Misery Outdoes Company
Getting a degree is not a competitive sport, so stop treating it like one.
By Jill Phelan, St. Vincent College
Have you ever noticed how competitive college is?
And no, I’m not referring the admissions process—although it’s quite possible that is the place where the problem starts (just my personal hypothesis). I’m talking about the day-to-day pissing contest that is student versus student—the good old-fashioned need to one-up your friends. It is possible though, that you could be so desensitized to the competitiveness that you may not even recognize it.
To give you an idea of what I mean, here are a couple phrases that might ring a bell:
“You only got five hours of sleep last night? Lucky, I only got two!”
“You got a 90 on that test? Awesome—I got a 98!”
“OMG, how have you only had one latte today? I’ve had like five cups of coffee already and it’s not even noon yet!”
Can you recall hearing any such statements leaving the lips of your fellow classmates? If you have, I empathize with you. Lately, I’ve been irritated by the miasma brought on by obsessive, cutthroat students. As a result, I have racked my brain, asking myself why college-goers feel the need to prove themselves to their peers—and I’ve come up with a few theories of my own.
First, maybe they believe they have to demonstrate their worthiness. Whether it be bragging about grades or pointing out how little they’ve slept, it’s possible that students just want to be acknowledged for their efforts in order to show how much they deserve to be where they are.
Second, maybe they want to track their progress in comparison to the other undergraduates. I know that I’ve encountered moments when I wonder if I’m doing alright—if I’m the only one struggling to simply get by. So it seems natural enough to try to measure up to the people undergoing the same rigorous lifestyle as you.
And lastly, maybe they’ve been bred to go for the gold every chance they get. It sounds a bit extreme, but like I said earlier, getting accepted into a good college is a hard enough feat on its own that requires a ton of dedication. Therefore, I think that mindset can very easily carry over into the next four years of schooling for many young adults focused on taking their lives to the next level.
In reality, I’m not entirely sure if any of my notions could hold true. I’m no psychologist, but I can’t help myself when it comes to wondering why people act the way that they do. However, if someone’s motives were any of the three aforementioned, I would have no qualms understanding their actions.
That being said, the one-upping nature of college students needs to be eradicated, or scaled back at the very least, in my opinion. Similar to the world of sports, competition can sometimes be a healthy tool for achieving greatness (key word being sometimes). In this case, going toe-to-toe with your classmates on everyday tasks creates unnecessary stress and a tense atmosphere—neither of which are ideal for studying.
What I’ve come to realize (and what I wish my peers would also learn to acknowledge) is that school in general is a personal journey.
It doesn’t need to be shared every step of the way and it certainly doesn’t need to be compared to everyone else’s experiences. I think that because classes consist of more than a singular participant and campuses are filled with many a striving student, people often associate college with community—but that, to me, is a misconception.
Although students may gather to form one body, they are still individuals. They may have similar objectives, but each person’s goals are only achieved by themselves, for themselves. Because in the end, they will graduate and the class members will disperse to lead out their lives on their own.
College is your time to plan for your future and no one else’s. So it shouldn’t matter if someone else has five exams this week compared to your three tests or that their workload is more strenuous than yours. Don’t let anybody make you feel as though you’re losing a game that doesn’t even exist.
Your undergraduate degree is not some Olympic medal that you will win based on the fastest time or the highest number of points. The only people who should be judging your performance are you and your professors—that’s all that matters for success. Everyone else’s opinions are irrelevant as far as I’m concerned.
When future employers sit down to review your transcript and résumé, they won’t be looking at how many cups of coffee it took for you to survive your finals or how many times you wore sweatpants to class (I’d be unemployed for my entire life if that were the judging criteria). Instead, they’ll be taking into consideration your courses, your grades and your extracurricular activities. How you managed to go about getting the degree is entirely in your hands.
So if you know you can’t handle more than 15 credits per semester, then don’t feel pressured to take 18. Or if you’re getting worn down by collegiate rigors and you need a break, don’t be afraid to take a semester off—there’s no rush to get your degree. You can do it at your own pace; it will still hold the same value in the end.
To offer a different perspective: maybe the Engineering majors are making you feel like a slacker because they pull all-nighters three times a week when you can have all your homework done by midnight. Don’t let stupid little things like that determine how much your diploma will be worth.
All in all, what I’m trying to get at is to complete your undergrad on your own terms. There’s no need to turn your education into a competition, because it’s your life and no one else’s that will be affected by the work that you put into earning your degree.