Students discover benefits, challenges of getting engaged while still in college

The Daily News

Branden Stanley and Alea Bowling pose for an engagement photo. Some students are hoping to be engaged by the end of Spring Semester. PHOTO PROVIDED BY ALEA BOWLING
Branden Stanley and Alea Bowling pose for an engagement photo. Some students are hoping to be engaged by the end of Spring Semester. PHOTO PROVIDED BY ALEA BOWLING

The walk across the stage at commencement is the most important walk on most college students’ minds. However, some are more fixated with another special walk: a walk down the aisle.

A 2011 PEW Research Center study reported the average age to get married is up to 26 for women and 28 for men. 

Despite this, some students still feel the pressure to get engaged while in college. Eighteen percent of undergraduates are already married, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.


Ball State sociology professor Richard Petts said in an email that those with religious backgrounds, particularly strong conservative or evangelical Christian backgrounds, are more likely to get married at a younger age.

The Catholic Church is central to Alea Bowling and Branden Stanley’s relationship. They met through a homeschooled production of “The Hobbit” 10 years ago and became friends. When their relationship turned romantic in January 2010, Bowling fell in love with the traditional Latin Catholic ceremony Stanley was raised in. Their wedding will be a traditional Latin Mass as opposed to the normal Catholic wedding ceremony, which Bowling said she thinks adds to the dynamic they have. 

The couple holds strong traditional values, which influenced their decision to get married young.

“Getting married was always the intention of dating,” Bowling, a junior art major, said. “When we started dating, knew our purpose was to find someone to marry.”

Stanley said they looked at their dating as more of a seeking process than a way just to have fun. The idea of marriage was always there, but they did not seriously discuss it until last summer. 

In college, not all have the mindset of dating with marriage on the brain. Marriage at a young age wasn’t in senior elementary education Lyndsey Kellett’s plan until her relationship with God developed.

“If God hadn’t pursued me and saved me, I would not be getting married right now. I would probably think it was inhibiting to be married,” said Kellett, who didn’t become a Christian until she was 16. 

“It’s hard for me to even wrap my mind around what planning a wedding would be like in college because I don’t think that I would consider getting married so young. I would want to pursue a career, or I would want the freedom to date around, things like that,” she continued, explaining her thinking before she became religious.

Although Kellett’s relationship with her fiancé Nathan Newburn, a junior finance major, is “grounded in knowing and following Jesus,” she still did not anticipate getting married so young, recalling when she told someone in Navigators, a campus Christian group, during her freshman year that she would never do that and that it was ridiculous. 

However, she is confident in her decision after they prayed and received confirmation from God that this is what they’re supposed to do.



While faith may be one reason to get married young, financial benefits and woes could swing a couple either way.

Bloomberg Businessweek reported that the top 1 percent of student borrowers owe more than $150,000 in loans, and this number is on the rise. 

However, couples that are already married are eligible for different scholarships and grants. Married couples can look into Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and Federal TEACH Grants from the government. More grants and scholarships may be available on a university basis.

Although there are financial aid options available, there is still the rising debt. When it comes to finding jobs with good salaries after graduation, women fair better if they delay marriage. The American Community Survey reported that college-educated women who get married after the age of 30 have an average personal income of $50,415, which is 56 percent more than the $32,263 college-educated women that get married before the age of 20. However, men benefit from marrying earlier, regardless of education level. 

The pressure for financial stability can be intimidating, and it was a factor in Ball State alumni Alyssa Braun and Dan Kreitl waiting until after they both graduated to get engaged.

“When you’re in college, you’re still very dependent on your parents,” said Kreitl, who graduated last December with his master’s degree in business administration. “I feel like, at least me, psychologically, when you’re getting married, that’s a definite separation from your parents financially.”

This new sense of absolute financial responsibility is just one of many transitions. There is also pressure to find somewhere to live as well as a career.

“Once you graduate, you have a lot of big decisions and big things that come after graduation. Finding a job, living on your own, dealing with the real world, you know, with the bills and stuff,” Braun, a 2009 graduate, said. “For me, it was a lot of being able to adjust to all of that on my own versus trying to adjust to that plus being married on top of that.”

They agreed that taking the bit of time after graduation has helped them get settled financially to properly prepare for the future.

In addition to the usual costs of living, those marrying young have to think about the cost of the wedding if they decided to take on that burden on their own. A Real Weddings study reported that the average cost of a wedding in 2012 was $28,427.

Kellett and Newburn have been preparing for the financial pressure. After becoming engaged in November 2011, they began planning for their future together, factoring the chances of Kellett finding a job in education in the Muncie area while Newburn finishes his schooling. 

Through meeting their financial goals, they have successfully budgeted enough to afford the necessary things for the first year of marriage, which is what Kellett said will most likely be the toughest year financially.

“We realized financial security doesn’t exist,” she said. “No matter how much money you have, you want more. It never feels like enough. Keeping that in perspective gave us a lot of freedom.”


Although time may seem of the essence, the couples agreed age or an unspoken social timeline should not dictate when a couple gets engaged.

“When you have your whole life to be married to someone, I just feel like that’s a huge commitment and a huge decision,” Braun said. “You really need to take the time to make sure you’re making the right decision. When you make that commitment, you’re committed for life. Why rush that decision? Why rush into that?”

Kreitl warned against how much people grow after graduation as students venture out into the career field. 

“We have both changed so much from when we first started dating, that now, who I’m marrying, her today, is totally different than a year after we had been dating,” Kreitl said. “Maybe we’ll change more again in the next five years, but I would say a lot of changes happen, I think between your junior year of college and your one or two years after college.”

Bowling and Stanley are getting married a week and a day after Spring Commencement in 2014, but don’t feel like they’re rushing things. However, they recognize that their situation isn’t for most people, and that not everyone has known each other for 10 years. Stanley said they’re not experts in what they’re doing, but they feel like they know what they’re doing. 

They agree that they know how to deal with the bad as well as the good, and that marriage is not all fun and games.

For the most part, they have received support, but there has been some concern.

“You can’t please everyone,” Bowling said, saying it’s always either “aren’t you rushing?” or “are you ever going to get married?”

“People are going to judge you no matter what you do,” she said.

Although they do get asked if they feel they are too young, it doesn’t seem to faze them.

“We’re not setting out to do something reckless,” Stanley said.

Many who oppose marriage in college site the statistics that people who marry young are more likely to get divorced. But Petts said these studies are focused on couples even younger, between the ages of 18 and 23, and often on those who do not attend college. 

One study by a sociologist at the University of Texas even suggests that “the greatest indicated likelihood of being in an intact marriage of the highest quality is among those who married at ages 22-25” and that while those who married later than that may have a good survival rate, but may suffer in quality.

Bowling said she is glad they are going to have a long engagement because it’s teaching her to really think about the future, considering not just the romantic things, but the serious things beyond the wedding.

“It doesn’t really matter what age you get engaged, to a certain extent,” Stanley said. “It more matters what your outlook is on it, and how you go about it.”

Kellett agreed that couples shouldn’t rush to get engaged, even if they have been dating for a while. She also feels there needs to be a greater focus on the weight of dating.

“Part of what makes marriage marriage is that unconditional commitment to love that person regardless of what happens,” she said. “Considering the weight of that commitment, you never want to rush into anything like that.”

Even with this in mind, she understands the anxiety regarding finding someone while at college.

“When else are you going to be in this environment that is filled with people your own age? You have the freedom to be around people that share your interests, and there’s this openness in the university setting to begin new relationships, most people are looking for new relationships,” Kellett said. “I think there would be something really intimidating about entering a career field and not having that kind of assurance of a human companion. I can see both signs of that coin.”


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