usually for the taste.” Brent exclaimed in defense of his belief that sometimes the college life gets a little bit ridiculous. “As a medical student I’m more aware of what I am putting into my body when I rely on caffeine. This generation is seeing the college student taking some unhealthy means to combat the fatigue that counterparts working long into the night.” Brent admitted that he has seen many a long night where exhaustion strikes way before he has finished that paper or felt confident for that test. “After hours of class, all you really want to do is take a nap but you know you can’t when there’s just so much to do.” “College students in general really must put forth an absurd amount of effort to maintain a high grade point average,” Brent said to sum up his take on extensive nights at work “it’s sad what students do in order to accomplish the work that must be done, but that does just go to prove how very hard students in college really work.” (Pickett)
As Brent, Pete, and countless other college students from around the world can attest, the determination required to excel in school is no easy feat. Students spend hours upon hours each day devoting themselves to their work, and as Pete wanted to point out, is unfortunately unnoticed due to the fact that a majority of this work is outside of the classroom. College students are constantly pushing themselves from morning to night, working feverishly by any means to complete that project or engrain that knowledge for the morning test. Sometimes those means will go so far as to include methods that are ultimately harmful to the body which is what Brent wished to impart as proof for the commitment college students possess. Maybe one should rethink when they feel that college life is one big party. For some this may be the truth, but for those who earnestly pursue their futures via the university it is obviously hardly the case. College students should be held in great esteem, their effort cannot be measured, and their workload rivals many fulltime careers. Is it not time to look at such a subculture in a different light?
Heibel, Pete. Student, Judson University. Telephone Interview. 18 July 2009
Pickett, Brent. Student, Indiana University. Telephone Interview. 18 July 2009