Opinion: Busting the ‘best years of our lives’ myth

Cassidy Alexander

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Photo by Rachelle Keller

Graphic by Rachelle Keller

We hear it from well-meaning family members, from movies and TV shows intending to portray college life and in response to any complaints we may have at this time in our life: “These are the best four years of your life!” While that may have been true years ago, that may not hold so true now. These are not the best four years of our lives.

With everything that students have to deal with, such as classes, internships, volunteer work, part-time jobs and family commitments, college students are understandably stressed. Unfortunately, there’s another pressure: making college the ‘best years of our life’ and it’s catching up to them.

Natalie Indelicato, Ph.D., LMHC, visiting assistant professor in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program, told Spinnaker that a lot of people think depression doesn’t affect college students.

“There’s so much pressure to have fun and be happy,” Dr. Indelicato said. “‘They’re the best years of your life.’ People have the assumption that in youth, life is stress-free.”

According to the American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment in 2012, more than 40 percent of college students felt more than an average amount of stress within the 12 months prior to taking the survey. Additionally, more than 80 percent of students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do in the past year.

Part of that stress comes from the financial situation of today’s students. In the academic year 1971-1972, the average tuition and fees, in 2014 dollars, for students at a 4-year public university was $2,505, according to the College Board. In 2014-2015, that number almost quadrupled to $9,139, putting almost four times the financial burden on college students today than their parents experienced when they went to college.

As a result of the pressures put on students and the things expected of them, college students are now experiencing something called a mid-college crisis, a newly coined term that’s gaining popularity.

It’s the college student’s version of a mid-life crisis, used to describe a time in an undergraduate student’s college career when they realize the end is near and they haven’t done everything they wanted to do. It’s the time in a student’s life when they realize all of the opportunities they have yet to take advantage of, and their dwindling time frame to do so.

UNF alumna Joanna Liberty, graduated in 1978. Photo by Cassidy Alexander

UNF alumna Joanna Liberty, graduated in 1978. Photo by Cassidy Alexander

This “crisis” is centered on the academic and professional opportunities students are expected to take advantage of, from internships to study abroad trips. It has to do with the pressure we all feel about figuring out the path we want to follow for the rest of our lives, and how best to get started.

The very fact that this exists is representative of the pressures that students face, making it difficult to enjoy “the time of our lives” when we are focused instead on getting to the next phase in our lives.

And getting to the next, better phase of our lives is everything that college is about. The point of college, and everything that we do during our time here, is to receive an education, secure a good career and live a good life when we graduate.

UNF alumna Deborah Bohler, graduated in 1980. Photo by Cassidy Alexander

UNF alumna Deborah Bohler, graduated in 1980. Photo by Cassidy Alexander

Joanna Liberty, a UNF alumna who graduated with a master’s degree in social sciences and education in 1978, remembers her time at UNF fondly. However, she counts her time raising her children as the best time of her life. “I was working, going to school, and raising a family of five, so it was a lot of hard work,” Liberty said, “but very, very rich.”

Deborah Bohler, UNF alumna who graduated in 1980 from the accounting program, said that her college years were great. “I wouldn’t say that it was the best, but it was a special time,” Bohler said of her time in school.

Liberty said, that perhaps the best time in her life was when she was raising her children. “It was, you know, so much excitement in our lives, being transferred and living in new cities and meeting new people. It was a very hopeful time.”

“The phases of a life are good for different reasons,” Bohler said. “Each phase had its advantages.”

While college is undoubtedly a great time in a life, it’s not the best.The best four years of your lifeis a myth that only adds to the pressures that students deal with on a daily basis. There’s no way to determine the best time period of any given lifetime, but it’s safe to bet that there are bigger and better things to come after college comes to an end.

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