I think I speak for a quarter or more of liberal arts college graduates when I state some of my own experiences.
I went to college because I didn’t know what else to do. I chose a major only because I liked doing it. I didn’t know what kind of job I would get when I graduated. I felt unprepared to get a job in my field when I did graduate. I got a job unrelated to my major. I’m now sure I want to do something completely different than what I received my undergraduate degree in.
Perhaps those who identify also followed this similar arc of contemplation as the years pass since their matriculation.
College probably isn’t for everyone, especially those who don’t know what they want to do. I wasted a lot of time and money studying something that wasn’t practical. At least I made good friends at college. The books I read at college and the discussions they sparked taught me to think critically, reason intelligently, and search out primary sources. Liberal education has provided me with a good basis for my continued education. I’m glad I went to college, even if I didn’t know what I was doing.
This reflection, for me, spanned four years. In terms my occupation right now (farm volunteer) I’m doing now, what I did right after I graduated. Then, I escaped to New Zealand to sort out what more there was to life than school. Now I find myself in Canada again with the same program, placing me on these organic farms. Repetitive experiences seem to remind me of the same questions I asked then. I am also connected to two 18-year olds who have both asked and answered the question “Is college for everyone?” for themselves, but in different ways.
One, my sister, has made her choice of four year college, and will be attending next year as a French Education major. (Good for you!) The other, a Canadian from Toronto, has chosen what I wish I had known more about at 18. The international phenomenon known as the “Gap Year.” (Or more sarcastically known as “taking a year off” from the SWPL blog.)
Although, I agree that it is a privilege to be able to make this “gap year” choice, I also think it can save money (for the individual and government), cut back college drinking, and decrease that cultural phenomenon of extended adolescence. I wonder if guidance counselors at school are prepared to admit that a time of exploration is perhaps more beneficial for 18-22 year olds than it is for those in their late twenties and early thirties, then they would be more likely to de-emphasize getting into a college so quickly without exploring the alternatives.
I would love to see more young people directed toward this website about gap year opportunities. Or I would love to see the options presented in this article about associates degrees. I would love to encourage students to volunteer. I would stamp out that rumor that if you don’t start college immediately, you won’t ever.
I think there are a few pernicious lies we believe about college. We need to tell ourselves a few more of the following:
It doesn’t need to be the fall after you graduate high school. It doesn’t need to be as a full-time student. It doesn’t need to be your primary occupation. I don’t even think it needs to be practical in the sense of leading directly to a certain job.
What should be emphasized is the need for continual education, not just college.