College is more than just career training

Try not to take what we have for granted

Collegian+File+Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Emma Garber, Assistant OpEd Editor

People started asking me what I wanted to do with my life before I had even graduated high school. At the time, I thought I had a pretty good idea of my “life plan” but, like many college students, these plans changed a few months into my freshman year of college.

For many freshmen, meeting fellow college students for the first time involves much of the same conversation: “What’s your name? What’s your major? What do you think you want to do with that?” We associate college with career preparation. When asked about what we are studying today, we immediately jump to our post-graduate plans. In this respect, some majors have clearer paths than others. Business, Computer Science or Nursing majors likely aren’t scrutinized as heavily as, say, English Fine Arts majors when they share their field of study. Meanwhile, those studying the liberal arts are likely tired of the familiar refrains of, “So what exactly do you do with a history major?”

Is college’s sole purpose to prepare us for the workforce? Has it become nothing more than expensive work training? Is it just glorified trade school, churning young students into dutiful working bees?

No. At least, it shouldn’t be.

We need to stop seeing college as a stepping stone and instead see it as an opportunity. Knowledge is power, and college is four years to learn as much as possible. When we see college as solely career preparation, it becomes a burden. Classes become a checklist, general education requirements are just more hoops to jump through. The Journal of Economic Perspectives found that, while many treat education as an investment for career success, education generally improves decision-making skills, patience, trust and social interaction. To put it simply, education can only better us. If we were to collectively rethink our higher education system, instead seeing it as a chance to broaden our horizons, our education would become more meaningful.

Many will change their career paths several times before graduation. This is a natural journey for many students. College is the first time students have the opportunity to control their entire education — no more high school curriculum dictating every class. Using this opportunity to learn as much as possible allows students to explore new interests. Rather than tying ourselves down to our alleged life plans, we should allow ourselves to get lost along the way, embrace the uncertainty and simply enjoy our studies.

I realize that my perspective may seem overly idealistic. Afterall, entering the job market after graduation is still an inescapable reality. While learning for the sake of learning may seem naive, this mindset still makes students competitive post-graduation. No matter one’s major, higher education develops critical thinking skills and creativity, while challenging one’s beliefs and opening one’s eyes to new perspectives. In 2019, LinkedIn named time management, adaptability, collaboration, persuasion and creativity as five of the most sought after skills by employers. And while hard, technical skills can make candidates more appealing, there will always be a need for freethinkers. In 2017, Mark Cuban, an entrepreneur of “Shark Tank” fame, told Bloomberg that he predicted a need for individuals with new perspectives and the ability to think freely as technology automation usurps the job market. Afterall, valuing well-rounded individuals is not a new idea: just think of all the “Renaissance” men and women throughout history who have changed the world.

Some may say an opportunistic look at higher education is elitist. I recognize that my stance is a reflection of my privilege. College tuition comes at a steep price, meaning that a comprehensive education is a privilege many cannot afford. Likewise, college can be extremely difficult for students with learning disabilities. Our education system is deeply flawed, but these barriers further highlight the need for change. College is not a privilege, it is a right. American higher education needs to be affordable and accessible for all.

College should be for everyone, because education is for everyone. If you, like me, have the privilege of attending college, make the most of it. Though widespread education reform may take time, we can make individual changes to rethink our college years: take a class purely because it sounds interesting, attend office hours, get to know students in your classes, do your homework. While it’s easy to get stressed about our futures, try not to take what we have for granted. Sure, college is more than just learning, and it will definitely help us in the job market. But, it’s also a time to learn as much as possible, to open our eyes and make us better human beings.

Emma Garber can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaGarber1.