Emotional Demands of College

Being in my ninth year of teaching, I am just about convinced that the biggest obstacle for most new students relates to the time and emotional demands of college.

I generally reject notions that students being underprepared for college equates to a significant obstacle because students have always been underprepared for college since the creation of what we think of as the United States Higher Education system in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

Time. Basic time, however, is a big factor. Students don’t realize that college classes require a tremendous amount of time studying independently. This semester I have an alarmingly large number of FTIC students who are taking 6 or 7 classes and who are also working 20-30+ hours weekly. These students are, understandably, completely overwhelmed and stressed and confused about what is happening.

Through conversations with various students this week I started having conversations about the emotional demands of college, specifically. In all of the books and articles and talks and discussions about college and students, I don’t ever remember a discussion on the emotional demands, specifically.

Emotional demands are intimately connected with the on-going debates about trigger warnings (also known as, objectionable material warnings, disclaimers, etc.). Students regularly are frustrated because college asks that they grapple with thoughts and methods they never knew existed. College asks that they reconsider the heavily censored version of history taught in public schools. Colleges ask students to work with other students and professors who are seemingly very different and “unusual.” College ask students to completely redo an assignment sometimes. College, sadly, is where students generally earn their first grade that is not an automatic “A.”

Emotional demands extend not just from work loads, diversity of ideas and peoples, and rigorous requirements, but also from family, friends, and jobs. I hear from student after student that their dad, boss, or friends don’t respect, don’t understand that they are in college. This is especially true for First Generation college students and for those who have to work to attend school. Additionally, we live in a society that does not really respect or encourage creative and free thought — all things college requires and really encourages. 

Students must be encouraged to take time for these emotional demands. Students need extra time to just “zone out” or “chill” or “do whatever.” This extra time is needed to process information, evaluate world views, and figure out where one belongs in the world. College is about learning worth crying about,” as one of my favorite researchers, Michael Wesch, puts it. 

Being a college student is emotionally exhausting, and we need conversations that emphasize this reality.