Why Go to College? Back to School Basics

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Dear Reader:

I used to get so bummed out this time of year. It's still technically summer but, deep in your heart, you know it's over. You can feel the seasonal change in the air. The humidity is lifting. The smell is a little crisper. The swirly pinks of summer give way to the copper hues of autumn. Nights spent strolling beaches under open skies become nights in fluorescent light over open books. Summer is winding down and all you can think about is the school year up ahead; the structure, the responsibility, the studying, the grind.

It's pretty much here and the next island of relief won't come until Thanksgiving.

But there's something beautiful and reassuring about autumn, something that maybe I didn't fully appreciate when I was a procrastinating high schooler cramming all 700 pages of my summer reading into Labor Day Weekend.

Autumn is a time of new beginnings. The time of year when we harvest, when we reap what we've sown. In the Jewish faith, we celebrate Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year, every fall. This is when we renew our commitments, not strictly to our faith, but also—and perhaps more importantly—to those around us and to ourselves. Harvest season is a time to be reaffirmed in our path, in the way we relate to one another, in the way we perceive ourselves. In other words, after a summer spent sleeping in and playing late, it's time to get serious again.

Summer is a fling. Autumn is true love.

So what does that mean if you're about to embark on another school year? How do you renew your commitments?

What's the Point?

If you're going to college, or you plan to go to college, you've almost surely come across a figure or statistic that makes you wonder, what indeed is the point of all this?

College is brutally expensive. The student who graduates in under six years is increasingly rare. Rarer still is the student who doesn't graduate saddled in debt. In actuality, this part of the equation is not entirely new, even if the numbers are bigger and badder.

However, the more recent, and more disturbing development concerns the value of what you're getting. Is your college degree worth the money?

Well, that depends. If you decide that now is indeed a good time to reaffirm your commitments, perhaps start by asking yourself this question:

Why am I going to college?

When I was in college, I assumed the primary reason I was there was so that I could eventually get a job. That's probably the reason I got so bummed out with the start of every new school year. That's a terrible reason to go to college.

If you're just looking for a job. Go to trade school. It'll cost you less, take less time, and arm you with readily usable professional skills. If you've already committed to a college education, now is a great time to ask yourself what you hope to accomplish there. This is not a broad, what-do-you-want-to-do-with-your-life sort of question. Believe me. You'll have plenty of time for your quarter-life crisis after college

For now, you should really ask yourself how you can get the richest experience out of your college, how you can leverage the resources, amenities, community, and outstanding minds that make up your campus, how you can make the absolute most out of this unparalleled moment in your life when you have the privilege of spending your time exclusively in the pursuit of learning.

I discovered in my profession, as many people do, that my college major had little to no impact on my career. Talent, happenstance, good fortune, charm and personal connections will all play greater importance than your college major.

This isn't to suggest that you should choose courses and declare a major without consulting your own career ambitions, only to suggest that your career ambitions shouldn't drive the way you perceive or spend your time in college.

The Bachelor Life

You're probably thinking, who has the luxury going to college for enrichment? Education costs money, and it takes money to make money, right? Enrichment? That's some bourgeois nonsense right there.

But is it?

If you think you can't afford to attend college for the luxury of personal growth, I would suggest that you can't afford not to. What an annoying thing to say, I know. But seriously, if you're just going to college to get a decent job, prepare for the possibility of disappointment.

Again, I know, it's still kind of summer. I'm not trying to be a buzzkill. But here are some stats (because that's exactly what you want in your waning days of precious vacation, are stats):

There aren't a lot of businesses out there that could get by on a 65% customer satisfaction rate. Chances are pretty good that the respondents who didn't perceive college as being worth the money took out big loans and, particularly in the shadow of the Great Recession, have struggled to land jobs that justify that investment.

Does this mean that college isn't worth the money? Not necessarily. It just means that some of us have to rethink the reasons behind our investment.

The point is not that your Bachelor's Degree is worthless. It's the basic threshold for most of the good gigs, and the pay gap between those with a Bachelor's Degree and those without still remains pretty huge. The real point is that your Bachelor's Degree isn't the thing that's going to land you a job. It has to be there on your resume, but your professional fortunes rest on so many other factors.

This doesn't make college a waste of time, unless you think the point of college is to ready you for the job market. It's not. Going to house parties, partaking in crazy campus traditions, verbally abusing an opposing college's mascot, and even going to class; these things won't ready you for the job market. But they'll probably make you a more interesting human being. College really, truly, honestly is a time meant for personal growth. Some of that growth will take place in the classroom. You may even achieve academic mastery of a subject area as part of that growth.

But there is no automatic switch that transforms subject mastery into employability. To get job skills, you'll need to get a job. I realize that's a frustrating Catch-22, but it should free you up to reconsider your perspective on college. Are you here to simply become employable, or are you here to grow as a person?

Take it from a guy who assumed the former, and consequently chose the wrong college, major and courses. You should really be there for the latter. Spending tens (or hundreds) of thousands on a degree that may or may not land you a job…that's a questionable investment. Spending that money to grow intellectually, emotionally and socially…that's always a good investment. By the way, here's the secret to getting a job: being an outgoing, talented, well-organized, hard-working, and generally awesome person. Focus on that stuff in college and you should be great.

Renewing Our Commitment To You

So with autumn in the air and back-to-school sale popups saturating your feed, here's an opportunity to renew your commitment to your education, not as a means to an end, but as an end unto itself.

Here at The Quad, we believe that education is something far greater and more extraordinary than simply that which takes place in the classroom. We view your education as a more encompassing experience. If you are an inquiring soul—and we assume you wouldn't be here if you weren't—learning envelopes your life and world. So with this in mind, we celebrate our 2nd Anniversary and the start of our third school year by renewing our commitment to you.

We'll do everything in our power to bring you stories, features, and resources that help enrich your educational experience, those that make you laugh, those that make you a little angry, those that make you click on useful links, and those that make you want to dig deeper. It is our Mission to create a space where education, pop culture and the real world meet. We invite you to make this space your own.

Even though we're kind of bummed that this summer is on its way out, we're super excited about everything we have planned for you in the coming school year. It makes this whole autumn thing totally worth it.

Stick with us this year. I think we'll all learn a few things.

Love and Respect,

David A. Tomar
Editor in Chief
The Quad

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