Ever since I was little, I worried about my future school and work lives. I had been told that high school was going to be challenging, that college would be a true testament of my mental strength, and that the workforce thereafter required a level of maturity that I couldn’t even imagine.
Two summers before high school started, I worked as a “Counselor in Training” at a summer camp where I got paid $20 a week for 30 hours of work–I think I was on record as a volunteer and the $20 was “under-the-table” because I was only 13 years old, and you had to be 14 to actually work or get paid. I worried that if a 7th-grade summer-job was that hard, then high school, college, and any jobs 5 years down the line would be insurmountable.
A couple of years into high school and I began to confirm my fears. I remember nearly breaking down in tears because I couldn’t understand what Machiavelli or Kant said in translated plain English, or what Newton and Leibniz said in their hybrid Roman, Greek, alphanumeric dialect that they reflexively insisted upon calling Math. On average, I was in school physically for 6.5 hours per day, commuting to school 30 minutes each way, and grueling through homework for another 2 hours once I got home. That’s 9.5 hours a day, ignoring sports, clubs, or a social life. 47.5 hours a week were legally and, more importantly, culturally assigned to me without my say, and it sucked.
Approaching college felt almost nightmarish. Was I really going to have to pull all-nighters, drink coffee, and grow out a scruffy beard because I forgot how to take care of myself from being too absorbed in my work?
Upon arriving to college, I was surprised that the first few days were dedicated to name games and tours of the very colorful and summer-camp-looking campus. OK, I figured they had to lull us into complacency before dropping the mountains of work on our backs.
But much to my surprise, the “real work” never really started. In fact, as the year progressed along, I realized that on a given day, I was only spending about 3 hours in class and only about 2-3 hours on homework, if even that. In fact, I had so much more free time than highscool, that me and my friends were able to all actually sit down at a table for meals and enjoy multiple courses, eating slowly and discussing cool and interesting things, rather than stuffing our faces for our brief high school lunches, where being late to class afterwards too many times meant we failed, literally.
Now I was only spending 30 hours or so per week on blocked out activity, but it’s all stuff I actually enjoy and wanted to do anyways. Choosing my own course of study meant I never got bored, never wanted to skip class (well, mostly), never watched the clock–I just listened, learned, and enjoyed. Furthermore, I now had much more time to play music, to swim and run, to be social, to watch movies, to read, to discuss philosophy and politics, and to write articles like this one.
What’s more, halfway through the year, I learned that the 10-day winter break I’m used to from high school is actually over a month long at college, and because it separates the first and second semesters, there’s no assigned work to do.
Second semester came along and I actually had enough time that I picked up a job too. I only worked about 10 hours a week, but even with that going along, I still had plenty of time to do everything else I was doing before. The dreaded “finals period” that I’d heard so much about before ended up being mostly comprised of watching movies (first semester, me and a bunch of friends watched every Lord of the Rings movie, extended editions of course).
Of course I’ve only finished my first year of college, so I don’t mean to generalize, but speaking for what I’ve experienced so far, being in college has been a lot easier than being in middle school or high school. While, I do know plenty of college-students who’ll opt into 60 hours or more per week of school work, I know plenty (like myself) who don’t. The best part of this whole shindig is that we finally have the say in what we do.