The Dangerous Way We Think of College

05/27/2015 03:18 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2016

As a member of the Class of 2015, I've been given a great deal of advice in regards to my recent college graduation. From commencement speakers and college administrators, I've heard that I'm ready for the 'real world' and that our class can make great changes in society. However, from family members, older friends, and op-ed articles, I've heard that it's all downhill from here.

I've been told that I'll never be as happy as I was in college, that I'll never have the same amount of freedom or the lazy sleep schedule. I've been told to enjoy the last few months of partying before I have responsibilities. Earlier in the year, people jokingly advised me to fail out of courses so that I could stick around for longer and postpone the seemingly horrific transition out of college life.

This negative advice has made me wonder: did every college graduate somehow forget what college is actually about?

I can only speak from my experience as a member of a small, liberal arts college, so maybe bigger universities are different, but everyone at my school spent their college time working their butts off.

I'd wake up early on the weekends and find the library packed by 9 a.m. Almost all of my peers worked two jobs and ran clubs and pushed themselves to finish multiple majors and minors. I left my room every morning at 8 a.m. and rarely returned before 10 p.m. My classmates and I weren't slackers: we ran newspapers, we wrote 70-page senior theses, we read hundreds of pages a week. I loved the work that I was doing, and I loved my school, but there were days when I was exhausted and weeks when I skipped out on socializing to catch up on work.

I know a small handful of people who could regularly sleep in, and fewer people who partied the way the media thinks we party.

Because I'm sure a lot of my readers are getting ready to pull out their smallest violin for the girl saying that college can be tough, let me add another dimension to this. By undermining all of the hard work that college students do, adults are dangerously ignoring the difficult parts of school, which leads to very little support in terms of mental illness.

Many college students face illnesses like depression, alcoholism, and eating disorders, and the culture around college completely ignores that. We're encouraged to drink and party while we can, and we're told that it doesn't get better from here. As a student, I constantly felt like I was on a shaky bridge between childhood and the scary unknown, and rarely did the "college was just one big party" comments offer hope or healing.

When parents and administrators start to think that college students are only at their institution to party and have fun, they don't focus on providing tools that are actually necessary on a college campus. We need better mental health resources, and we need alcohol counseling and training. We need our elders to understand that we're not all here to party, and to help us through the grit of college instead of focusing on the false idea that it's all fun and games.

Graduates, I implore you to stop telling people that college is the best four years of their life, because nobody wants to (or should) believe that. Start viewing college for what it actually is: an institution in which young adults pay to get a degree and a good education. College shapes us to be leaders and writers and thinkers, and it doesn't do that by handing us a 30 rack of PBR and letting us sleep until 11 every day.

The culture around undergraduate education needs to start including the club life, the studying, and the work hours that actually define college. It also needs to stop washing out all of the hardships that students face on a regular basis, because college campuses are certainly not numb to mental illnesses.