Is the full college experience a myth?

“The best years of your life.” Aoibhínn Clancy debates the pressure students feel to make the most out of their college years

Starting college can elicit anxieties in students around ensuring they get the so-called “full college experience.” While of course we all come to college to get an education and (hopefully) leave with a degree after of years of hard work, college life encompasses much more than just your studies.

College was the first time I had some small spotlight of adulthood shown to me after Covid-19 overshadowed both the end of my teen years and the start of my adult life. 

I became set on parking in this full college experience which had been preached repeatedly to me. 

Navigating academics, going out, making new friends, maintaining old friendships, a job, going for pints (which is a different task than going on a night out), relationships, and keeping in touch with your family are not easy obligations to balance. 

While yes, my astrological sign is Libra, meaning I strive to attain balance in all aspects of life, I struggled, and still struggle tremendously trying to keep everything harmonious. 

It is unavoidable for many college students to find themselves overwhelmed and burned out. I was unable to remove myself from the cynical cycle of constantly being on the go in order to feel as though I was taking full advantage of my college years as these are supposed to be the best years of my life. Right?

Unfortunately, the dreams many of us have been sold about college are exaggerated tales of fiction. Media and pop culture have not helped, setting students up with unrealistic expectations of what to expect once embarking into their college careers.

“Some of my fondest memories have been made during my time in Trinity, but that doesn’t negate that at times it can be equally as overwhelming and isolating”

This does not mean it’s all doom and gloom. Some of my fondest memories have been made during my time in Trinity, but that doesn’t negate that at times it can be equally as overwhelming and isolating. 

A large part of the college experience for many is spending weekends and evenings working part time jobs. The soaring cost of living is news to nobody. It was recently revealed that the living wage in Ireland has increased to €14.80 which is nowhere near the amount students would be making. Not working throughout college is a luxury many cannot afford and working 40 hours a week to achieve a living wage is unfeasible.

Over two-thirds of college students work part time during college according to a study done in 2016 by Irish League of Credit Unions into the cost of 3rd level education. It’s no secret that the cost of attending college is a burden on many. While your coursework should be the main priority, having to pay for fees, rent, utilities and general student life puts many in a position where not working is impossible. 

I have worked, and continue to work, during my time in college. Finding a balance between college life and work life can be particularly difficult and many times, despite meticulous planning and attempts to manage my time, I have found myself doing assignments on my lunch break in order to meet assignment deadlines. 

15 hours per week is the maximum amount of hours college students are recommended to work or else they risk their job impeding upon their studies. If one is working a minimum wage job of €11.30 an hour this means they will get €168 a week or €672 a month. 

If you were renting a single bedroom en-suite within an apartment in Trinity Halls from the duration of September 16th to May 10th it would cost €7267 which works out at approximately €807 a month. 

I am not a mathematician, however it is clear to me that there is a clear disparity between what is advised for students and what is realistic for them to work in order to survive. If one was working those hours, they would not even have enough for their rent, let alone enough for groceries, and then also having some spare money for day to day life. 

This makes it virtually impossible to live away from home and attend college unless ones parents are subsidising and supporting you or you have worked previously to save enough. 

I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I can easily commute to college. The experience of many students is far different, with many of my peers forced to wake up in the early hours of the morning in order to commute long distances to attend lectures as they could not access or afford accommodation near college. 

FOMO is a quintessential aspect of the college experience for many students. As unbelievably happy as I was to start my course, I was just as eager to begin my descent into going out. There was a significant and sustained period of my life where I would find myself going out four to five nights a week, terrified at the idea that I would possibly miss out on something.

I do not recommend this. Ultimately, your body will break down leaving you with some horrendous illness forcing you to be bedridden for days, but it is an unavoidable event for many a college student.

At the time, I felt as though I had cracked the code on how to navigate college. I was successfully attending all my classes, going to the library, working part time, exercising and having an active social life — at times you could say it was perhaps overly active. 

The way I was choosing to partake in college was unsustainable at best and dangerous at worst”

Looking back now, two years later, I realise that all of this came at the detriment of my mental health, and I now understand we do need sleep to function. The way I was choosing to partake in college was unsustainable at best and dangerous at worst. 

My experience with college has without doubt changed slightly since my days in first year. The novelty of buying overpriced drinks and the ever sticky Workman’s floor wore off slightly, which is bittersweet. 

I still go out, don’t get me wrong, but the once-present burning desire to constantly be in the thick of the action has diminished. It is only now in my third year that I am seeing college through a different lens. I do not have to do it all and I can not do it all. 

The experience of each student during their time is unique and deeply personal. It must be acknowledged that college is not an equal experience for all. While it is seen as a period of growth and transition into adulthood, many feel stuck and overwhelmed trying to balance things such as being a full-time student and part-time worker alongside trying to meet unrealistic social expectations as one attempts to carve out their place in the social hierarchy of college. 

It is naive and at times dangerous to preach to students the necessity to attain the full college experience when so many external factors hinder them from doing so. It encourages burning the candle from both ends, a tried and tested recipe for disaster. 

Aoibhinn Clancy

Aoibhínn Clancy is the Deputy News Editor of Trinity News and is currently in her Junior Sophister Year studying History and Political Science.