- 09 Sep 19
It’s famously depicted on celluloid as party central, but amidst skyrocketing levels of student debt, we delve into the American college experience for our student special. It’s a testing – if never less than fascinating – experience.
The Stateside college experience has been long branded as an outlandish, feral episode of the American life, where we’re constantly drunk out of our minds and seldom in class. While surely that does happen to varying extents, for the most part we aren’t popping shrooms with Zac Efron while daddy Seth Rogen tells us to be quiet. After all, we pay so damn much for school; we can’t afford not to bust our asses. (No really, many a professor will sit you down on the first day of classes and break down the dollar cost of missing their class as a scare tactic to make sure you attend.)
Cost aside though, the American college experience is so unique that it merits a deep dive, whether you’re considering studying there or just genuinely curious.
Off the bat, let’s set one thing straight: Greek life can be what it is in the movies, but for many people it’s not relevant at all. Personally, I almost didn’t believe it when I saw the big Greek letters hanging from the columns of mansion upon mansion when I visited my friend at Ohio State. This stuff actually happens outside of Pitch Perfect (speaking of, yes – collegiate a cappella competitions are real and they are intense!). It’s not ubiquitous though. In fact, many urban schools in particular don’t have the space or zoning rights to have designated fraternity or sorority houses. Essentially, Greek life is a take-it-or-leave-it part of college in America with a varying degree of importance at each school.
Perhaps the next most iconic vision people have of going to college in America is living in the dorms. Yes, this one is real, and it’s probably the most universal part of the American college experience. You sleep together, you brush your teeth together, and you eat at the dining hall trough together.
Many colleges have even adopted some version of Hogwarts housing where students are grouped based on their interests – movie buffs on the first floor, aspiring musicians on the second floor, environmentalists on the third floor, and so on – to encourage even more bonding.
One caveat, however, is the campus political climate. We can’t talk about life in America without addressing the political situation and in many ways, there is no place that polarisation is more evident than on campus. As of 2014, the overwhelming majority of college faculty members identified as either moderate (30%) or liberal (60%), according to the Higher Education Research Institute. That leaves only 10% of faculty as conservatives. And as The New York Times discovered back in 2016, this is part of a larger liberal trend towards in university settings.
As for the students, there’s certainly more than 10% of conservatives in college. But the polarisation of political ideology on college campuses is very evident.
At my extremely liberal university, the day after the 2016 election saw classes cancelled and an increased police presence. My political science professor pulled the scheduled exam and instead brought us juice and cookies to snack on while we sat in a circle and debriefed the previous night. Yes, there were many tears.
For my friends at more conservative schools, they were among a sea of red MAGA hats and bros pounding fists the next morning.
When it comes to the actual education, there’s not much spectacularly different than the classroom experience in Ireland. However, what is noteworthy is the rise of studying abroad. In the 2016/2017 academic year, the schools ranked in the top 20 for the highest percentage of students who studied abroad were all above 50%, according to the Institute of International Education. What the previous generation regarded as a luxury is now treated as more of a right, and an essential part of the college experience to maintain a competitive profile for post-grad opportunities.
Study abroad is the more fun way to get on the post-grad grind, but internships are also extremely common for American students. During the school year and especially over the summer, you’d be hard pressed to find a student that isn’t doing an internship. The American workaholic syndrome starts early.
Or perhaps it’s simply because we need the revenue stream to start as early as possible if we want to pay off all those student loans before we die.