These days, the institution of college is under assault. Critics charge that colleges fail to prepare students for the real world, other than by saddling them with overwhelming amounts of student loans. Just recently, I heard a number of my friends argue that too many people go to college (though I like to note that almost all who believe college attendance is too wide-spread are themselves possessors of advanced degrees from expensive elite institutions).
While I agree that college isn’t for everyone (my advice to Ben Casnocha was to attend college, but drop out, so that he wouldn’t always wonder if he should have gone), I believe that my time in college was both a fantastic experience and essential to my later life.
What I find most amazing about college is the number of things you get to try doing. At no other time in your life will you have so many opportunities to explore different passions and disciplines. When you’re younger (K-12), the resources aren’t there. When you’re older (grad school, “the real world”), you’re in a focused environment. Only college offers the amazing combination of world-class everything and near-total freedom.
When I was at Stanford, I wasn’t just a student. I was also:
* A caveman (we actually made stone tools in one of my anthropology classes)
* A painter
* A sculptor
* A poet
* A woodworker
* A blacksmith
* A psychiatrist
* A photographer
* A journalist
* An actor
* A comedian
* A hybrid-electric vehicle expert
* A movie director
* A politician
* An athlete
* A playwright
* A teacher
* A CFO
* A dancer
* A chef
And that’s just the things I can think of off the top of my head.
People say college is for dabbling as if it were a bad thing. Dabbling is a wonderful thing; otherwise, how would you ever realize your passions?
It’s been decades since I gave a dance performance or cast molten bronze, but those experiences stay with me, and give me a stronger appreciation for the lives of others. And without my various experience, I might not have realized my passion for non-fiction, my fascination with psychology, or my calling as a mentor.
If I had been forced to choose a single field when I left high school, I would have had no clue, and would probably have chosen whatever is the hardest, much like my dad ended up in Electrical Engineering because he had top test scores (in Taiwan in the 1960s, the top students were automatically put into EE–a draconian but effective measure, given Taiwan’s success in electronics since then).
When people question what college is for, tell them: College is for trying.