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During one of our weekly reflection sessions I began to think about the importance and emphasis we as Americans place on pursuing higher education immediately following graduation from high school. To a degree, I believe there is an overemphasis on the immediacy of going to college that works to shame people who don’t choose this path and causes students to make monumental decisions that aren’t in their best financial or personal interest.

Most students are 18 at the time of graduation, legally considered an adult. It’s important, however, to remember that they are still youth. Researchers at Dartmouth found that significant brain development happens after the age of 18 and humans may reach adult maturity a lot later than previously expected. Yet, at this ripe age of 18 that seems to have no basis in biological determination of maturity, students are expected to make a decision whose consequences will affect them for life.
In no way am I trying to diminish the importance of a college degree. Having one hands down creates opportunities that are inaccessible without the networks formed in college and having the physical degree itself. However, the best time to attend college is not the same for everyone although it is treated that way. After doing a root cause analysis of why a percentage of low income community college students students are food and housing insecure, my group and I came to a possible conclusion. The immediacy placed on attending a higher education institution immediately after college forces some students to make sacrifices to their food and housing budgets to pay for tuition.
We are ok as a society with plunging into to all consuming student debt in order to get a degree. Ability to pay it back, the timeframe in which it will be paid back, and the impact student loans have on an individual’s credit score (and rest of life) are all dismissed under the promise that higher education is THE answer, and a lot of times, presented as the only answer.
This post may seem hypocritical coming from someone who started thinking about the college process her freshman year of high school and couldn’t even fathom the idea of taking a gap year. I know that for me, time off from school would result in a fruitless year therefore college right after high school was the answer for me. Just as it was for my best friend and next door neighborhood. It wasn’t the answer for a classmate of mine who wasn’t ready to leave home and decided instead to take a year off to work. Everyone’s path is different and that’s ok.
Pursuing higher education has opened so many doors for me. During my two years I have been exposed to diverse people and ideas that would only come from being on a college campus. It is a privilege I am thankful for everyday. However, I can’t ignore the negative effects I see on campus as well. The anxiety and depression from leaving home before people are ready. The constant budgeting and scrapping together of pennies just to pay for laundry. Before even reaching the age requirement to rent a car, we as students already owe hundreds of thousands of dollars.
This post serves more as a thought piece than an answer to any question. I wonder where we’d be if students felt they had more of a choice of  when and in what time-frame they attended college. Would student debt be less crippling? Would rates of anxiety and depression decrease? Would classroom discussion change by the range of experiences students bring to class?