Students, professors discuss pros, cons of getting married while in college

The average age of first-time marriage is 28, according to a study released by the National Center for Education Statistics. However, 18 percent of students completing an undergraduate degree have still chosen to say ‘I do.’

Jennifer Berry, licensed professional counselor at UNA Student Counseling Service, said couples need to assess their relationships in a time as stressful as college before they make any long-term commitments. Success and satisfaction of a marriage has more to do with age and maturity, instead of college itself, Berry said.

“College is only going to be an additional stressor,” Berry said. “What couples really need to think about is how healthy or unhealthy their relationship is.”

Dr. Amber Paulk, assistant professor of family and consumer sciences and sociology, said she agrees.

“Your satisfaction is going to depend on where you’re at in the romantic relationship cycle,” she said. “Everyone’s experience is going to be different based on that. College isn’t going to make a marriage less satisfying.

“But what we do know after research is that the younger a couple is, the higher the divorce and dissatisfaction rate is.”

There are several strains associated with a marriage entered into while in college, Paulk said. An example Paulk gave is a lack of married friends and support from the community, because society has posed a different social standard than one presented 50 years ago—a standard that expected couples to marry young. This can lead to isolation and lack of understanding, thus causing conflict and strain within the marriage, she said.

Some couples recognize the stresses and decide to wait. Senior professional biology major Zack McMullan and his girlfriend, Amanda Frazier, have been together for almost a year and a half. The couple knows that marriage is in their future but have decided to wait until after graduation.

“We want to make sure we have a steady foundation and a way to support ourselves so that we don’t have to rely on others as much,” McMullan said.

For some, though, the potential stresses and strains are worth it. Bailey Ellis, a junior secondary education major, has been married to her husband Kyle for nine months. She said the fact that her husband had already graduated and had a steady job contributed to their decision to get married now.

“Honestly, we got married while I was still in school because we trusted God’s timing,” Ellis said. “Another reason we decided to go ahead and get married is that since my husband had already graduated, we knew he would be able to get a job that would support us while I was still in school.”

Marriage has altered her college experience in some ways, but Ellis said she would not do it differently if she had the chance.

“Even though there may be things I miss out on, there are so many things I feel like I have gained,” Ellis said. “My husband is my best friend, and so being married is like spending every day with my best friend.”