Involvement — and in many ways over-involvement — is a central part of Elon University’s culture. Within the first two weeks on campus, new students are thrust into the Organization Fair where they are encouraged to sign up for student organizations across campus.
Elon’s commitment to experiential learning is communicated in admissions brochures and orientation weekends. Students’ laptops and backpacks are decorated with stickers and buttons boasting the numerous organizations and activities they’re involved in.
At Elon, not only is there pressure to be involved in multiple organizations and activities, but there is also immense pressure to maintain good academic standing. Some organizations — such as fellows programs, fraternities and sororities — require students to maintain a specific GPA.
Not only are students attending meetings and having these experiences outside of the classroom, but they are also required to spend whatever extra time they have left studying and doing work for their classes.
On top of this, there is the added pressure of social media. On Facebook and Twitter, students can find their peers sharing their accomplishments, announcing they are the president of an organization or that they won an award for their involvement in another.
With social media, there’s the pressure of not only being involved and impressive, but also letting all of your followers know this, too.
The pressure of involvement does not stand alone. It’s coupled with the pressure of seeming successful. All of this pressure has led college students to have higher stress levels and students feeling like they are not enough.
Extracurricular activities and experiential learning are valuable educational tools, but these experiences shouldn’t come at the expense of our mental and physical health. In order to be successful students, leaders, community members, employees or volunteers, we first need to be healthy.
But this is not to say that Elon is unique in this regard.
A recent study from James Madison University found that about 89 percent of students surveyed find academic workload to be somewhat to very stressful, making it the most stressful aspect of college. In addition, a majority of students surveyed said they find time management and extracurricular activities to be somewhat to very stressful.
Each of these factors are stressful for college students on their own, but more often than not students are juggling all of these experiences at once. When they are all are compounded into one student’s life, high stress levels are inevitable.
These higher levels of stress stem all the way from childhood, too. A different study found 29 percent of teenage children worry about getting into a good college or getting a job, whereas only 5 percent of parents see this as an issue for their children.
Even as kids, we are worried about our futures. Involvement in extracurricular activities makes us more marketable job applicants and adds lines to our resumés, but we should consider the cost.
It’s time for students to take a step back and recognize that in order to be successful, they must first be mentally and physically capable of handling stress.
On a campus-wide level, this may mean the university should push the Organization Fair back a few weekends or reduce the emphasis of experiential learning. But the best solutions may be at the hands of Elon students and their families in trying to alleviate the pressures put on us.
We all need to take some time to breathe, but that is far easier said than done. We can start by trying to remind ourselves that even if we are involved in just one organization, that is enough. Positive affirmations and exercising self care can do wonders for students facing stress.
Whatever you are doing at Elon, whether it’s being involved in multiple activities, achieving all A’s in your classes or spending time with those you love, you are doing enough.