More teens and twentysomethings hook up than date, but a small number of college students choose to walk down the aisle before they walk across the stage—the graduation stage, that is. Their parents may be horrified and their friends may think they’re crazy, but traditional-aged married undergraduates do exist.
In the United States, the median age at first marriage for females is 26.5 years and slightly older (28.7) years for males, according to the Pew Research Center. Statistics also show a recent decline in the number of newly married adults between the ages of 18 and 24. The American Community Survey found that marriages among that age group dropped 13% between 2009 and 2010.
So even though their decision may go against the grain, college students—who are usually between the ages of 18 and 22—decide to get married before graduation for a variety of reasons.
Some are high school sweethearts who have been dating for six or seven years and see no reason to wait any longer to make things official. Others are committed couples who do not believe in premarital sex for religious or other reasons, and choose to marry rather than go against their beliefs. Unplanned pregnancies may also account for some marriages.
Whatever the reasoning behind their decision, most young adults who get married while they are still students face plenty of raised eyebrows and a variety of challenges in addition to balancing school and work. All relationships take work in order to thrive, but on top of dealing with humdrum basics like making ends meet and figuring out what’s for dinner, married college students may also wind up at odds with their friends or families.
Fraternity parties and college night at the local bars may not mesh well with newlyweds, even those who enjoyed the activities as recently as a few months ago. Friends may make fun of the couple or feel rejected and intentionally pick fights. And if parents or other relatives aren’t supportive of the union, the ensuing arguments can cause stress and anxiety for both bride and groom.
The way students pay for college can also be disrupted after they get married, but possibly for the better. While the amount of financial aid that single students under the age of 22 can receive is determined by their parents’ income, financial aid is determined by a married couple’s personal joint income—which is most likely considerably lower than their mom’s and dad’s if both spouses are still in school.
MSN Money estimates that married college students with part-time jobs would probably have an annual income of $10,000 to $15,000 per year, putting them at or near the poverty level and making them eligible for much more financial aid than an unmarried student from a middle class family. As the author points out, some college students are even deciding to marry for the boost in financial aid rather than for love.
Many college newlyweds wind up renting off-campus apartments or houses while they finish college, but some schools have housing for married students. For example, Oklahoma State University’s Residential Life Office offers student housing options for married students or single parents with children and select halls are open 12 months per year rather than only during the school year. Many other colleges and universities across the country have similar programs in place.
If you’re in college and in love, you may have marriage on the brain. But before you start planning the wedding or run off to Las Vegas, it’s a good idea to speak with your parents, your friends, or even a counselor or religious leader. Sometimes, another person may be able to point things out—both good and bad—that you didn’t even consider.
While many couples who get married during college remain happy for decades, remind yourself that statistics continually show roughly 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Financial stress is one of the main causes of marital problems and divorce, which could be an issue while you are living on part-time earnings and borrowing student loans that will have to be repaid after graduation.
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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