By Elena Hooper
As the semester begins to draw to a close and the promise hot, sunny days, pool parties, and lazy afternoons on the porch keep us hopeful during the dreary fog of spring, I’m sure quite a few of us are already gearing up to take summer classes or even transfer to a four-year school. Summer if often a time to get the small stuff done, like Gen. Ed. classes or transcript reviews, so that the bigger, more important moves in our educational career can run smoothly. What many of you might not stop to consider what is actually quite a pivotal question; Why, exactly, are you going to college? You may think you know the answer to that, but have you really given it a proper thought? I’d like to explain why pondering this question is actually worth your time and a crucial deciding factor to your future and life satisfaction.
In American society for at least forty years now, it’s customary that when we reach the end of our time in high school, we begin our search for colleges, far and wide, that provide a plethora of degree programs that we’re not sure if we’re even interested in to begin with. Most of us barely make up our minds about how we feel about ourselves and yet are essentially thrust into a situation that is completely beyond the maturity we’re capable of and out of our emotional and executive functioning depth. But we do it because it is our condition, and we make do, and a good portion of us come out on the other side relatively unscathed.
It would be easy to overlook our real motivations for pursuing a college degree as it is programmed into us from a very young age. We often see it as a means to an end and as the narrow path that leads us from one stage of life to another. It’s seen as normal and in some cases, even obligatory, to go to college in the United States, and those who do not participate are often seen as slackers.
Now I’m sure there are many people who go to college because they want to and they thrive in such an academic environment, but the opposite is true for many as well. There are often many people who feel a sense of duty to go to college, despite having little interest in it, and struggle semester after semester to keep their grades high enough so that they are not expelled, even if they put a sufficient amount of work into their studies.
The truth of the matter is: college is not easy, and it’s meant to be that way. For many hundreds of years, university was attended by the elite and only the elite who were pursuing the study of the arts and sciences. It was meant to be a rigorous endeavor that tested your mind and your values. It was meant to challenge you as much as possible and to expose you many different perspectives. When one attended university, it was because he was in the pursuit of knowledge; he was there to learn. He was there to understand. Much of that, I believe, has been lost now in recent years due to the urgency and necessity placed on us to get that “perfect” white collar job. To that I say: nonsense. College is not a means to an end. It is meant to be an experience of knowledge where the process of it all outweighs the end product. But people cease to really learn or understand anything if they are only there to take a test. If they only want to memorize and not actually comprehend the information they’re being taught. This is not completely college students’ fault, however, as the education we received prior to coming to university was constructed the same way. Information itself has little value, only your ability to spit it back out for a test is what matters, and that is a truly poisonous idea.
So if the current state of postsecondary education is frustrating you like it’s frustrating me, you might be itching for a solution. Truthfully, the ideal solution would be for our overall culture to realign its values and work ethic with what people are capable of, not what we force them to do, but that’s going to take much longer to fix itself than the smaller decisions I’m going to suggest one could make. This may worry you as you’ve probably been told many times that the only way to have a happy life is if you go to college. This is also nonsense, you’ll just have to do a little digging.
For those who find themselves in a constant struggle with their postsecondary education and can’t seem to feel secure in a college environment no matter how hard they try, it might be time to reconsider the path your on. It might be difficult to accept that if you’ve been to a few different universities already or have been at the two-year level for quite awhile now, then university might not be for you, and that’s okay. So if that is the case, you might be wondering what your options are. You might be surprised at just how many careers are out there that don’t require a four-year degree. For example, construction and building inspectors made an approximate median annual salary of $59,000 but only need a high school diploma or equivalent and five years of work in a related occupation, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics which says that the field is expected to grow 10 percent by 2026. Also, elevator inspectors and repairers made an approximate median annual salary of $79,000 in a field expected to grow. But these are only a few examples of the wide array of careers you have to choose from.
Keep in mind that the foundation from which you build your career should be based on strong skills you have, not what you’re passionate about, and not what’s going to make you the most money. It may turn out that your passion is also a strong skill you have that can be easily marketable, but that is often not the case. True satisfaction in career comes from what you’re good at, but you should also enjoy what you do in the process. And if you struggle to identify what skills you have, then there are plenty of legitimate online quizzes to choose from that can help you in that process, or for even better results, you can even see career counselors including those at CCM’s Office of Career Services in CH 203. There are many two-year degrees, certification programs, apprenticeships, and vocational and technical programs that utilize the skills of those who may not have a knack for the scholarly but for the practical and hands-on. It is just as honest of a living than if you pursued a four, six, or even eight-year degree.
Now of course there are many people who pursue the scholarly, who pursue the white collar jobs, because they genuinely want to and it’s what they’re good at. There are also many people who come from poor or immigrant families who go to university to have a better life than what their parents had, and that is also valid. But where it becomes a problem is when people feel an obligation to go to university instead of a motivation. They don’t feel any reason to be there other than it’s what they’ve been told to do, but there is nothing wrong with not liking a university environment as it’s a very difficult environment for people to be in. It’s supposed to be like that.
So as the summer draws near, remember to really get in tune with yourself. Ask yourself what you want out of a university education, if anything at all. Are you there (or going there) because it’s a comfortable environment for you? Because you enjoy the challenge and the results you get from those challenges? Or are you going because it’s what you were told to do? Because it’s what everyone does? Or just because you want to make a lot of money? If your answers are the latter four, then maybe it’s time to look into other options. If you’ve been struggling for a while now to make ends meet in your university career and you feel like you’ve reached a dead end, just know that there is hope for a better future; it’s just not there. There’s just as much value in a career that’s vocational or technical as there is in an educated one. Being honest with what you want is much more likely to guarantee you satisfaction in life than trying to please others expectations.
Not functioning well in an academic environment doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you, or that you’re stupid, it just means that it’s not right for you, and you can find happiness and security in a career that doesn’t require such education. It’s true that you won’t make as much income than if you did have a university education, but if the only place you derive satisfaction from in life is how much money you make, then you will always feel dissatisfied. You’re not going to find joy in life by being complacent or from being able to own a mansion with a fancy car but from how productive and useful you feel and feeling like you’re working to your highest potential. Utilizing our skills and feeling like we’re making a difference, no matter how prestigious the job, is what’s important. A university education is not the only way to feel that, so I want you to consider this very important question: Why do you want to go to university?