Is College Everything It’s Cracked Up to Be?

The other day, I asked a friend, “If you could change one thing in your life, what would it have been?”

He told me, “I’d save my college tuition money and train myself for work. I’ve learned most of the skills I use on my own anyways.”

In other words – no college, bro. Crazy? Or is he onto something here?

It’s true that everybody’s situation is different. That much we can agree on. But Rob does brings up a good point. Why go to college?

For some people – it’s the big dream. Your parents never got the opportunity, and this is your best shot at making it big in life. It’s also the biggest financial investment and risk you’ve ever taken. For others people – college is totally expected. It’s just what you do. It’s all about working hard in high school so that you can get into the best university possible. So really, why go to college? Is it really as glorious as you imagine, or as superfluous as Rob suggests?

The reality’s in the middle, and you should really think about why you’re going.

Getting the opportunity to live, breathe, and experience life at a four-year university is something special. College launches the careers of most young adults. And really, it’s hard to find anything that compares. You get to elevate your perspective from a local, neighborhood view to a panoramic shot of the greater world around you. In particular, you will meet people coming from circumstances you’ve previously only read about in news or seen on TV. You will sculpt new views and values. Your classes, social organizations, and activities will extend beyond your most ambitious high-school predictions. Every year in college will bring about a metamorphosis. You will change more rapidly than at any other point in your life.

Take it from this author, who has been to 20+ countries, seen extremes of rich and poor, and lived in the simplest and most extravagant ways. He still considers college to be his most formative experience to date.

That said, college doesn’t do justice to everyone. Some people just roll through the four years passively, emulating the dynamics of high school and repeating it in an older body. They take easy classes that reinforce their existing viewpoints. They refuse to challenge themselves intellectually and emotionally.

Likewise, some classes are sounding-blocks for highly-opinionated individuals, and nothing more. Taking these classes are akin to watching a youtube news channel – passively absorbing trivia with limited practical utility.

The quality and outcome of your college experience will be partially luck, partially school-choice, and mostly based on the decisions you make. It’s important to have some sense of what you want to get out of it. Classes are actually a small component in the grand scheme of things. It’s the non-academic experiences that shape most students and show them what they want to do in the future.

Make sure that you pursue your education with deliberate intent. College, like all other walks of life, is balanced with the good and bad. The best universities in the world will still have lazy students and incompetent professors, and lower-ranked universities will still have world-class peers and game-changing educators. You need to pick and choose and be judicious about it all.

Here’s a step-wise guide to get you started: First and foremost, pick a practical discipline. Second, command a real desire to learn. Third, analyze (and question) everything you are taught.

Pull useful, workable information out of your lessons. Improve your approaches. College makes things easy by putting all the cards in your hand. Every resource imaginable is accessible by your  fingertips. How much you learn and grow is up to you to decide.

In a way, it’ll also be up to your friends. College tends to be the time when some individuals rise to the occasion and others fall back on what’s familiar. With so many talented, motivated, and inquisitive young adults around you, there’s no excuse to not be surrounding yourself with the best of the best.

Ask yourself the following:

Am I going to going to pick a curriculum that challenge me?

Am I willing to risk failure and find a way to persevere?

Am I brave enough to step into the unknown?

What do I know now? What don’t I know? What do I want to learn? What do I need to learn?

If your answer is ‘Yes, yes, yes, and wow, look at this huge list of stuff I want and need to learn’, the chances are good that college is going to be everything it’s cracked up to be.