Wednesday, November 9, 2011

On College

Just some thoughts I've been pondering lately. I've come to the conclusion that college is less of a bank and more of a commitment to jump off a rock. Yes that will make sense later.

I can remember several times that various instructors, speakers and advisors told me during high school the reason I should go to college. "Go to college," they said, "that way you won't have to work so hard when you're older!" They would then lay out the math behind the reasoning--that college graduates make more money than those with just high school degrees, that the money made by simply getting a job doesnt measure up when compared to those future earnings, that all the best jobs required a college degree to get. All seemed like pretty good reasons, especially since I was planning on going anyway. It was like making deposits in a bank: I would just withdraw it at the end and not have to worry so much.

Of course, they didn't mention that most jobs also require job experience, and place more importance on that than on the degree. Or that it is possible--likely, even--that you change your mind and not work in the same field as your degree anyway. Or that sometimes there are such a lot of unremarkable college graduates applying for jobs in your field that you end up unemployed or interning for free instead of earning those higher salaries.

The biggest misconception, though, was the concept of not having to work hard after the bachelors degree is done. If you are still an undergrad and reading this, yes, people still do actually have to work hard after college. In fact, I would say that after college you have to work even harder, whether that means you are trying to kickstart your writing career, attending the grueling hours of medical school or putting in 60 to 80 hour weeks in a research lab somewhere. The Fallout videogame series has a saying: "War, war never changes." There is a similar one that people should probably adopt when considering higher education. "Work, work never changes." It's going to be hard, it's going to be unpleasant, and there is no place on this planet you can hide from it. That includes mom's basement. :)

So rather than going to college and getting a degree with the hope of hiding away in a comfortable, work-free niche afterwards, please go to find the career you are passionate about. Find that thing that makes your life satisfying, where the work, while hard, is fulfilling. Then commit to working your brains out to make that career happen. Because if you are going to be suffering through all that work, you may as well commmit to something you care about. Otherwise, life will be terribly unpleasant. Kind of like someone who has jumped off a rock and hesitates partway through, it's not going to end well. You will probably end up with lots of bumps, bruises, and disappointment.

So whatever you decide in terms of education--and I think this will apply to graduate school as much as undergrad stuff--commit or you'll always regret it. And if at the end of your jump you find something you don't like, pick yourself up get back up the rock and try again. At least, that's my take on things. For what it's worth. See you around!


  1. All good points, and one of the big reasons why I decided not to apply for grad schools after graduating from BYU. I felt that academia had sheltered me too much from the real world, and I needed to get out and experience it before I could really have an idea what I wanted to do. And yes, it all comes down to hard work--I don't think it's possible to experience the thing we call "success" without hard work. Even if you win the lottery or inherit a billion dollars, if it didn't come as the result of your diligent effort, there's still untapped potential out there that you're missing out on.

  2. I don't know if college automatically shelters you from the real world though. After all, I would never have met the Quark writing group or taken a class from Brandon Sanderson without BYU (Not to mention meeting and marrying the love of my life, of course). I just meant that the opportunities at college are supposed to be a springboard, not an end to themselves--and there's no point to a springboard unless you have somewhere you would like to jump.

    Don't know if that made much sense, but hopefully it did. Glad you liked the post!

  3. I think it used to be true that college = good job, but those cushy steady jobs with security and benefits seem highly scarce now. I'm still 100% glad I went to college -- I learned tons of stuff, and it enhanced my life -- but college does seem predictable and scheduled compared to job hunting or forming a business. Your original metaphor made perfect sense to me the first time I read it. :)

  4. College is important but not for the reasons that most people think. Even with a highly specialized degree 90 percent of the training for the job happens on the job. College is more about putting your head down and proving that you can do it to a potential employer. I think it is very true that success is a personal measurement and that you need to find out what you like to do. As for myself, I like to think of college as a safety net that you can put underneath whatever rock you choose to jump from.

    Hope I made sense.

  5. @MKHutchins Glad my original metaphor made sense. I do worry about that whole clarity thing sometimes. Let's just say my blog posts aren't as heavily edited as my books. :) I agree that I got a lot out of my college experience. It just wasn't the key to a work-free, worry-free future like I think I had been led to expect when I was growing up.

    @debenhs I would agree that college does prove to some employers that you can work hard, but that will not mean that once you graduate, you can just relax and take it easy. It just means that they will give you more work because they can trust that you will take it, especially if your career is in the field you graduated from. That same commitment you gave your major will be required of you when you get out into the non-academic world, and it will be hard.

    I don't know about college as a safety net, though. If you find you don't like the field you majored in and have to fall back on other jobs, a bachelor's degree just doesn't seem to help out much. You'll be able to earn a slightly higher wage do to your education, but a lot of jobs will also stamp "overqualified" on your resume for that same reason. So you might get hired for higher wages, but you probably won't get lower wage jobs even if you'd accept it. Kind of a higher chance of good wages, but a higher risk of unemployment as well. I'm just not sure it provides the security I would consider a good safety net, I guess.

    At least, that's my perspective. Everyone's got their own of course. :)