University causing too much stress
RICHARD LAUTENS/torstar news service
Keggers, forever roommates and maniacal hijinks. University has become the toughest time of your life.
For decades, frat houses, nostalgia and cult classics like The Party Animal and Old School have sold the scholarly life as one of fun and leisurely academic pursuits.
But as winter mid-terms take over the month, students like 22-year-old Aradhana Choudhuri, a fourth-year aerospace engineering student at Ryerson University, are suffering from stress, overwork and debt. She can’t wait to jump the bar, pay the dues, earn the degree and get a full-time job.
“I thought (university) would be a lot more learning. I thought it was going to be about expanded horizons and all that crap they feed you in high school,” says Choudhuri. “There are a lot of fields that I haven’t had time to learn, like electrical engineering, history, world events, language.”
Choudhuri says on top of her 20 hours a week of courses, she studies for an additional 15 – “not enough,” she says.
She also works as a teaching and research assistant – an additional 20 hours a week – and runs her own Web design company, which takes up yet another 20 hours.
Twentysomething university students aren’t slacking off. Choudhuri is among a cohort of young adults who work more and play less. Today’s university students aren’t anti-authoritarian, frat boys or philosophers. They’re overachievers so pumped full of fear of failing that they wrap themselves in schedules, resumé fluffers, grade point averages and financial statements.
The pressure put on overachieving teenagers and twentysomethings became a literary trend with books such as Alexandra Robbins’ The Overachievers, and Jean M. Twenge’s Generation Me.
When Choudhuri goes home, she shares her 700-square-foot apartment with two other students to save money. “I just want my undergrad over with,” she says.
Money is a constant concern, she has no time for exercise and even less to eat well.
“University is definitely the most unhealthy time of your life,” she says.
Choudhuri says she’s $40,000 in debt, a common situation for senior university and college students. According to a Statistics Canada report released in 2004, about half of all university graduates in 2000 had borrowed money to earn their degree. Of those who relied on both government and private loans, the average debt load was about $30,000.
In 2005, more than one million students were attending university, a record high according to Statistics Canada, which attributed the numbers to the double cohort, more international students and a larger population of people aged 18 to 24.
No more is university a place to mill about after high school; a degree is increasingly a prerequisite to a job in a professional field. Between 1990 and 2005, 1.7 million jobs were created for graduates. About 1.3 million were lost for those who had a high school diploma or less.
And for those who assume that university students are taking courses in basket weaving, think again. According to Statistics Canada, the largest programs in Canadian community colleges were engineering and applied science and business and commerce. For universities, the most popular disciplines were social and behavioural sciences and law.
Even for those who don’t apply for loans, according to the Canadian Association of University Teachers, about 46 per cent of 20-year-old university students also work. About 62 per cent of college students do.
“(Working) is pretty much the average thing for me and my friends. You need to work to get ends met,” says Dean Kelly, 27, who, on top of his fourth-year business management studies, works 30 hours a week at a copy store in the basement of Ryerson University’s student centre. “I’m having a good time, but time management is the important thing.”