Few transitions are as seismic as the shift from pre-college life to freshman year. It's a moment of both immense opportunity and uncertainty, which is why this school year, we're following five freshwomen in different regions of the country as they navigate it.
This is our A Class Of Our Own series, and the first-year students in it are formidable. Living away from home and pursuing educational, social, and extracurricular experiences with far more independence than in high school, these women have access to an unprecedented buffet of ways to define (or redefine) their identities. At the same time, they face serious challenges, from mounting student loan debt to the risks of campus violence, substance abuse, and sexual assault.
Our society takes young women less seriously than it does any other group. Young women face the same barriers to respect that women of all ages do, but that's compounded by the assumption that under-21s haven't been alive long enough to hold a valid opinion. It's clear these women are a force to be reckoned with, and it's time we heard their voices.
Our society takes young women less seriously than any other group, but they are a force to be reckoned with
That percentage might be even greater if college weren't such an expensive endeavor. Of the class of 2015, 71% graduated with student loan debt, with the average debt hitting $35,000. That's around twice the average debt of a student borrower in the class of 1995, only 50% of whom graduated with debt. Still, despite the soaring and, for some, insurmountable cost of college, a bachelor's degree still pays off for many. In 2013, graduates of four-year college programs earned an average of 98% more per hour than those without a degree — the largest grad-vs.-non-grad pay gap in history.
And as students map out their professional futures, millennials' acceptance of non-hetero sexual identities, sexual exploration, and gender fluidity provides them greater freedom to live and love outside of pre-defined lines. Today's college women are joining socially and politically active communities (2016 marks the first year that many now-freshwomen will be able to vote in a presidential election), and while under-24s vote at exceptionally low rates, that doesn't mean they're apathetic. In just the 2014 fall semester, at least 160 student protests took place at colleges across the country as part of a resurgence of student activism.
Millennial acceptance of non-hetero sexual identities, sexual exploration, and gender fluidity provides college students freedom to live and love outside of pre-defined lines.
To begin college, then, is to enter a world of both possibility and risk, and the women featured in A Class Of Their Own are offering a personal view into that journey. Follow along as we roll out their stories and discover the hopes, fears, and goals of the class of 2019. These are their words, their voices, their identities, and their futures.