College Freshmen Are Sobering Up

According to an influential new study administered by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, college freshmen, faced with grim economic prospects, are studying harder than ever so they can get jobs.

Nearly 90 percent of entering freshmen at 283 colleges across the U.S., including UCSD, said that getting a job was a “very important” reason to attend college in 2012 — an all-time high. It was also a turning point: 2012 was the first year that students placed career prospects above gaining a “general education and appreciation for ideas.”

Freshmen are asking more questions, learning more from their mistakes and evaluating more sources of information than ever have before — all key predictors of academic success, according to the educators at CIRP. However, the flip side is that more entering freshmen are feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of college as well.

Freshman Hussain Jaffri is studying physiology and neuroscience at UCSD. He said that his experience in college so far has been consistent with the major results of the survey.

“A lot of my older cousins went to college here, and the way they’ve described the campus is very different from the way it seems to me now,” he said. “It’s not all about partying anymore.”

Jaffri said that he is more anxious about his career than his cousins were at his age. He said this is because the structure of the job market has changed.

“In the past, you could go to college and have that be enough to get a good job. But that’s just not the case anymore,” he said. “I think the knowledge that this isn’t the end, in terms of taking notes and going to lectures, has helped me focus more on my work. I’m confident that if I study hard and work at it, I’ll be able to support my family someday. That’s why I’m here.”

Freshman Timothy Choi said he was concerned by the freshman survey’s results. He is a computer science major and a graduate of the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco.

“I dream of doing all kinds of art when I grow up, but I know I’m going to do computer science.”

Choi said he chose the major because it seemed more practical than painting or graphic design. He said he would probably feel more comfortable becoming an artist if the economy was less rough.

“Art is what I know. I don’t know how passionate I am about computer science. I haven’t done it long.”

Choi is open to pursuing a career in graphic design, which would combine his training with his dream. But he said that even that would be difficult and a compromise at best. The only thing for now, he said, was to give it time.

“I think I will come to like it someday, but right now I do feel overwhelmed by the work,” he said.

Money was a significant factor in Choi’s decision to come to UCSD. However, he said the school is still an immense financial burden on his family. He said that the high price of college has made him a more competitive student, even though his parents can afford the continually increasing cost of attendance at a UC.

“Thinking about the cost, it makes me more depressed if I do badly.”

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