Sometimes, it seems that the most trivial of displeasures bother me the most. I recently received an email reminding me that my current account password expired in a few days, after which I immediately took a long, cold shower. It had been almost exactly a year since I was first subjected to the horrors of holding a college-mandated email account.
Inevitably, there was some foreshadowing of the miserable experience of maintaining a school email address. Everyone I had contacted during the college process—from admissions staff to students—had an account with the handle “@nameofcollege.edu.” Yet until the day I first had to sign into my school’s server, I took for granted the luxury of only having to manage my personal account.
First of all, colleges often have rigid expectations for what you can use as a password. They want your password to be strong and secure, which often means it’s also convoluted and hard to remember. I had to reset my password several times within the first month of school before I eventually forced myself to write it down.
I also called my school’s help desk repeatedly last summer because I had trouble logging in. As it turned out, you can only login if you refrain from entering the school’s handle (“@nameofcollege.edu”) into the system, instead entering only your unique username. Pardon me if those “handle requirements” weren’t execrably clear before I wasted 4 total hours of my life on hold at the help desk listening to the “Earth, Wind & Fire” album “Boogie Wonderland.”
But even if you know your address and password like the back of your hand, it can still be an annoyingly extensive process simply to log in. Google doesn’t allow you to log in through Gmail, instead redirecting you to your own school’s login page. However, this same login page is often a broken link, making it impossible to bookmark it or copy and paste the URL.
The login page fails to load because of security reasons, as people often store passwords in their cache, which would’ve made it easy for others to hack into your email if they knew the URL of the login page. The fact that the login page cannot be bookmarked helps avoid hacking, but it also means that you may have to enter your address and password several times before actually gaining access to your college inbox.
And these login woes are made more painful by the fact that checking your personal email often means having to logout of your college one (only to login again). If you’re barely able to keep up with one email account, who expects you to manage two? Vacillating back and forth between multiple email addresses can be confusing, but can also mean you go long stretches of time without checking one of the accounts, missing the one-in-a-hundred email you actually care about.
The ninety-nine others are often filled with college news that’s irrelevant to you, advertisements for extracurricular activities you have no interest in and volunteer opportunities that usually entail letting children rip your hair out for several hours on a weekend afternoon. Colleges will often automatically sign you up for subscriptions to college sports updates, community event notifications and the like. Such subscriptions are often much harder to cancel than simply pressing “unsubscribe” on your Gmail account.
Exclusively using your college email account might be a good way of finally being rid of old subscriptions, but it also necessitates re-subscribing to the few subscriptions you actually wanted, not to mention transferring contacts and other information you have stored on your personal account. Such information can also include files on Google Drive, mandating the terribly awkward task of emailing yourself.
There are other problems with college email accounts that are particular to the school. Some colleges might require you to change your password every so often. Others might have limited storage space or categorizing options when compared with Gmail and other email services.
However, one convenience of having a college email account is that almost everyone affiliated with your school, including fellow students, professors and administrators, shares the same handle, with usernames predictably deriving from the person’s real name, as opposed to email@example.com. Colleges will also often store the contact information for everyone with the school’s handle in the cache, making it easy to email a professor without knowing his or her first name.
At the end of the day, most of the irksome baggage of college email accounts might not amount to much, and some colleges are better than others about notifying students of important events and deadlines in other ways. If you regard the above pesky inconveniences as deal-breakers, oftentimes the same information gained through monitoring college email accounts can be relayed through Facebook groups, text messages or messaging apps. Email, though rapidly becoming outdated, is still the preferred method of communication among college administrators, which seems to contradict the long-term trend of people favoring increasingly fast, efficient and convenient modes of communication. However, perhaps email sacrifices an element of convenience for another important parameter in modern interaction: security.
Hacking is a deep concern of many individuals, businesses and governments, and cyber safety definitely takes priority when the web is used to exchange tens of thousands of dollars in tuition fees, as well as personal information your college wants to know. While email is not a perfectly stable means of exchanging information, it’s still easier for lawmakers and enforcers to manage the privacy concerns of email than those of trendy startups like Snapchat.
In fact, many of the inconveniences of email are in place because of cyber safety. Mandatory password changes, the drawn-out login process and other untimely grievances constitute why college administrators use email and not Twitter to communicate with students, among other reasons.
Unfortunately, as frustrating as college email accounts can be, perhaps they’re the most useful form of communication between a college and its students at the moment. And, for better or worse, by the time a newer, safer and more efficient method takes the place of email, colleges will have a completely new set of pupils.