“College Pressures” by William Zinsser

Phrases like “I am desperate”, “I have fallen incredibly behind”, “I’m anxious”, “I’m really bombed and up a creek” are some of the desperate pleas of several college students as outlined by William Zinsser in his article titled College Pressures. In a way, these cries of distress, which were collected and presented to the Dean of students at Bradford College represent the overall trend of overwhelm among students in colleges. Throughout the article, Zinsser reviews the financial, peer, family and self- induced pressures among college students. Although these pressures have existed for years, the passage of time has escalated them to a level where student’s ability to get what they need from their educational experience is under risk. According to Zinsser, there is a greater purpose to higher education than just acquiring a diploma. A college experience should assist a student with his personal growth. This is only attainable through the student slowing down and appreciating the journey to get there, rather than charging forward to get to the end goal. America has become a place where status, wealth and achievement of a student bear more importance than the quality of education they receive. This relegates college experience as a mere task on a long list accomplishments.

A students’ preparation for college begins as early as he is a freshman in High school. Actually, parents begin college preparation well before the child has joined school. Parents have succumbed to the notion that getting their children into the best schools earlier on in life guarantees them a chance for a brighter future. The pressure to think of the student’s future has mounted to a level where motivation for choices is dictated by how things look on paper. Most parents, peers and educational institutions make decisions based on a paper rather than on the person. The paper motivates parents and students because this forms the backdrop through which college admissions are assessed. In turn, this phenomenon orchestrates the students to act the part. It is truly ridiculous to rate achievement based on a piece of paper. Today, it is no longer about which student is morally, intellectually or spiritually correct. To most students, what really matters is how bright the future looks for them.

This emphasis on the future makes Zinsser to wish that all students would be accorded “some release from the clammy grip of the future.” This poses the all-important question of how a student can actually relax and enjoy the experience when he is always forced to consider the future. According to Zinsser, a student that works through college will still complete his education with a debt of at least $5000. After college, this debt and inflation of costs becomes an important factor in a student’s career choice. As admirable as it is to choose a career based on what you are good at or to give back to society, the pressure is continually mounting for wealth. Today, the pocketbook measures a man’s riches. A parent of a doctor or pre-med student is quick to give his child’s list of accomplishments to anyone who passes by. This mentality makes it hard to convince parents that a child who takes a course in humanities can indeed succeed later on in life. To the concerned parents, they are willing to do anything that will ensure that their child does not struggle in the future. After all, in America the sooner a person achieves wealth, the more accomplished he appears.

This makes the race for the clock to be the greatest pressure that a student feels. This race is meant to test where a student’s future is going before he even starts college. This makes a student to disregard the “lesser” classes in a bid to get to those that have “greater” meaning because they are in his or her parent’s career choice. Once these are done, a student rushes on to those that make a difference but even these are given less focus since the students are at this time engrossed in putting their resume together. To the student, the quicker he gets himself to the world, the more intelligent he seems. Any extra time that he has outside college is spent in getting himself seen or known by future employers. Since the student leaves college with the conception that he has completed his list of things to do, he enters a career where tasks are performed at an even higher speed. This leaves him feeling more anxious and disillusioned than he was in college.

The solution to the mounting pressure on students is simple. The first thing that should be done is to put away the list of things that have to be completed. The society should stop racing the clock to get that list of things done. Most importantly, we should not let status, wealth or “the list” to dictate the future. A student needs to enjoy the entire experience of college. The only way to accomplish this is to relax and learn for the sake of learning and not for any other reason.