Rachel Mason, 21, never would have guessed that Nov. 11, 2016 would become one of the most important days of her life. Her long-time boyfriend Tyson Skinner planned the proposal of her dreams on SMU’s Dallas Hall lawn, complete with a photographer to capture the moment. After a day full of primping with friends, Mason began to get suspicious, especially after Skinner instructed her to wait in front of Dallas Hall. Once she arrived, Skinner showed up and got down on one knee.
Mason said yes and the couple plans to be married Dec. 2, 2017—two weeks before she graduates from SMU with a bachelor’s degree in history.
Mason is one of many college undergraduates to get engaged in college. It’s a phenomenon that students and even some researchers have dubbed “ring by spring.”
The concept, which seems to be more popular in southern states such as Alabama, Tennessee and Texas, appears to have several connotations. In some instances, a student meets their significant other in college and it becomes their destiny to be engaged. In other cases, students enter college with the express goal of meeting their future spouse and becoming engaged, coining terms like “Mrs. Degree.”
Stacy George, who received her doctorate in sociology and now teaches at Whitworth University, specializes in sociology of religion, social movements and gender. She researched the “ring by spring phenomenon,” which has become a sort of tradition among Baylor students.
“My research shows that young women in particular experience pressure to get married,” George said. “They often feel unaccomplished if they graduate without an engagement ring.”
George thinks that culture, social expectations and peer pressure lead to the stress felt by college-age women. In one of her studies, George found that 60 of the 139 responses associated the word “pressure” with “ring by spring.”
Because of this, George believes that “ring by spring” negatively impacts some women’s college experience.
Auburn University graduate and member of the Gamma Rho chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha Emily Esleck witnessed the “ring by spring” fad firsthand in college.
“By junior and senior year, everyone was getting engaged,” Esleck said. “We always had candlelight ceremonies at our weekly Wednesday night chapter.”
Esleck said she personally knew at least 20 people who got engaged in college, but that nearly all girls in sororities at Auburn get engaged before graduating.
While Esleck dreams of getting married, she knows engagement needs to happen at the right time and under the right circumstances. Currently, she’s throwing herself into the early stages of her journalism career.
“I know I’ve got a while to go until I’ll get married,” Esleck said. “There’s no need to put pressure on it, especially since love should be forever.”
A post in a Chi Omega Facebook page confirms that Esleck is not the only college student surrounded by women getting engaged. The post asked whether sorority members knew any engaged college-aged women. It received 23 responses, all of them regarding students who attended southern universities.
Rhodes College senior Jessica Zweifel was not the one in her relationship to suggest a proposal. Her fiancé David Maselli first mentioned the idea, but Zweifel initially wanted to wait before getting married because she felt that she needed to be “more mature.”
“I realized I was making any excuse you could ever think of,” Zweifel said. “Once I stopped living in light of my fear and started living in light of faith, I realized I wanted to marry him as soon as I could.”
While Mason remains ecstatic to marry Skinner, she thinks an engagement should happen naturally instead of being planned out.
“I don’t think it’s something that needs to be a goal,” Mason said. “I don’t think you should go into college only wanting to get married.”
While the phrase “ring by spring” does not bother Mason too much, Vanderbilt University senior Caroline Hufford thinks the term is degrading and offensive to women.
Hufford said the phrase undermines her intelligence and aspirations, and people often assume that she attended college solely to find a spouse.
“I am graduating from a rigorous top university with a class standing of which I am proud,” Hufford said. “In no way am I wasting my degree by marrying off, which is what the term ‘Mrs. Degree’ connotes.”
Hufford added she finished her undergraduate degree in three years so she could start her master’s program during her senior year. After she marries her fiancé John Bone, she plans to immediately get a doctorate in nursing.
SMU graduate Alicia Pitts decided to marry college-boyfriend Dan for similar reasons as Hufford. With plans to attend law school, the couple decided to marry soon after they graduated in 2016 for “practical purposes.”
“We chose to get married two weeks after graduating from SMU so that we could settle into married life and enjoy our summer together before school began,” Pitts said.
Pitts said she and her family never thought that she would be engaged before she graduated from college, but after she met Dan, their expectations changed.
“We had been together for so long and got along so well … I think everyone hoped we would be engaged before graduation,” Pitts said.
On the other hand, SMU senior Alex Silhanek had only been dating her boyfriend Grey Sparks for three months before the 21-year-old proposed last July.
The pair began talking about marriage three weeks after they met, like their parents. Silhanek’s parents married after dating for one month, and Sparks’ parents waited only three.
“Grey always tells me he knew that I was ‘the one’ right after meeting me,” Silhanek said.
Silhanek said she knew it was the right match because talking about marriage was “easy” with Sparks.
Silanhek admits the couple added stress to their lives by juggling a wedding on top of a house and a puppy, but she knows that each hectic day with Sparks is better than a day spent on her own.
Silhanek said she knows that people have talked about her getting married so young behind her back, with someone even confronting her at a bar one night. However, she also knows that those close to her and Sparks support the relationship and their decision to marry.
“Our engagement is the best decision we’ve ever made,” Silhanek said. “It’s so much more than just a ring and a wedding.”
Hufford agrees with Silhanek and can’t wait to marry Bone in August 2018.
“Going in to college, ‘ring by spring’ wasn’t even on my horizon,” Hufford said. “But once I met the right person, everything changed.”