Just as advertising agencies have the goal of convincing people to spend money they don’t really have on things they don’t really need, colleges and universities try their best to project a near-perfect image for both current and prospective students.
Even though a campus may seem like the calmest, most pristine place on the planet and the students bustling about look like the most attractive, smartest people you’ve ever seen, there are some things going on behind the scenes that will take awhile to realize. A few of them are listed below.
Professors in the movies and on TV shows are generally middle-aged or older intellectuals with graying hair and classy glasses. They have impressive offices full of books and love to tilt their heads to the side while squinting before they make some sort of amazing observation. In reality, many are part-time adjuncts who teach at multiple colleges—some have never even taught before. Other classes are led by graduate students who are working as teaching assistants. Schools do have hiring standards, but those stereotypical professors you’ve been expecting since the ninth grade may actually be replaced by crabby, overworked and underpaid individuals who aren’t much older than you are. According to Inside Higher Ed, part-time faculty made up 41.1 percent and grad students made up 19.4 percent of “professors” in 2009.
Cheating is against the rules and can lead to expulsion from college, but that doesn’t stop people from doing it. The American Psychological Association reports that roughly two-thirds of 14,000 surveyed undergraduate students admitted to cheating on exams, assignments and homework. A 2009 study also found that over 80 percent of college alumni surveyed admitted to cheating in one form or another during their undergraduate years.
“Buy now, pay later” is a motto that gets people into trouble with credit cards, but it’s just as bad when it comes to student loans. It’s incredibly easy to sign on the dotted line and receive money that helps you pay for college, semester after semester, and forget all about it until you’re done with school. The Project on Student Debt reports that two-thirds of 2011 college graduates had student loan debt. The average amount? Over $26,000 per person, but it’s not unheard of for students to have accumulated over six figures in student loans.
If you’re not worried about those loans (see number three above) because you’re planning on finding a lucrative job immediately after graduation, you may want to take a good, hard look at your chosen field of study. Some degrees are understandably more marketable than others and attempting to enter an industry that doesn’t interest you whatsoever just because it pays well can backfire, but choosing a major based solely on a hobby could lead to a life of low paying, dead end jobs. Your college or your professors probably won’t discourage you from taking classes in a major that they offer, but here’s some food for thought—whoever made up the term “starving artist” might have known what he was talking about.
A lot of teens and twentysomethings have a tendency to go a little bit crazy when they’re no longer living under their parents’ roofs. Sure, getting out there on your own and having the ability to do whatever you want is nice, but that doesn’t mean you need to run down the hall drunk and naked or jump into bed with someone you just met an hour ago while their roommate is lying four feet away and trying to sleep.
Buses that take you from one end of campus to the other. Booths set up with free food and T-shirts. De-stress parties held during exam weeks. Friday night movies on the lawn. Colleges and universities are chock full of freebies for students, but freebies is a relative term. If you ever look closely at your bills each semester, you’ll see that you’re being charged for things with names like student service fees, student activity fees, technology fees, and the like.
Most people don’t like to air their dirty laundry in public, and some schools feel the same way. The Clery Act, a federal law named for Lehigh University freshman Jeanne Clery who was raped and murdered in her dorm room in 1986, requires colleges to disclose campus crime data and issue safety alerts. It passed in the Senate and the House in 1990 yet colleges and universities have been found in violation. According to Huff Post College, Yale University is facing a $165,000 fine for failing to report sex crimes on campus. Other notable schools have also been found in violation, such as the Penn State sexual abuse scandal and Virginia Tech’s failure to issue timely warnings on campus following the campus shootings that occurred before the Virginia Tech massacre, which could have helped decrease the number of casualties.
A college degree can help lead to a good job, but employers tend to seek out employees with soft skills—such as friendliness, positive interaction with others, and the ability to write and speak effectively—in addition to technical or job-specific knowledge. In a day and age where people communicate via texts and emails more often than in person, these skills are tough for some people to develop. US News Money reports that 98 percent of surveyed employers consider communication skills essential and 92 percent consider the ability to work well with others an important trait, so spend time hanging out with friends and meeting new people. It will come in handy.
New residence halls are often dramatically different than those prison-like cells of years past. Amenities like fitness centers complete with rock climbing walls, heated pools, and restaurants are growing in popularity. But despite living in a hall that rivals a five-star hotel, students are not immune to catching athlete’s foot in the showers or finding bed bugs between the sheets. Infectious diseases tend to spread quicker in places where large groups of people live in close quarters, such as college dorms, and young adults who are accustomed to Mom cleaning up after them have a tendency to leave half-eaten food sitting on the counter rather than putting it away—which can easily lead to roaches or other pests.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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