What is the myth of the ideal student?
Our research has shown that many students experience an increasing pressure from feeling that they have to perform and be successful in all areas of life simultaneously, including the levels of their grades, participation in class, engagement in the social activities at their studies, relevant student jobs and so on. We have found that there exist an ideal of what is considered to be “an ideal student”, which is stressful and impossible to live up to – and it is a myth.
An ideal has been formed in many study environments of what a good student is perceived to be. It is considered to be one that is always on top of things and is doing well with high grades, relevant student job, active in classroom participation and social life in and outside of university, and who also finds time to family, sports and free-time activities. Many students that we have interviewed say that they feel a continuous pressure from this “ideal” to different degrees, since it is impossible to live up to – and hard work to try and achieve, maintain, and manage. That there is such a thing as an ideal way of being a student is a myth that needs to be debunked.
What about failures, mistakes and “gaps” in the CV?
Many students are naturally ambitions with their studies and lives in general, which is natural and great, the challenge is however how to manage when things go less well, when we make mistakes, or the ideal we have set is not reached. To be a student of university and higher business education means to experience steep learning curves and being challenged with different assignments. It is therefore naturally also part of a learning environment to sometimes experience failures or situations where things do not go as wished.
“The strange thing is that we are all students, we are all in the same boat, yet no one is talking about it. I feel as if everyone else has figured it out and is in control of it [their studies]. I think it’s really important that you open up and get these taboos broken; and talk about that even though everything can look so perfect from the outside, everyone is fighting the same battle on the inside.”
– CBS Student
The weight of grades and performance for future jobs?
The pressure also comes from a common widespread notion that it is paramount to do well on all these parameters, particular grades and student jobs, in order to have a good career in the future. This too is a myth. Grades are not everything the companies and organizations consider when hiring, neither are students job. We have made a podcasts series about this specific topic (in danish), as it seems to pressure many students. In the podcasts three company leaders explain what they are looking for when hiring new graduates. They all emphasize personality, human skills and qualities, diversity in experiences, a desire to keep learning and curiosity about the given job.
A culture of silence
Lastly, something that adds to the myth and stands in the way of debunking it, is the existence of “a silence culture” in the study environments. When students feel that they cannot live up to the ideal or their own or others’ expectations many express a feeling of inadequacy. Out of fear of being judged by others or being perceived badly, many then choose to keep their difficulties to themselves – and assume that others have things much better figured out. As one students put it in an interview: “I do not dare to tell others if I think a subject is difficult. I’m just dealing with it myself.”
When difficulties or insecurities, that inevitably will happen during ones studies, are not shared with others, it instead adds to the assumption that others have things much better under control. Even in situations where students feel that they had done their best, many have told us, that still it felt never to be enough.
Material to explore on this topic
- Podcast series: Kunsten at træde i karakter som menneske – klædt på til arbejdslivet
- Podcast: En virksomheds perspektiv – myten om den ideelle studerende
- Podcast: Hvorfor faen snakker vi ikke om det? Usikkerheder og udfordringer i studielivet
- Video: Myten om den ideelle studerende
- Video: Hvorfor faen snakker vi ikke om det? Perfektheds- og præstationskultur
- Video: Du er ikke alene med tvivlen
- Video: At lære at fejle – når dit bedste ikke er godt nok