What’s the Purpose of College?

What is the purpose of college? Why interrupt your youthful, carefree lifestyle to go to a distant city and be in a place with people you don’t know, food you have never eaten before, and “teachers” who give you insights on things you don’t really care about?

You go to college for precisely those reasons. You go to meet and learn from people who are different from you. You experience things that you never tried when you were younger, and you now must open your mind to views and opinions expressed by men and women designated by the college as being experts in their fields.

Suppose you didn’t go off to college? Suppose you just stayed home and found a job in your hometown? Would your life be better or worse? Statisticians and so called “experts” will tell you that in the long run, going to college will provide you with more opportunity and income. For the most part, that is true, although it is possible to not go to college, work hard, and develop a rewarding career. You would not have large amounts of college debt either. You may be better off.

The collegiate experience is much more than that. It makes you educated. It gives you an opportunity to think, experiment with new things, and make mistakes. You are much better off making those big mistakes within the comfort of the college environment rather than the pressure laden workplace. It gives you a chance to evaluate yourself. What do you do best and what do you need to do better? It gives you a chance to lead. You can become a shift supervisor at your part time job. You can lead a campus organization or small group of your peers though a group project. You may, and probably will, meet your new best friends for life.

You don’t have to decide what it is you want to do with your life during this time. This is a widely misplaced concept. You think because you are a Psych or Communications major you will have to have your career in this field. That is not true. You may learn after four years that you hate Psych and Communications and you only embark on this path because you (or someone) invested all this money in a college from which to learn these career options. It is o.k. to not like the major you studied. Do not freak out for doing such. Go up to ten older people you know and ask them what they studied in college. I would guess that at least half of them studied something other from where their career took them. Do they seem angry or regretful that they are in a vocation in something other than they studied? Doubtful. (On a personal note, I studied Hotel Administration and never spent so much as 15 seconds behind a hotel front desk. It doesn’t bother me at all.)

Approaching forty years after graduating, I look back on my collegiate experience with no regrets. I made a handful of friends I still keep in touch with. I had good experiences and bad experiences. I had teachers I liked and teachers I didn’t like. I had a part time job which gave me some spending money, and I joined a band which helped me spend that money.

Although I did not know it at the time, I learned from everything. I probably learned the most from failure. Whereas I was quite angry at the times where I did not succeed, learning how to cope with failure and make yourself a better person was important. It taught me something truly important: humility. I did not study humility, but it just came my way by accident. It perhaps a trait I am most appreciative of forty years later.

Occasionally, I wonder what life would be like if I never went to college?  I wouldn’t have the great friends I have now and I wouldn’t have had some truly remarkable experiences. I’d be struggling with doing things I don’t enjoy (college was filled with those experiences) and I wouldn’t know what it was like to leave home and venture off to somewhere new, and all the richness that brought. Most important, I wouldn’t be able to call myself an educated person. That is something no one will ever be able to take away.

Attending college is a big decision. It will most likely cost you money you don’t have and give you many hours of stress and grief. It will prolong the start of your career journey and probably get you started on a career you don’t enjoy. But you are a college student now. Put that aside and think about the good things it will bring you. It will bring you many gifts, but probably none more important than the gift of being an educated person.

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