College is a lot like a long, much more expensive version of summer camp. Students leave their family for an extended period of time to bunk with other students and follow a set schedule that includes various classes and visits to the dining hall. Both places have ground rules enforced by a group of underpaid elders--teenage counselors in one case, middle-aged faculty members in the other. My college even has a zip-line.
College and summer camp also share a similarity of purpose: students are supposed grow a little through their experiences at each. At summer camps, the expected growth is usually physical. In college, students are expected to grow mentally and spiritually. As it turns out, physical growth is a lot easier to ensure than the other kinds.
Because of this difference in goals, there's one objective I'm keeping in mind as I start my junior year--making an effort to grow in the right direction.
I set a goal of putting more effort into college simply because the scary reality of adulthood is far closer at college than it was during summer camp. Effort isn't necessary at summer camp. A student can show up with nothing but a suitcase in one hand and a case of social anxiety in the other and leave eight weeks later with a tan, a lanyard, and a couple more inches. (Speaking of lanyards, that's one thing college unquestionably does not have in common with summer camp. Freshmen take note: The college lanyard is a marker of the clueless newbie.)
Sadly, college doesn't require much effort either. I know plenty of people who have skated through to graduate with a hangover and a 2.0 GPA, regretting it all after it was too late to change. A summer camp is always followed by another year of childhood. But college is the final buffer zone before adulthood comes crashing down, with its requirements for knowing how to file tax forms and balance checkbooks. College may not demand responsibility, but if college students determine to progress, they can still teach themselves the life skills that they'll need once they have their diploma in hand.
In my junior year, I'll be holding down an internship as a PR writer for my college, while working on projects for my communication major, including polishing a novel, making a podcast, and directing a short film I've written. And to my undying distaste, I'll even put an effort into learning how taxes work. In order to do all that, I need to fight the summer-camp mentality of just getting through the present day without worrying about the next. College too easily turns into long periods of procrastination punctuated by the sheer terror produced by finals week.
My advice is to throw yourself into the upcoming year, both academically and socially. If you search for responsibilities, you'll find more than enough. Don't let the group lectures, dorm living, and bad food fool you: College's carefree similarity to summer camp hides the fact that we're all supposed to be transitioning into adults.
Adam Rowe is a writing and public relations major entering his junior year at Geneva College, in Beaver Falls, Pa.
Editor's note: This column is part of a series of essays on a back to school theme. Click here for a list of other essays in this series.