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Why The Most Important Part of College for Women May Happen Outside the Classroom

We're often taught that college is training for "real" life. The time we spend on campus and in class is supposed to prepare us for the rest of our lives. But I feel that my summer breaks have actually provided some of the most life-altering realizations of my college experience.

Summer break is a precious opportunity to explore meaningful personal and professional opportunities that are impossible to pursue in the midst of classes, tests, and typical collegiate socializing. Students can sample potential careers through internships and put the knowledge they've gained to practical use, all while feeling like true members of the working world, walking into huge offices and swiping badges at security.

But while such experiences can certainly be exciting, challenging and invigorating, they also force students to face the difficult reality of adulthood, likely for the first time. This can be especially meaningful for women, as we are surrounded by older women who provide practical examples of how challenging it still is to balance work and family. We are forced to confront the reality that women still receive fewer opportunities at work. We watch them leave work early to pick up their kids more often than their male counterparts. We wonder why this obvious divide is seen as a "woman's issue" and a personal matter rather than a problem for the whole workplace. We learn that as women, we must still try harder than our male counterparts to achieve the same recognition and opportunities.

But while difficult in the moment, these experiences ultimately force young women to confront who we are and what we want. I have plenty of friends who have come to question their career trajectories after finding their internships less than fulfilling, and consider changing their course of study to a path that is better for them. Friends have called me in tears after rough days at their internships, but a few days later buckle down and grow a tougher skin.

These new experiences extend beyond the workplace, too. Plenty of young women decide to live or travel with their significant other rather than pursue professional opportunities. While many of us may theoretically reject that choice, we feel conflicted about how to interpret it when it involves the happiness of real people we care about. These are decisions of women, not girls, and they are hardly clear-cut.

But in the end — after the tears, love, heartbreaks, and adventures — we all come back together in the fall, in the bubbles of our collegiate worlds. We go to class, the library, out with our friends, and slip back into our structured, contained routines. The brief taste of adulthood is welcome and the peak into what my future might hold valuable, but for now I am still content to be young with my future lying ahead.



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