College is generally a place for 18- to 21-year-olds, the way station between childhood and becoming a “real” adult – or so we typically think.
There are plenty of students at the College, however, who have defied this norm and forged a different path for themselves, waiting longer to start school due to a range of personal reasons, thereby defying the status quo. I spoke with some of them recently about how the age gap has affected their college experiences.
You might think that starting at the College in an entry would be especially odd if you’re older than your JAs and are living with kids who have never done their own laundry or been away from Mom and Dad. According to Martin Söderström ’14, a 22-year-old who spent a year studying at a law school and another year stationed near Stockholm in the Swedish Royal Marines, the age difference was pronounced at first. “When I first came here, it was very noticeable,” Söderström said. However, he believes that it’s best to try not to think too much about divisions. “Putting yourself in a different category than your peers because of your age is a very regressive way of dealing with things,” he said.
Bryden McGhee ’14, who is turning 23 next month, pointed out that although he was older than his JAs during his first year, they still had plenty to offer. “I was older than both of my JAs, but I still looked up to them,” he said. “They were scholastically more mature than me.” All of the students I spoke with echoed this idea. The difference between an 18-year-old first-year and a 21-year-old first-year, such as McGhee during his first year at the College, is small compared to that of a 21-year-old first-year and a 21-year-old senior.
At the same time, McGhee was happy to share what experience and wisdom he had gained in his three years traveling, training and experiencing independence as a hockey player between high school and college. “I always like helping out my peers by being a leader,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t feel above or below anyone.” He pointed out that students like him are often accustomed to being away from home and on their own. “I’ve lived away from the house for several years. I don’t feel a need to go back every vacation,” he added.
Laurel Carter ’12, who skied for three years (including with the U.S. National Team in 2008) before college, felt similarly. “During freshman year, I could see how I had had more experiences than some others, since I had lived outside of my parents house for seven years and traveled all over the world taking care of myself,” said the 25-year old, who also attended boarding school. “At first I was not thrilled about [living in an entry], since for most of my life, I hung out with people who were older than me, and in an entry I would be living with kids four years younger than me,” she said. “But it turned out that … living in an entry was the best decision I could have made.” Carter clicked with her entrymates and is now grateful that she didn’t just hang out with friends from boarding school, who were seniors at the time. “I shudder to think if I had not lived in an entry, I would have just hung out with my old roommates’ friends (who I already knew) and then had no friends when they graduated.” Carter also reported that the age gap narrowed with each passing year and that the difference between herself and peers now seems negligible.
Postponing college for other worldly endeavors may mean more maturity and wisdom coming into college, but it has drawbacks, as well. Carter also admitted she gets her fair share of good-natured teasing. “I do get many grandma jokes, and the freshmen boys on the ski team call me ‘Mom,’ but these names don’t bother me,” she said.
Though most of these students believe they gained valuable experience from their years of exploration, sometimes it’s hard to resist wondering if this time would have been better spent learning the ins-and-outs of college life. “It almost bugs me that everyone else [my age] has two years [of schooling] on me,” said Russell Taylor ’15, who took a gap year and was already one year older than classmates due to the educational system in his home country of Zimbabwe.
After this narrow slice of life called college is over and we are forced to leave our purple bubble, we’ll be interacting with people of all ages. And in the meantime, it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in our one-stoplight town whether or not you can go hang out at the Purple Pub a couple years before your classmates. As Taylor put it,“Psychologically, to me, we are all the same age.”
Additional reporting by Sarah Rosenberg ’14, campus editor.