Best Advice: Why You Should Take 4 Years for College
Welcome to Best Advice: my corner on what I’ve learned so far
I did both my degrees in 4.5 years. I achieved my M.A when I was just 23 years old and I would say it is the biggest mistake and blessing of my life. Learn from my blessed mistake.
Many kids have the notion that life doesn’t begin until after college and I’m here to report that life, once you turn 18 and take those first tentative steps into the world is when life really begins. This is a helpful reminder for those us who are/were over-achievers, over-driven, and felt that the sooner we got through, the sooner we could get into a job and the sooner we could make money, save for retirement, start a family, buy a house and all that sort of thing. Now I will admit, as a writer, my life path is more like an unimproved dirt road that you don’t want to drive down unless you have four wheel drive, but I think this advice is helpful even for those on a more conventional pathway.
My college and grad school experience was a kind of hell. I stressed myself, sacrificed my GPA, and and nearly killed myself by taking 18 credit hours (the max at my school) every semester, 15 every summer (the max) and 4 every winter (also the max). If there were classes being offered, I was taking them and racking up the 120 credits I needed to graduate and move on to the next thing so that I could get to “life” and so that “my life” could begin. Here’s what I discovered as my 20s come to a close; life was already in progress. Every moment that I lived, every apartment, girlfriend/boyfriend, move, car break down, money problem, and crazy party: all were my life. My days were packed as I also spent time in student government and helping make my campus better wherever I could. On top of that, I was doing freelance business writing the entire time to make extra money and I worked in another entertainment venture at the time. When the recession hit, I lost both of things but I had other concerns at the time. Rather than taking the space to re-evaluate my decisions and what I was doing and where I was going I doubled down and hurried out the door so that I could get a job and start my life and my home. I hurried right into grad school because I thought it was a good idea, I knew I wanted to pursue more education and during the recession it seemed like a good idea. It made life really hard to spend 5 hours a day on school and run a business and make money. I sacrificed everything in order to do it and the sacrifice, while glamorous for my resume was not really worth it. I discovered the hard way that your health, your sanity, and your wallet are concerns that you have to consider while pursuing education. Keeping in mind: I had family help unlike many others.
But here is what I didn’t realize: college isn’t just an education and it isn’t just a time in your life that is before life: it is life, a vital portion of your life. I now get why people spend 5 years in college and take fewer credit hours. It gives them time to be active, to really invest in classes and to invest in a real social life and a life outside of class. I had no idea what a vibrant life after class was like. School was my life, as it has been my life before. On the other side, I advise something really different. The time we spend out of class recovering, sleeping, resting, and having social time is just as important as the time spent in class. I believe that a healthy lifestyle makes time in class more palatable and certainly makes one more focused. One is not as fresh hitting a class at 2:00 pm when you only had 4–5 hours of sleep and you’ve already had 1–2 classes that day, spent time studying in the library and frantically finished an assignment and then dashed in the door while also running your own freelancing business (in my case) or worked a shift at your job (friends’ case) at the same time. Where is your mind? Nowhere near that classroom.
I’ve said all of that to say this: take your time in college, don’t rush your way through. Take 12 credit hours a semester, get in shape (you’re young it’s the best time to do it), and value the time in your youth. If you’re going back to school later in life, this advice is doubly true. Indeed you wont’ necessarily be in the social scene like traditional students but not stressing yourself out with taking on too much while still running your life is important. You’ll retain more and have a more valuable education. Take the time to realize you’re in the wrong major program, take that class that seems interesting, meet with those people, take on that extra project or internship. Make that time and those dollars really count!
I wish I had, so don’t make the mistake that I did.
Originally published at www.cameroncowan.net on October 11, 2015.