Why Am I in College?

Dear Midas Jones – I am 23 and am a sophomore at **** State University. I am a “pre-Business” student, meaning that I am taking lower level Business courses, and I plan to graduate with a degree in Management. Then, I hope to open my own dress store in my home town in Nevada after I graduate. I must tell you that I have never been an excellent student; my grades are mostly B’s and C’s. My professors, like me, are average for a state university: a random assortment of jerks, milquetoasts, assholes, and charmers. My courses so far have been mostly boring, occasionally interesting (but only a little), and I’ve never felt disappointed when a class was canceled without notice. I can endure two more years of doing this so I can get a diploma, I guess. 

I looked forward to college very much when I was in high school, imagining that it would be more exciting and much more interesting than it really is. My social life on campus is fine; I am not lonely, I have lots of friends, a steady boyfriend, I am close to my sorority sisters, and I get invited out often. I am looking forward to graduating mostly so that I can leave this university and never come back. Is this what college education is all about? What am I missing? Is something wrong with me? - Ginger

Dear Ginger - I recommend emphatically to you that you finish your degree. That diploma is a credential that will open doors for you that will remain forever closed without it. This is not to say that the education you are receiving has any intrinsic value for you in and of itself or that it will make you a better or happier person. As you astutely pointed out, your highly educated professors are not particularly special personalities, and if modern education produced better human beings you would surely notice it most among your university’s highly educated faculty.

You are not alone in your dissatisfaction with the nature and content of a university education. I used to tell my own students that the most valuable lesson of a university education is to learn how to (1) persist at boring tasks for long periods of time, (2) pretend interest when they have none, and (3) learn how to navigate through a large, unresponsive bureaucracy. These are all valuable skills for the aspiring professional in any field. I had a student once who confessed to me the wish that he could simply pay $50,000 for an instant diploma without attending any classes. “My new employer will tell me to forget everything I learned in college and will then teach me in six months everything I need to know to do my job,” he said. “I will be able to pay off the $50,000 loan with the money I would make working during the four years that I would have wasted at the university.” He was essentially saying that an apprenticeship program would be more useful to his career than university class work. I opened my mouth to argue with him, but closed it when I could think of no rebuttal. A colleague of mine on the faculty of the College of Business where I once taught told me that the definition of a person with a Bachelor’s Degree is someone who has purchased 40 textbooks and has read some of them. To get a Master’s Degree, he asserted, is much more costly. One must purchase at least 60 textbooks and read some of them! 

The important thing is that you get what you want from your education while you are waiting for your diploma. Do not think that if you sit in a college classroom and wait long enough that education will happen to you. You are not a bucket waiting to be filled with academic trivia. To the Machiavellian, education is a self-directed process. To the Machiavellian, education is the process by which you build yourself into the person you desire to become. 

Your self-chosen ambition of founding your own retail clothing business is a worthy one because (I assume) it would provide you with the kind of life that will make you happy and the income that will satisfy your needs. What kind of woman will you have to become to successfully establish and manage a boutique? What do you need to learn about fashion and fad, purchasing wholesale, selling retail, managing employees, bookkeeping, marketing, merchandising, advertising, etc., etc.?  Describe in writing the woman you would hire to manage your dress store and make yourself into that woman. No one will transform the girl you are into the woman you want to become but yourself. As long as you are at the university anyway, take advantage of its resources: your classes, the library, the faculty, the Internet, visiting lecturers, computer labs, plays, dance recitals, debate tournaments, etc. Visit boutiques in the area to gather information for your marketing assignments, chat with the owners about personnel problems as part of your Human Resources assignments, get a part time job in the rag business. Acquire, one-by-one, the skills you believe you will need. Change the girl you are into the woman you want to become.

 Good Luck -- Midas


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