The Dangers of Becoming a Professional Student

By Robin White Ellis

College students are taking longer than ever to graduate. Yesteryear’s four year bachelor’s degree now takes five or six years for many students. There can be good reasons for this but unfortunately, more and more young adults are simply choosing to take as long as possible to enter the “real world.” These people fall under the slang term of “professional students.”

Consider the reasons why someone might be reluctant to leave college – it is pretty easy to figure out when you think about it. College life is fun! There are parties every weekend, although it would not be difficult to find a party any night of the week, if you simply look for one. There are fraternities, sororities, clubs, societies…all very attractive looking. Need we even mention spring break? Even better, there are long school vacations for the holidays and the entire summer to themselves!   With college meal plans paid for by the parents, even the food is free. Student discounts are available nearly everywhere and there is unlimited access to the school gym. While dorm life can be stressful, there is no other place where you can live so close to a great number of friends. It is like a huge, never-ending slumber party!

Another tempting benefit is being able to study abroad on the cheap. Speaking of money, the longer you stay in college, the longer you can put off paying for student loans. Continuing to take out loans to avoid the payments rather defeats the purpose, but many young twenty-somethings easily put this out of their minds to consider (and worry over) later. Their minds are filled with ball games and parties and bonfires…oh, and studying on occasion, with their friends and romantic interests.

Obviously, this does not apply to every college student. There are many responsible young adults out there who have reached the maturity level needed to take advantage of the opportunities available to them. Unfortunately, the number of those who want to stay in college as long as possible is rising. Universities are starting to take notice of this and are working on ways to crack down on the slacker version of the professional student. They are beginning to institute limits on how long it takes to achieve a degree. Exceptions are in place for those with learning disabilities and family or financial issues.

In some ways, it is almost understandable. It seems unfair to ask a teenager, fresh from high school, to decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Some people refer to this time as the “quarter-life crisis.” This age group cannot be considered children and yet they are pretty scared of that adult world out there.   A certain level of exploring should be expected. However, there comes a point where parents must draw the line and furthermore, make that line clear to their student. The detriments to both the student and the college are many.

For universities, a certain number of spaces are available per class and for new students. Those who constantly change their major or take unnecessary classes simply to stick around longer deprive other students of those spaces. A student who does not care to graduate on time (or even close to the time they should) causes financial difficulties in all quarters. The cost to the parent, the extra student loans, the possibility of living off of the “college system” – none of this teaches one of the most important lessons a parent should provide, which is accountability. All this does is encourage an unattractive sense of entitlement. This student will have quite the shock once college is done and the real world comes knocking. Imagine how this looks to prospective employers! It will not be easy to explain why it took eight years to attain a bachelor’s degree.

Simply put, while college can be wonderful and yes, even fun, it should not be considered a landing pad so much as a springboard into the next chapter of your life. It should be an exciting time and an opportunity to contribute to society instead of draining from it. Let your college student in on the little secret that no one wakes up one morning to suddenly feel like an adult. It is a process. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the journey, as long as you are moving forward.