Is my college experience so different?

Just this morning I read an article on digg exclaiming that the college experience is “worthless.” A handful of comments under the article itself seemed to solidify this. Many current (or past) college students seemed to be under the impression that the whole thing was a waste and that if you aren’t going for something that makes a lot of money, then you shouldn’t be going in the first place.

Indeed, I’ve heard my peers echo the same sentiment over the years, or at least similar thoughts. A good portion of friends find the whole college thing a waste, at least on an educational level. I know many who have graduated and headed into different directions from their degree. Was it just a piece of paper to be ignored? A place in life we all must visit in order to be successful, even if the words on the paper we receive have no meaning to us?

Watching the negative comments stream out from my fellow BCC students also seems to solidify this. Complaints about the education not being up to par, about it feeling like “13th grade” and most of all — a general disinterest with the content that is being taught.

So then, judging by the experiences of others I should be in a pretty poor place. I’m grabbing my English (an arts program, oh no!) degree with my first steps taking place in a county college. That’s the absolute worst, right?

Well, not quite.

Despite the local harbingers on social networking sites who yell about doom and gloom during their two year stay in purgatory, I’ve really never had a problem here. I’ve found the material interesting, certainly — and I’ve had some great professors over the last two years. Even my general education professors (the ones who are supposed to care the least, according to the vocal populace) have been amusing and willing to share their wisdom.

Now, my time hasn’t been completely positive. I’ve also had professors who’ve made my eyes roll so many times I’ve ended up with migraines — and on top of that, there was the one teacher who didn’t seem to understand the nature of Crohn’s disease and how it might impact me coming to class. But still, we don’t live in a perfect world and these experiences were few and far between.

So how is it that my experience is so positive? How is it that I’ve left virtually every class with a bit of wisdom (not just knowledge) that I continue to carry with me?

For one, I think it has to do with an incident from early on in my college experience — one that had been growing ever since I started high school.

I had always been the nerdy computer geek. The kid who everyone went to for technology or gadget advice. I certainly didn’t mind it, either. After all, I was under the impression that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I was going to be a computer wizard for a living. Maybe I’d fix them, maybe I’d work with their insides — or maybe I’d work on securing them. I was absolutely sure that was what I was going to do. I was so certain about it that I had virtually planned out the next ten years of my life. I was going to go to county college for two years then transfer to Drexel where I would switch my major from engineering to computer engineering and be off to a world of high paying jobs, white picket fences and prestige from colleagues… or something like that.

I’d even picked up a job in the field I was interested in during my junior year in high school. It didn’t seem too bad at first. I then landed in class and something changed.

After spending three years in the field I thought I loved so much I realized that maybe it wasn’t for me. Turns out, it was just a hobby. On top of that, I looked at the list of classes I’d have to take and started to panic. For some reason, it had never occurred to me that I would probably be programming a hell of a lot with this degree. Sure, I could do that — but I hated it. I would be doing this possibly for the rest of my life? I sunk. What was I going to do? I stopped caring. My GPA plummeted. I was utterly confused. My whole life? The prospect seemed damning. Nine to five — living for the weekends while I died a little bit every day. Sure, I’d make good money but would it be worth it? What would the cost to my state of happiness be? I went by for months, eager to join the other apathetic souls who surrounded me, all who had fallen into majors that were filled with uncertainty and a special kind of soul-crushing negativity.

And then I was given a gift. An adjunct professor who taught my English 101 class. Up to this point I had considered English classes fun — but easy. English had indeed been three-fourths of my day my senior year of high school, but it was just interesting, right? Nothing I would want to do in the future…

It had never struck me that I truly enjoyed them, apparently.

I entered the class and immediately took a liking to the professor. He was a pretty young guy and had a teaching style that seemed very “college” to me. He was chill, but intelligent and came off as immediately caring about his students. I enjoyed the way he taught and found myself enthralled by the tidbits we read. Not only was I learning things I found quite interesting, but I was -enjoying- the learning process itself. Not that I’m the type that hates that sort of thing — but it wasn’t quite like this before.

At the height of my educational depression I had a sudden thought: What if this could be my path?

Here was a guy who at his heart, seemed a lot like me. He was a gamer and had a flair for fantasy, he had a bit of quirkiness and most of all he seemed enthralled by what he was teaching (and thus, learning, I’d imagine). Here was a subject that had always come so easy to me, one that I’d always enjoyed talking and reading about — but I’d never thought I could make a career out of it, so it remained somewhere in the back of my head, never to be found again until I was 50 and regretting most of my life.

I remember staying after one day and asking him about switching my major. “If it seems like something you want to do then go for it.” He offered help if I had any questions — an offer I would take him up on a few times in the future.

I played the whole idea in my head throughout the semester until one day I decided to take his advice and just go for it. I remember the look on the counselor’s face when I handed her the paperwork to change my major from engineering to English. It was this “have you lost your mind?” blank stare. Don’t you know what you’re doing man? You’re going to live in a box!

I just smiled. I had found a path that I enjoyed.

From that point on I found my classes much more enjoyable. The experience went from tedious to something I loved. Now when I walk into a class for my major I am always excited to find out just what I’ll be learning. I take pride in the papers I write and in the answers I give in class — and most of all, in the experience itself. It is something I wouldn’t want to give up and something I feel is completely worth the money.

The link, to me, is simple. I enjoy it because I want to enjoy it. When I was an engineering major I had no real love for it, so how could I possibly find an honest interest in it? Passion is like a conduit for wisdom — it can be gained without, but when that desire exists your mind turns into something else entirely. You become hungry. You want more.

I feel that the main problem in my peers is that the “hunger” just doesn’t exist. They aren’t there because they want to be, they are there because their parents (or social expectations) want them to be. Many of my friends have explicitly said that they’ve wanted to do something that wasn’t college-related with their life (such as go to tech school) but that they had no choice because their parents pushed them so hard. So $50,000 and 4 years later, they’re lost and without direction mostly feeling like college was a complete waste.

It isn’t all on the parents, though. I know many of my old high school peers picked certain majors simply because of prestige or because “it makes a lot of money” — they have no actual heart for it. They slog through the degree for their own reasons, rarely sharing anything from their own college experiences that isn’t a complaint.

Not only that, but in today’s society how are you even supposed to figure out your own path? We are rushed from high school immediately into college with little room to decide what we want to do. Being undeclared or not immediately starting up college is seen both by guidance (or head offices, if you prefer) and your peers as sort of a faux pas — you are almost expected to jump head first into a major and if you find out you don’t like it later on? Well, -maybe- you can change it, but the nature of the system means you will often be pushing yourself deep into debt, so you end up tossing around, miserable for four years of your life until you finally graduate with a piece of paper that rightfully means little to you.

So is there a solution to this cycle? What advice can I give you (or any other college student) for enjoying your experience and not ending up miserable and hating class? If at all possible, examine your own life and the major you’ve chosen. Do a little soul searching and ask yourself some questions. Do you enjoy your major now? Do you think you will enjoy where it takes you? What do you want to do when you get out of college? Does your major line up with that goal? If you can’t figure out the answers to these questions, then maybe it’s time to do some serious thinking. Take some time off and try something new, or if you are the kind of person that can’t afford to get out of school for parental reasons (or otherwise) then try to take classes outside of your comfort zone, even if they make little sense.

Remember that the educational experience is just that — an experience. It is not meant to be a terrible period of your life that you hate and chances are, if you do hate it — you won’t be enjoying the work that comes after, either. Above all remember that your professors were once in your shoes and that they probably are very willing to share some of their wisdom to get you out of your slump and onto your path. I mean, if nothing else it’s better than complaining about them on facebook!

One thought on “Is my college experience so different?

  1. “Not only that, but in today’s society how are you even supposed to figure out your own path? We are rushed from high school immediately into college with little room to decide what we want to do. Being undeclared or not immediately starting up college is seen both by guidance (or head offices, if you prefer) and your peers as sort of a faux pas — you are almost expected to jump head first into a major and if you find out you don’t like it later on? Well, -maybe- you can change it, but the nature of the system means you will often be pushing yourself deep into debt, so you end up tossing around, miserable for four years of your life until you finally graduate with a piece of paper that rightfully means little to you.”

    That pretty much sums up how I viewed higher education for a decade. Pointless, just a piece of paper, etc.

    After high school we are given very little guidance, and are just tossed out there with the expectation that we’ll figure out what to do on our own. I think some people are lucky enough to know, but the rest just get scared/frustrated/pushed into settling for something they think they can do “for the rest of their lives” (which is a terrifying concept, really — who would want to be so stagnant?). Then, years later, they realize that they hate their jobs and the lives they thought they wanted, but feel stuck and helpless to change it because of debt and families and any number of other obligations.

    It took a lot of trial and error, soul-searching and “wasted” time for me. I went straight into a large university after high school, and because I was so uncertain of my future and under so much pressure from parents to perform (and rightly so, given that they were footing the bill), the experience was an absolutely miserable one. So much so that it turned me off of higher education altogether. Ten years later, I found myself grow tired of watching my intellectual and artistic gifts try to take root in a desert (i.e. retail work). Though the experience was an incredibly valuable one, I feel like much of it could have been avoided if I had chosen a 2-yr institution instead of skipping right to “the rest of my life.”

    Now I’m on a path that I believe I will enjoy, and am actually finding myself excited about going to school again. I might still change my major, by the end of it, but at least I like what I’m doing -now-. But then, I’m the type that would attend college forever if it was free. :3

    The best advice I can offer is to attend an accredited community/county college before a large university. The classes are smaller, meaning you can get a lot more one-on-one time with your professors (which can really help you decide how you feel about the subject matter they teach), and it is MUCH cheaper to flounder until you find your path.

    Also I think it’s silly that people don’t find college necessary. I’ve worked for a decade without a degree, and I am tired of not being paid what my time is really worth to me. Education -is- necessary… unless you just really enjoy giving up and settling for what society tosses your way, pining every day for retirement. You might not live to cash that check. Choose to be happy now.

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