Their view: Non-academic ventures consume college life

Scott Pearring

“I am terribly passionate about learning and eagerly await the opportunity to study in a university.”

Those are words from my application to UCLA back in 2005. Faced with the daunting collegiate process, I scribbled that sentence on one of my essays, hoping that it would impress the admissions reader and I would be on my way to this school. It worked. But this passion and eagerness I spoke of never manifested itself here in college. The reality is that learning has taken a back seat to other college activities. Likewise, the vast majority of my friends have fallen into similar habits. As it turns out, education isn’t what it’s all about.

When first-year students arrive at UCLA, they are immediately bombarded with clubs, sports and fraternities and sororities who want them. In the midst of all the excitement, most students over-commit, not realizing what they’re getting themselves into. Only after the first round of midterms do they start to understand the impossibility of being pledged to so many organizations. But more often than not, students will continue to uphold these non-academic responsibilities, even if it means cutting down on study time.

But it’s not just the pressure to join other groups that causes most students to over-commit. College presents the perfect opportunity for young adults to discover their passions and determine what they want to do with their lives. And when most people test the water, they quickly become sucked in. I have found that most UCLA students are either barely involved or in over their heads.

Lisa McBride, a third-year communications student, is a supervisor for ResTV, an intern for a sports marketing company and a secretary for her sorority, not to mention a full-time student.

“Because of my broad major that doesn’t lead to one career path, my internship and job are just as important as my academic classes,” McBride said, “because they provide a hands-on experience which allows me to get a feel for different careers.”

Likewise, I now find myself leading two Christian groups, playing ultimate Frisbee four nights a week, working part-time and writing for the Daily Bruin – oh, and taking four classes. In many instances, my priorities fall exactly as listed, with school dead last. Only at the end of the day when all my other commitments are taken care of am I free to pick up my textbook and jam statistics into my brain.

W.L. Bateman is credited with saying “If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got.” Though I fully believe this proverb, I can’t bring myself to change my studying habits in order to achieve better grades. I am well aware that cramming is likely the worst way to learn material, yet I find myself up at 2 a.m. the night before a test over 90 percent of the time.

Though I often promise myself to study harder and not procrastinate next quarter, these aspirations are long gone by first week. Engulfed in other non-academic activities, procrastinating my school work is too convenient to resist. Some may say that students simply value their organizations more than school. I’m convinced that we simply sign up for too much and expect our superhuman abilities to pull us through. But these failed endeavors only leave us with soaring stress, poor grades and demoralizing burnout.

The worst part about over committing is that it fogs our judgment of what really matters in a college education: learning. Professing to have a deep desire for knowledge in our entrance essays, this craving is suppressed as we struggle to keep up with class work. Even in courses that interest us, fascinating topics are often neglected as upcoming tests coerce us to learn out of necessity. The result is frustrated, discontented students who have had the joy of learning sucked out of them.

Miles Maassen, a third-year physiological science student, said he knows exactly how this feels.

“It’s really irritating that I don’t have time to learn about what really interests me,” Maassen said. “Only having so much study time, I’m always forced to focus on what will be on the next test.”

Following these patterns, we will likely approach graduation with hundreds of gray hairs and a lower-than-expected G.P.A., but an impressive résumé of experience. Four-plus years of non-academic activities taking precedence over school yields a remarkable, albeit different, type of college education. Yet when applying for graduate school, it’s more than likely that sentences describing a romanticized longing for knowledge will make their way onto personal statements.

Out of a highly competitive attitude and a fear that colleges only want prioritized students, we will pretend to be something we are not and overlook the reality of our college experience.

So it seems that in order to continue your education in graduate school, you either must be dedicated to your studies, or you’re going to be in a tight spot trying to convince universities that you truly love learning, but Frisbee practice was more important than studying.

This column was originally published Friday by the Daily Bruin and made available through U-WIRE.