This semester, I am enrolled in four classes, three of which are in-person and one is online. I spend roughly eight hours per week sitting in a classroom and I’m expected to spend more than triple that number of hours studying or working on assignments outside of the classroom. On top of my academic workload, I must maintain thirteen office hours per week to fulfill my commitment as the Lead Scholar of Social Justice Education. I also spend two full days a week at the Hirons office as a communications management intern and I am a part-time social media producer for the Indiana Soccer Association, a role which requires at least eight hours of managing social media accounts – plus traveling to the Westfield office once per month.
Have you been keeping track of that workload?
If so, you’ll notice that I am committed to 75 hours of working per week between school, my scholarship, my job and my internship. There are 168 hours in a week, and if you take out the seven or so hours of sleep I need every day to function, that leaves 44 hours to fit in anything else – friends, family or just relaxing.
Sometimes people will say things to me along the lines of, “You’re the busiest college student I know!” That could be true, but the reality is that the hectic schedule I just laid out isn’t that rare among college students. We have to pay our rent, cover our tuition, go to class and develop as professionals, and all of those things require an immense amount of dedication to succeed. And who knows, maybe you’ll do all those things and still not be able to find a job after graduation? It’s tough to think about, but it happens all the time.
College students are exhausted and it’s more than just senioritis.
The term ‘senioritis’ is technically defined as a “supposed affliction of students in their final year of high school or college, characterized by a decline in motivation or performance.” The presence of the word supposed in that definition implies that it isn’t a real feeling, and most of the time this term isn’t considered in a serious context. As students, we use it in memes and in everyday conversation to dismiss our lack of motivation in a humorous way, but what we’re actually feeling isn’t a joke.
Consider my aforementioned schedule, which consists of a 75-hour work-week: that’s 35 hours of ‘overtime’ compared to what is designated as a legal work week. Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? Try doing it for four years straight. No wonder students get to their senior year of college and can’t find the energy to try as hard as they once did.
Statistics from National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) show that the tribulations college students endure have very real consequences outside of “supposed” senioritis: 1 in 4 adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness. That age range is no coincidence – more than 80 percent of college students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do in the past year and 45 percent have felt things were hopeless at some point. Results released from a different study last week show that nothing has improved in the past several years: one in five college students have considered taking their own life.
What are we supposed to do about it?
As a senior currently feeling very overwhelmed, I unfortunately do not have a quick solution to this problem. Something that helps me when I start feeling like I’m drowning is to talk about it, especially with someone older than me who’s been in my position. When you’re going underwater, it’s important to reach out instead of enduring it alone. I would encourage you to find someone you’re comfortable talking to, just to get some of the stress out in the open rather than holding it all inside your head.
Additionally, something we can do help the problem at large is be more vocal about how we’re all feeling. NAMI’s research shows that close to half of students who experience some sort of mental health issue did not seek help or request accommodations at their college, typically due to the stigma surrounding seeking mental health services. If it’s not within your means to find a counselor, or if you’re just not sure that’s the best option for you, you can still work to bring awareness to the issues college students are facing. Heck, you could even right a blog post about it.
Please note: I understand that there are a number of adults who work more than 40 hours a week. I am not saying that I should be an exception to this, but merely stating that no one should be expected to work that much – student or otherwise – for the sake of their mental health.