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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    When four years is not enough

    “”So, when are you going to graduate?”” Every college student knows and dreads this question, which starts getting posed to us on a regular basis around the time we start our sophomore year. You’d think there were only two kinds of college students: those who just got there and those who are about to leave.

    To be sure, “”When are you going to graduate?”” is, in one sense, just another one of those safe stock questions that help people get to know each other without revealing anything particularly personal, on par with “”So, what are you going to do after you graduate?”” or “”So what are you doing for the summer?””

    But in another sense, it’s symptomatic of a deeper problem: our fear of not doing everything exactly the same way as everyone else. If you’re not on track to graduating in exactly four years, the question subtly implies, you’re on track to failure. The question might as well be “”So, what are you still doing here?””

    This might sound obvious. Peer pressure – the fear that you’re not doing something the “”right”” way – begins as early as kindergarten, and it’s probably still operating in the nursing home. Humans are social creatures, and we can’t help wanting to fit in.

    In college, we’re surrounded by motivated types with 4.0 GPAs, super-scholars who have more majors than you have classes. I knew someone who had three majors and shot straight through college in the usual four years, never taking fewer than 18 credits a semester, not deviating once from her previously devised schedule.

    There’s something to be said for being motivated by this kind of example. It certainly beats trying to emulate John Belushi in “”Animal House”” the way so many freshmen – and, for that matter, seniors – seem to be trying to do.

    But not everyone is a born overachiever, and trying to be something you’re not is a recipe for eventual unhappiness. If you need more than four years to graduate, it doesn’t mean you’re a slacker, or that you’re destined for skid row. Yet this is exactly what many people seem to believe, judging by how often we hear ideologues in the media, like the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman, complain of the laziness and lack of ambition of our nation’s studentry.

    These ideologues regularly rail at us about the need to “”excel”” in a so-called “”global economy,”” as if the fate of the world rested on the shoulders of every college freshman. Indeed, the dreaded “”global economy”” hangs over today’s kids like the sword of Damocles.

    Buckle down and work hard, the ideologues warn, or face a life of unemployment – a message that seems designed to teach our youth that only the most “”efficient”” among them even deserve to go to college. What if you decide to switch majors after a year or two? Clearly the telltale sign of a fatally “”inefficient”” learner.

    According to the nonprofit organization ACT, up to a fourth of all first-year university students don’t return for a second. The conveyor-belt feeling of being swept down a relentless path to a single career, the “”sink or swim”” feeling that gets instilled in us as early as high school, surely has something to do with this.

    Educational institutions are complicit in this sort of thinking, what with “”Finish in Four!”” programs like the one featured at the UA. The programs are well-intentioned, but their emphasis on the four-year benchmark is unfortunate. If college is so rewarding, and if learning is its true purpose, why are we trying to hustle kids through it as fast as possible?

    “”Never get off the boat,”” declares a character in “”Apocalypse Now.”” Sometimes, though, you have to stop and get off the boat, take a look around, and decide where it is you want to go next. That’s the only way to ensure you have a fulfilled life.

    And if that takes you off the perfect four-year schedule your parents handed you the day before you started college, so be it.

    – Justyn Dillingham is a senior majoring in
    history and political science. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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