College students don’t want to be adults just yet

A student searches for consulting job opportunities on LinkedIn.
Many students feel like they have not been sufficiently well prepared to face adult responsibilities such as job and apartment hunting. Photo credit: Stephanie Iancu

By Stephanie Iancu

From filing taxes to signing leases, many college students feel ill-prepared to take on adult responsibilities after emerging from three years of lockdowns and unprecedented circumstances.

If college itself was not stressful enough, COVID-19 only made matters worse by preventing students from having key experiences such as living away from home for the first time or starting their first job. Some groups of students felt this anxiety more acutely because of the changing conditions that surrounded them.

According to a March 2021 study by Frontiers in Psychology, students of color and students who identified as women reported higher levels of stress and lower levels of emotional well-being during the pandemic. Many of them had difficulty coping with the uncertainty of their academic futures and what would come after and were also more likely to reduce or withdraw from online courses during that time.

“As an adult, there aren’t those help resources, or you have to go through a lot more lengths to find them,” said Jessica Richards, who graduated from Northeastern University in 2023. “It’s scary having the training wheels taken off a little bit.”

Richards said that the many non-academic resources offered by her college — such as free mental health consultations and off-campus housing support — were extremely valuable to her and many of her peers both before and after the pandemic as it gave them more time and freedom to focus on their studies and making connections with their peers.

The availability of job-hunting resources and professional networking opportunities organized by campus employment offices were also major factors for many students, who now fear that they cannot shoulder the weight of finding entry-level jobs without any help. 

“I think jobs are still my major concern,” said Netanya Pereira, who is currently earning a master’s degree from Northeastern University and is set to graduate in 2024. “I don’t think anything else takes that much precedence for me right now, that’s one thing that keeps me up at night.”

Pereira said that, during her undergraduate years, her concern about finding a job after graduation and not losing the one she had at the time in the face of waves of layoffs was so overwhelming that she often forgot to stop and simply enjoy the experience of being a student. She was also studying to get her GRE certificate in parallel, which took up most of her remaining free time even though the exam itself had to be postponed multiple times.

“At the end of it, I felt like I didn’t have like the best college experience because I was very consumed by my job. And I wanted to do well and that stressed me out a lot. And it was also all about finishing this exam and then getting to like experience life, like ‘Oh, now you can take trips and go on that vacation that you’ve always wanted to go on and buy the things that you always wanted to buy now that you’ll have like a big fat salary and whatnot.’ But that didn’t happen and it just felt like it was getting dragged on forever,” she said.

But recent graduates are not the only ones to feel this type of anxiety. Many students still in college are already apprehending having to deal with a host of challenging situations that they are not being taught about in academic curriculums.

“I am still a few years away from graduating but I am already anxious about having to do things in my adult life that I’ve never done before such as taxes, rent, and so on,” said Maggie Hollis, a computer science major at Smith College who is part of the class of 2025.

The impact of COVID-19 on students’ social skills should also not be overlooked. Having less frequent interactions with peers, faculty, and recruiters has hindered them from developing the type of interaction skills they will most likely have to use when networking, going to job interviews, and collaborating with others, according to several Boston-based university career center experts.

“A lot of people going to grad school do so for the purpose of making connections, which is difficult to do online,” said Robin Van Impe, a graduate student ambassador at Emerson College. “When we first started hosting events again, I saw how much students had craved and missed those opportunities for social interaction.”

Van Impe said that some students who willingly chose to enroll in exclusively virtual programs expected some events to remain virtual even after sanitary restrictions had been relaxed to still be able to make some connections with their peers in other parts of the country.

“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword for people in online programs, everyone is so excited about in-person activities that it’s easy to forget that a lot of people still want those online versions as well,” she said.

But some students did manage to take the uncertainty caused by the pandemic in their stride and learned to adapt to new and unexpected situations that they now face regularly in their post-graduate life. 

“I learned how to get organized and do things independently a lot better just because classes were hybrid,” said Veronica Golod, who graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2021. “We kind of had to depend on ourselves in terms of organization and just keeping up with everything by not having to face the teacher every day in person. So definitely, taking accountability and responsibility for actually putting in hours into schoolwork was definitely something that I think got stronger for me over COVID.”

Golod said that she also felt relatively well-prepared when it came to apartment hunting because she did not spend all four years of her program living on campus and had to find a place to live after leaving her dorm. “It was so cutthroat to be able to find an off-campus apartment,” she said.

The resilience many students have had to build during the pandemic, although much of it was earned through overcoming unwelcome adversity, is also likely to serve them when dealing with difficult situations without help from their parents or school officials. Nonetheless, many of them welcomed the opportunity to have part of their student debt canceled under the Biden-Harris Student Debt Relied Plan and were dismayed when it was recently blocked by the Supreme Court.

This impacted many students’ financial and career decisions post-graduation, but also their choice to continue their studies and go on to earn master’s degrees.

“Grad school is expensive for a lot of people,” said Van Impe, who is currently also getting an MFA in creative writing while working at Emerson. “A lot of them are dependent on full or partial scholarships. With universities hiking up tuition costs —and not doing the same for scholarships— it’s very hard for students to stay afloat with the increased prices. A lot of lower-income students are pushed out of academia because of this, and they shouldn’t be.”

About Stephanie Iancu 4 Articles
Stephanie Iancu was born in London but grew up in Lausanne, Switzerland. She has a bachelor’s degree in international relations and moved to Boston in 2022 to pursue a master’s degree in journalism. After graduating, she aspires to work as a reporter for a newspaper or magazine and has a strong interest in politics, culture, and gender.