Take your time, Huskies 

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With graduation peeking around the corner for the Class of ‘23, I’ve been reflecting recently on what it means to complete one’s college career and venture off into the “real world.” As a fellow senior, part of me longs for the prospect of closure. The completion of a degree or plural degrees, friends selecting their own unique branches of the world to pursue and the anticipation of not spending Friday nights writing last-minute discussion board posts all evoke a bittersweet gratitude. For lack of a better word, we’ve all more-or-less ‘made it,’ whatever that means.  

Yet, something hasn’t sat quite right with me. The pressure and expectation to graduate college in four years was always a force I failed to recognize up until now, as the possibility of spending additional time as an undergraduate has fallen upon me.  

College is not a four year endeavor. Much of this stems from a much broader belief I hold close to me, that no student should be asked to declare their major until well into their college careers. Although I accept that 18-year-old me was fairly confident about the fields I did not want to explore – sorry to the Mathematics department, nothing could have won me over – however, I do think a fair bit of naivety was at play as well. I recall being equally confident that I was to attend medical school as I was confident that math wasn’t for me. Yet, like most overzealous first-years, I, too, was misguided.  

This is not to say I made the “wrong” decision selecting Physiology and Neurobiology as my preferred major; I was fascinated by the brain, read a little too much Oliver Sacks and felt so damn sophisticated when I told family members that I was studying neuroscience. Rather, the journey coming to the academic conclusion of a major was a multi-year process, one which took me through various backroads of Allied Health and Economics detours before finding my philosophical main road.  

All this goes without saying that I still have no clue what I want to do with the near and far versions of myself, hence the hesitancy to graduate this coming spring. And still, I can with most confidence say that undergraduate students should not be asked to decipher their own interest puzzles in the space of four years.  

The practice that all students will conform to a traditional, four-year education system largely rests on ableist beliefs of the “average” or “normal” student and leaves little leg room for any shift in a student’s finances, mental health or other significant situations. “Leaves of Absence” do not come without a stigma aided by this four year expectation, one which perpetuates the taboo that taking time off is reflective of one’s failures to complete college in time, resulting in students questioning whether they should be prioritizing their mental health.  

Further, we mustn’t accept the notion that additional semesters are a privilege. College and all forms of education exist as a fundamental human right, and a four-year education is merely a minimum standard, not a maximum. Universities grow less accessible each year, and the lack of government aid in supporting student’s undergraduate pursuits is the primary issue that must be addressed within this conversation.  

On the bright side, there are some initiatives that I believe could help wane this pressure. All incoming matriculants should spend at least their first year in the ACES undecided program or the equivalent at other universities. Allowing for all students to explore multiple fields simultaneously and early into their experience promotes a more meditative approach to deciding one’s major. Additionally, programs such as engineering, computer science and other tracks which allocate little-to-no space for students to consider other academic interests must be restructured, as we’ve all been the victim of or in close proximity to someone going through their cliche junior year crisis – the realization that they committed to a program too quickly and are too invested to switch into a new field of study without going over the eight semester barrier.  

Lastly, I think it’s valuable to acknowledge that the pressure of attending college at all is harmful enough. The invalidation of trade schools and other non-academic certificate programs – and not to mention professional experience in lieu of a college education – as less-than is nothing but blatant elitism and classism against individuals unable to attend college for a myriad of possibilities. Keeping this in mind, any additional stress added to the platter of burdens served to college students on a – let’s be honest – hourly basis is damaging to every aspect of student wellbeing. A four year college education is not a universal truth, nor should it be presented as the extremity of one’s undergraduate timeline; Things take time, people change and my goodness is college anything but painless.  

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