College advances experience, not maturation


University of Kentucky student Shannon Frazer, pictured in the Kernel office on 10/14/09. Photo by Ed Matthews

Column by Shannon Frazer. E-mail at [email protected]

I’ve come to the realization that although I’m getting older, my societal role hasn’t changed much since I’ve entered college.

For example, last Friday I joined scores of upperclassmen volunteers in the daunting task of moving freshmen in to their residence halls.

As a fifth-year senior this year, my newly-acquired “super seniority” status offered me the valuable opportunity to be a go-to person on campus.

But this year’s freshmen move-in effort made me especially aware of the age gap between the people who are just arriving at UK for the first time and people like me who are sticking around for the cliché academic “victory lap.”

College is no longer a restricted four year period during which career goals are made, soul mates are met and lifelong aspirations are crossed off the bucket list, prior to ascending into full-blown adulthood.

In more and more cases, college has become an extended (yet finite) period in a person’s life, worthy of its own classification.

A recent New York Times Magazine article explained this very phenomenon, describing how in this day and age a new sector of the population is separating itself: it’s located somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, right in that twenty-something realm.

This new categorization has affected numerous existing social institutions. For instance, the Internal Revenue Service now classifies full-time students as dependents on their parents’ insurance until age 24, and those without insurance may stay on their parents’ plans until age 26, even if they are not students.

With the down economy many college graduates are forced to return to their pre-college roles of dependent children to their parents, at least until job prospects start looking up. These grads are adults in terms of education and experience, but inability to obtain a job hinders any further progression.

As a result, college seniors are equally confounded by their predicament as the fresh-faced 18-year-olds. And changing government policies are feeding that naivety.

Reflecting on my time at UK, I have become an element of its culture. I have embraced the college student lifestyle and I am seasoned by my experiences, but would hardly label myself an adult because of it.

But higher education is not the reason that students transition into higher levels of maturity; rather, it is an intermediate step between adolescence and adulthood warranting its own recognition that enables the straddling life stages to flow into one another.

Post-undergraduate life promises to be experientially different from that prior to college entry because higher education equips students with an advanced skill set. But it’s not until the day that the job offer is accepted and the nine-to-five grind begins that the adult persona seems to take over.

Watch out, freshmen. It’ll sneak up on you faster than you think.