A laptop sitting next to some notebooks. 41% of college students graduate from undergraduate college in four years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. AMY CHEN/STATESMAN FILE

Steven Keehner is a junior majoring in journalism and minoring in history.

Of the many problems posed by the educational system in the United States, its biggest flaw may come from how it plays into the greater expectations that young people often face.

Everyone has heard this, or at least felt it. From getting a college degree, to having a career, then starting a family, etc., there is a supposed recipe for living an enjoyable life. By straying off this path, you’re not only seen as a headcase but as a failure as well. This isn’t only an obnoxious and unrealistic expectation, but it’s incredibly ignorant of the realities people face.

Being a fifth-year senior doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Switching majors doesn’t mean that you’ll never be happy. And, coming from personal experience, transferring colleges isn’t a death warrant. There’s something deeply ironic in how college is supposed to be the time to experiment and “find yourself” while you’re also simultaneously being held to the same rigid standards that define every other aspect of our lives.

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Like anything I write, I enjoy appealing to the “empaths” and the statisticians of the world. For the latter, here are some numbers to chew on: 41% of college students complete an undergraduate degree within four years. Within three years, nearly a third of students will have switched their major. Almost 40% of college students will transfer schools at least once.

I don’t bring up these numbers to convey that going entirely untraditional is the true key to success; I mention them because it’s important to realize that not only are you not alone in your path and decisions, and that it’s okay to embrace the chaos that life throws your way. I don’t say that in a “your struggles don’t matter” way, but in a “we’re all in this mess together” one.

I will concede that it’s easy for me to say that in some aspects. College is absurdly expensive, and for many, it isn’t financially sustainable to remain in school for an extended period. I also get that many students work near full-time hours, so having both schoolwork and a job can be extremely taxing.

Unfortunately, that’s the reality of American education. A college education has become more of a financial investment, where something like a major can play a large role in how one’s later years pan out. 

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In a passionless and loveless world, love and passion aren’t enough anymore. But there’s a beauty behind uncertainty and self-discovery that is worth learning from. 

To summarize what I’m attempting to get at, here’s a quote I often fall back onto from gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, a man who was mysteriously ahead of his time yet also alive at the perfect moment in history, “No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride … and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well … maybe chalk it up to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.”

Once we learn to embrace that we really don’t have as much control in our lives as we’d like to think, the sooner we can learn to make the most out of what we have. There’s a lot to appreciate: friends, family, ourselves. While midterms and finals may kick our asses and the fear of entering the adult world comes ever so closer, all we can do is make our current settings better.

Sometimes, that is as simple as putting down the laptop or textbook for a few minutes and just breathing or going outside of your usual living space, taking a seat and soaking in the sun. Life’s an act of balancing — school can be a priority without being the only priority.

It’s okay to not have a full blueprint of every aspect of your life plotted out. It’s possible to have goals and objectives that you want to achieve while also not tearing yourself down to fulfill them in the same way as everyone else does. College isn’t cheap, but nothing is more valuable than your own well-being.

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So switch your major if it’s making you unhappy, drop that class that’s bothering you, or go hang out with friends for once instead of doing one inconsequential homework assignment. We’re all on this ride together — maybe it’s time we put our hands up and enjoy the bumps, twirls, and loops ahead.

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