Campus Life

Seven Things I Didn't Like About College

I’ve already vented my love fest about college in a previous post. Now the flip side—what I didn’t like. As I mentioned, I attended college from 1965 through 1972, a period that included my military service. When I returned to college after the military, I was in no mood to take any guff from authority figures, mainly due to having to obey the chicken regulations and seemingly illogical bureaucracy of my armed forces superiors.

However, in thinking back across my college years, which included one pre-military year, straight from high school, I have to admit that some of the things I didn’t like had nothing to do with backlash from the Navy. I would have disliked them even if I had remained a civilian all the way through higher education. So, here are my Not-So-Magnificent Seven.


1. Elitist, leftist professors. Anti-war sentiment was strong in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, stronger than it is today, in my opinion. The tinge of anti-Americanism was there, too, but perhaps not as strong as it is now. This affected me directly due to my military service. When I would try to advocate a pro-America, pro-military point of view, some of my professors (and even TAs) would brand me as a redneck, jingoist killer of innocent women and children or some variation thereof. Although I can’t prove it, I honestly believe that their attitudes negatively affected my grades in some courses. The situation is far worse today, unfortunately.

2. Short-deadline tuition bills. Colleges know how much you need to pay them well in advance of their billings. Students know that they need to have their money ready but often get sidetracked with annoying little distractions such as working to make the money they need to pay for college. Consequently, those tuition, room, and board invoices have a way of sneaking into our mailboxes at what always seems to be the worst possible times. The kicker, though, is not so much the amount due (because we’re semi-braced for that), but, rather, the due date. In years past, I’ve seen tuition bills due as soon as two weeks after receiving them. That’s no big deal for an electric bill, but when the amount is in the five-figure range, that’s a significant pain. Anyway, I say that there should be a consumer protection law that requires colleges to give students and parents at least 30 days to pay their invoices. Cash flow: the name of the game.

3. Long term breaks. Obviously, we all need reasonable breaks from the grind of incessant academics, but the length of some of these breaks creates negative issues for both students and parents. I recall that my daughter had five weeks off between her fall and spring semesters at a small liberal arts college. This worked out well for her and us, since she had secured a profitable part-time job, which she worked across the five weeks. However, some other parents I knew were having a hard time with their kids living a dorm-style life at home, coming in at all hours of the early morning and disrupting the routine of a calm home. Semester breaks should be no longer than two weeks, maximum.

4. Textbook prices. This is the flip side of my love of college texts. I realize that publishing costs today are steep, but in my heart of hearts, I can’t help but think students and parents are being taken for an expensive ride. Of course, there are ways to buffer the hit: used books, online purchases, and (for the truly creative) taking courses without the books. Other nasty sidebars to textbooks include the copy packets that professors create, which contain excerpted pages and passages from various sources. These are expensive, too, and may be required in addition to hardbound books. Literature, math, engineering, and computer-oriented texts can become exceedingly expensive. E-books have been proposed as one solution, but nothing beats a bound book to semi-eternalize the knowledge of a particular discipline. I have to wonder just how thoroughly even half of the required college texts are used. There has to be a more economical solution to this problem.

5. Perfunctory Teaching Assistants. Please note that I didn’t cite “teaching assistants,” in general. The perfunctory ones really bothered me. They seemed to be merely putting in their time to earn their assistantship money. They were distant, hard to locate, and tended to look down on us lowly undergraduates, forgetting that they, too, were once in our shoes. Granted, many TAs have to do the grunt work of the stellar professors, adding to the stress of their graduate workloads, but, since many aspire to become professors, themselves, one expects a better desk-side manner. I had quite a few TAs at Penn State and the odd thing is that after a lot of reflection, I can’t recall any single one clearly. I wonder what that tells me.

6. Massive, impersonal lecture classes. I had introductory psychology and art history (among other) courses at Penn State in a building called Forum. In those classes, I felt more like a spectator at Beaver Stadium watching the Nittany Lions than I did as a student trying to learn something. Those of us who sat near the back of a Forum “classroom” had the honor of watching the professor or lecturer on a TV monitor, thoughtfully provided so that we could feel more at home and, I guess, included in the proceedings. It was a great way to get to know a few of my 450-600 closest classmates. Talk about mass production.

7. The unfortunate, traditional timing of a college education. How much more could we learn in college if we didn’t have to go immediately after high school? I know; I know. There’s the ol’ Gap Year strategy, but I’m talking about what is now commonly known as the “Returning Adult” approach, going into the classroom with some Real Life 101 under our belts. I have often found myself wishing that I could go back, knowing what I know now, and retake any number of the courses that I just squeaked by so many years ago—German 1, 2, 3, and 4, “Art in the Dark,” Humanities 101, etc. Real Life tweaks our appetite for knowledge and sparks passion to replace the academic numbness that sets in after 12+ years of school prior to college. Maybe we need a Gap Decade (or two).

So, what do/did you dislike about college? Don’t be shy.

Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.