By Bridget Sjoberg | Staff Writer
You’ve seen in before: Two students engage in conversation, one asks the other how school is going, and the response most likely goes something along the lines of “drowning in homework,” “I have so many tests this week” or maybe even “I was in Moody until 3 a.m. last night, but had a few cups of coffee so it’s fine.”
This automatic assumption that as college students we need to be studying for hours on end every night and constantly be pulling all-nighters to get work done is harmful but has become engrained in the minds of many students. What began as a humorous stereotype has progressed into an assumption that exchanging mental and physical health for better grades is normal behavior. How exactly did this “college student” stereotype develop and spread? Here are a few possible reasons.
At a time when society seems to value those who work the fastest and the hardest all the time, it can appear to students that the amount of hours put in to studying or doing homework directly affects the grade that they will receive in their class. If they stay at Moody library studying material from 3 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., shouldn’t they do better on an upcoming test than a student who studied an hour and a half? Not necessarily.
According to a 2017 study by Stanford University, a primary reason why some students continually outperform others is not that they study longer, but that they more strategically study and use the resources given to them. In a culture that emphasizes working hard and constantly being productive, the assumption is that studying longer equals working harder equals better grades.
Even if their grades suffer, many students still take pride in the fact that they “worked hard” and “studied a lot,” even if their studying was counterproductive or caused a lack of sleep. To be a normal college student, shouldn’t we all be staying up late every night and always overworking ourselves? In reality, strategizing your time and making the most of the time you study, even if it’s not for hours on end, proves more beneficial.
Another key reason that this assumed “college student” stereotype has spread is due to social media. For example, accounts like Twitter’s @collegeproblem (which has over 274,000 followers) write posts normalizing behaviors like binging Netflix for six hours instead of studying, drinking continuous cups of coffee into the late hours of the night while studying and constantly being overstressed by homework and assignments.
While there are definitely people that naturally engage in these behaviors, I get the feeling that many students who wouldn’t normally feel the need to overwork themselves or procrastinate to extreme levels may do so because it’s the “normal” college thing to do. Tweets like “Every college student knows the most important time of the day is the minutes leading up to 11:59 p.m.” or “A week in college is like: meltdown Monday, too tired Tuesday, why am I here Wednesday, this week needs to end Thursday” perpetuate a stereotype that college students need to be stressed, tired and dreading all of their classes to be normal.
I understand, however, that accounts like this aren’t all bad. Some posts can be funny and help students realize that they’re not alone in their college struggles, but often times accounts geared toward college students on social media encourage them to engage in an unhealthy lifestyle and counterproductive habits to fit in with your peers.
A final reason that this stereotype is continuously viewed as normal is because of college students themselves. When asked about school or classes, I typically hear a positive answer only 5 percent of the time. It’s common for students to be constantly surrounded by peers who complain about school, their workload, their teachers, their lack of sleep, how boring their classes are or how hard their tests are. When engaging in these conversations becomes a frequent occurrence, many may begin to believe that they too should also be stressed, always working and complaining about classes to be a successful student or fit into the “college kid” mold. However, this issue is one that is easily solvable. Next time you are asked about how school is going, you can describe the negative aspects or the stress if that is how you legitimately feel, but don’t feel like you need to complain about all of your homework or how late you stayed up studying for your “test week” if you are actually doing fine or succeeding in your classes. Words matter, and if we get in the habit of continuously talking about stress or the difficulty of college, chances are that we will legitimately feel more stressed and tired in our daily lives.
Now don’t get me wrong — there have definitely been times when I’ve felt incredibly overworked and am stressed about assignments, or when I’ve stayed up a little too late to finish my homework. However, most of the time I’m doing OK and manage to balance schoolwork and activities with a healthy lifestyle. There is nothing abnormal about having feelings of stress and fatigue when getting through the daily grind of classes and meetings, but exaggerating these feelings or subconsciously complaining about them regularly to fit into a “college student” mold can have affects on your own performance and that of your peers.