By Rebecca Von Beaumont
If you had asked me what college life would entail two years ago, I would have answered the same as everybody else: parties on a Tuesday night, labs on a Thursday morning, deciding which lectures were so full of people they could do with a cheeky skip, working at the weekends to fill the cupboards on the weekdays. Through tales and promises passed down through generations we built a mental frame of our college life to be. Through them, we really identified the three building blocks of college life: the academic side, the social side, and the financial side.
The same question now applies to circle out the huge problems we are facing as students. These problems, I find, are often downplayed by use of comparison, and dampened in an effort to ‘get on with things.’ The issue here is that they should not be downplayed.
Arguably the most important element of going to college is the academic purpose. For the majority of modules undertaken in NUI Galway and other third level institutions in Ireland, lectures are no longer held in a lecture hall but via video link. This simple switch cuts out many levels of learning help, from discussing with fellow students to directly asking your lecturer a question and having them see your response. The current way of learning does not suit everyone. After all, there are lots that opt for a degree achieved solely online, but those of us in a third level institution such as NUIG did not and have also paid accordingly. The quality of education nationwide has been largely infringed upon, and it seems to me that this will continue into the long term, quite probably leading to weaker learning on the whole, and eventually fewer traditional third level enrollments.
Thus, we are brought onto the financial side of obtaining your college degree, which is the focus for many people, particularly now. With unemployment on the rise, students who would have had the financial backing of their parents are now finding themselves coming up short financially. It can only be assumed that this will carry on and perhaps even worsen with the strain of longer and harsher lockdowns. Added to this are the inconsistent and unstable jobs in the hospitality sectors which many students would work in part-time. Such income is now unstable at best. Struggles with sourcing and renting accommodation are now coupled with the unpredictability of on-campus learning and social activities and leads to deposit and rent losses for all of those involved. More people may withdraw from the market as renting becomes a less than ideal option.
Lastly, a vital part of everyone’s life regardless of age, is the social and personal aspect. Humans are social creatures who need family, friends, and even acquaintances. College was one of the main places to expand your social circles, from sport and events to just attending the lectures themselves. In college life void of this, people are stripped of opportunities to get that much needed human contact. Of all the aspects of college life, this is perhaps the one that will sting the most going forward, as socialization is reduced to a bare minimum and those just starting out on adulthood have virtually no opportunity to grow socially. The future impact of this, which can already be heavily felt, is simply an unhappier people.
With these elements considered, we are heading for a problematic future, with many struggling to stay afloat amid financial and academic difficulties, and further dragged down by the weight of unavoidable loneliness. While this can be considered a bleak view, I would say it is one that is realistic, and unfortunately strays far away from the rosy ideals many of us had growing up.
If you ask me what college life will be like in the future, I will tell you that I hope it’s nothing like it is today.