So, part of the reason I’ve taken so long to update this blog (sorry) is because I’m back at college. I came back about a week early as an orientation mentor for the incoming freshmen, and classes started yesterday. When considering what to write about next, I thought, hey, why not talk about college itself? It’s where I am, and it’s what’s been on my mind for the past couple of weeks (well, that and querying literary agents, as well as getting back to my third book after a summer-long hiatus). So, here we go.
Has anyone ever told you not to go to college? I couldn’t believe it the first time I heard this. “People have told me going to college isn’t worth it,” they said. “In this economy, it might not even guarantee me a job. And I don’t wanna be in debt for the next ten years.”
Maybe it’s because of the way I was raised, or maybe it’s because of my own college experience. But I disagree with this viewpoint. Yes, people generally go to college to get higher-paying jobs. Many go into practical fields so they can make a lot of money, whether they enjoy that field or not (that in itself is a different rant for a different day). Others do what I do–study something that may or may not guarantee them a job, but something they love like hell. Both my parents have arts degrees, so I grew up understanding that when you went to college, you got to do what you love. You got to start forging your path, independently, relying only on your inner drive. You got to take charge of your own life. You got to make something of yourself.
This is why I don’t understand most people who don’t want to go to college.
Let’s tackle the whole “it might not get me a job” idea a little more. Sure, maybe you’ll study Art History and discover very few jobs ask for that kind of credential. Here’s the thing: just having a college degree makes your resume look better. That’s the reality of it. If employers see “University of Such-and-Such” included in your resume, they immediately get a sense of your skill set. I don’t mean skill sets specific to certain academic departments, I mean the skill set every college graduate walks away with. The majority of college students must write at least one research paper–that means personal dedication and the ability to meet a deadline, research facts, check your facts, use multiple sources, write well, edit well, receive and apply feedback well, cite your sources, manage stress, maintain other parts of your life while writing the paper. I could go on and on. That list of skills comes from writing ONE research paper, and every research paper you write after that will help you expand on your abilities.
Some might think, pfft, whatever. I wrote papers in high school that required all that. After you write your first college essay, you will realize the incredible difference between high school expectations and college expectations. You may have struggled in high school–everyone does to some degree (for instance, I had to take Algebra II twice because I failed it the first time). But in high school, you get so many breaks. Breaks you don’t even know you’re getting. High school teachers generally simplify things for their students. Their papers might be challenging, but (at least in my experience) they rarely pass a certain bar, the bar teachers and school districts tailor toward students on every part of the spectrum, from F averages to A averages. Teachers and districts don’t want their students to fail, so sometimes (unfortunately), this means lowering their standards. They want scores to go up. The general populace is supposed to get a high school diploma. College, on the other hand, is voluntary. That means you do the work. That means college professors don’t spoonfeed you. Good professors are there to help you, of course–they make the proverbial meal for you–but it’s your job this time to find a spoon and feed yourself.
I realize there are exceptions to the above. AP classes are a little different–but then again, those are designed to be at the college level. For all I know, you attended a hardcore high school where you wrote ten page essays every week. Please know I am speaking in general terms.
From what I’ve seen, most U.S. districts cater to those who are struggling, which is why some people are able to breeze on by. This is not necessarily a bad thing. People mature at different rates, meaning people assume responsibility at different periods of their lives. A fifteen-year-old shouldn’t be punished for being less responsible than his peer–they are different people with different needs. These people deserve extra help. I’m just saying college is different.
College is not, however, just important for the skill set. Whether your degree makes you millions or doesn’t earn you a dime, it gives you the experience of a lifetime. Suddenly, you’re surrounded by people who care about their education as much as you do, maybe more. You find more people with similar interests. You discuss them with one another. You meet life-changing people, whether they be professors, peers, or the guy who serves you dinner in the college’s dining hall. If you challenge yourself and handle your work responsibly, you feel good about yourself. You have accomplishments under your belt that you can be proud of. You can say, “I did that. I made that. That person touched my life. And I touched another’s.” College presents you with a myriad of non-academic opportunities as well, in the form of clubs, community service, political activism. I could go on and on.
I understand college is not an option for everyone. For some people, it is not financially possible, and scholarships won’t cover everything they need. Not every underprivileged person gets a full ride to their dream university. If this is the case for you, attend your community college. Be smart about it. Sign up as soon as registration becomes available. Get the classes you want. Make the most of your assignments. Or, barring that, you can educate yourself. Find other people who are knowledgeable about the stuff you’re interested in. Talk to them. And read, read, read. Books are like miniature universities in themselves. They are educators.
Also, I know college isn’t for everyone. Some people go to college straight out of high school and find they’re not ready, or they find their college is wrong for them (transferring is very possible, so don’t rule that out). For others, it just plain doesn’t work. They don’t thrive in that atmosphere. It doesn’t make them happy, no matter how many times they’ve tried. I think this is fine–but please, if you decide college isn’t for you, make sure you create circumstances that bring you to your fullest potential. If you feel travel is the best educator, make it happen. Don’t put it off. Research it before you go, and study the places you visit before you get there (again: read, read, read). If you wanna become part of a hard-to-break-into industry, like the acting or music world, devote most of your time to it. Put yourself out there. I hear so many people say, “I’m taking a year off to focus on my [insert entertainment industry here] career,” and meanwhile, they’re spending their time partying, or browsing the web, or watching TV all day. Don’t cut all relaxation out of your life–make time for this stress-release stuff. But don’t make it your whole life. The only way for you to become a well-rounded person is for you to push yourself, whether that means college, road trips, or starting your own business.
Your brain is a muscle. Do not let it stagnate. When your body becomes sick, you treat the illness; you allow your body to heal until it’s at its fullest potential again. Do the same with your mind. Keep it healthy.
Thank you for reading and for enduring my love affair with parenthetical statements (I can’t stop).
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