The worst moment at family reunions comes when well-meaning relatives — likely with several drinks under their belts — find you and announce that college is supposed to be the best four years of your life. Nostalgic alumni, high school teachers and overbearing relatives are eager to tell you that you have reached the pinnacle of happiness here on the Hilltop. Many of us shudder at the prospect.
Others may sincerely say, “If I can’t go to heaven, take me back to Georgetown.”
For some Hoyas, this makes a lot of sense. In theory, Georgetown offers the best of both worlds: independent living and a support system. Gone are the hassles of curfews and direct supervision — students can spend their time however they choose. You live within walking distance of all of your friends, and in college, there are more social events in a given week than your high school hosted in four years. Many students have never had so much control over their own routines as they do at Georgetown.
But part of the appeal of this independent living is that it is not entirely independent.
When you get hungry, you can drop by O’Donovan Hall or an on-campus convenience store and get a fully prepared meal in minutes. If a light bulb goes out in your apartment, a member of the facilities staff can come and change it for you. When you grow tired of studying in your room, you can choose from any number of designated study areas equipped with desks and outlets.
Georgetown can take care of the tedious and boring responsibilities of truly independent living while also giving you freedom to spend your time as you please.
If this is your Georgetown experience, college may indeed be the best — or most carefree — four years of your life. But this idealization of college life is far from reality for many, if not most, students. The notion that college years are the best fails to take into account that being in college may not exempt students from adult responsibilities.
Many students must work while taking classes to pay for personal expenses or tuition, even with the help of university resources. In providing for themselves, these students may not have the same sense of freedom that their nonworking counterparts do. The responsibility of earning enough money to remain a full-time student means that personal preference alone does not necessarily determine students’ routines. Under such pressure, students’ college years may not be their best.
Likewise, pre-med and pre-law students must tailor their college routines to study habits and grades that will enable them to get into graduate programs. Constant assignments and lack of sleep take a toll that may not outweigh the social benefits and conveniences of college life. In fact, all types of students may face academic pressure, not to mention personal difficulties, that makes them hope for a better life after college.
If college is not the greatest time of your life, when will be? Studies indicate that people are happiest in their late teens and early 20s and in their 70s and 80s. Yet looking forward to happiness 50 years from now provides little comfort.
However, other factors that have nothing to do with being in college also contribute to well-being. One study found that the greatest predictor of happiness is autonomy — the feeling that you control what you do and the choices you make. So after you secure a career doing work that interests you, escape the financial and academic pressures of college and have more time to spend as you want, you may become happier.
Quality of relationships also influences happiness. While some students form lifelong bonds with their classmates, others may not find the people they really click with until after they graduate.
To counter one cliche with another, everyone’s college experience is different — so while college has the potential to be the best four years of your life, it does not have to be. The good life is not out of reach, even if you do not find it on the Hilltop.
Vera Mastrorilli is a junior in the College. TESTING TRUISMS appears online every other Tuesday.