Wednesday, April 4, 2012

College Is the Best 4 Years of Your Life Myth

Lately, I've been in unfamiliar settings that have given me a lot to write about. Without getting specific about the situation, let's just say I was with some women, definitely upper middle class, who have kids that are on their way to college. One woman said that visiting all the campuses with her teenager made her want to go back to college because they were the best 4 years in her life. Then all the women were talking about how college was the best years of their lives and that it would be their kids' best years too.
Ugh. Why would anyone want to have the best 4 years of their lives so early on? Even more, what is it about college that makes it the best 4 years of someone's life? My hunch is that for many kids whose parents pay for college, it's the best years of their lives because they can live irresponsibly without any repercussions. Once they get out of college, they have to start being responsible.
Certainly, college should be a great experience. If people are "doing" college right, it should be a time to explore new ideas, develop your worldview, meet interesting people and get involved in extra-curricular activities. But does this necessarily mean college = best 4 years in life? (Besides, you can do all the things I mentioned college should be about outside of college too. It's just that we've been brainwashed to think that we need college.)
The college-is-the-best-4-years myth comes from a privileged viewpoint. Sure, college may be the best 4 years of your life if you have parents who can pay every cent for you and give you spending money to burn. But most people don't have parents that can pay their way and give them extra money making college a stressful time in their life.
Of course the number 1 worst reason to go to college is because you think it's going to be the best time in your life. That's another way that people are brainwashed into going to college - wouldn't you want to go somewhere if you were told over and over again that it's going to be the best time of your life?
It does seem like a lot of pressure to expect 4 years to be so great! What happens if you only find college to be a ho-hum experience? What happens if you loved college so much because you did party your way through it and didn't make useful connections - which you really need to make in college to help you get a job - or apply yourself in any way, and now regret not doing it? That means 4 years wasted - literally - if you were drinking and can't remember them!
Student loans have reached a trillion dollars. We need to be more responsible in how we talk about college because so many people are taking on debt they don't need to. Instead of talking about how great college is, we need to talk about when it's appropriate to go to college and when it's a good idea to forgo it instead of promoting ridiculous myths about college.

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