Why should you spend this one wild and precious life doing coursework? What will that offer you? Why study? Why take classes? Why get a degree? Is it because you were supposed to? All too often, students don’t question if it’s the right thing to go to college or to get a degree, they just assume they’re supposed to. When the going gets rough and people want a more advanced job, the assumption is that another degree will do it.
Parents don’t question this assumption. Getting through college is seen as the epitome of successful parenting. Professors don’t question it either. Faculty get complacent with the idea that what we say is going to prepare you for the world “out there”. If we question why students are there, we question our very work.
Let’s question it anyway.
Why take classes? Why learn? And why learn by sitting in a classroom? Why not in another way such as through an apprenticeship or watching grasshoppers or talking to people? Why college? Why not other ways? Does college have to look the way it has always looked? And if you do think college is right for you, why are you there? Are you there to get a degree? To get good grades? To prepare for a career? To meet cute potential partners?
May I suggest that there’s a another reason to take college classes:
To learn how to learn.
College should teach you things that are more challenging to learn without having someone alongside you helping you figure it out. It’s not that you couldn’t learn these things without school. It’s just easier alongside someone who really knows, who gives you feedback on what you’re doing and sees further directions you could go and gives you practical advice. It helps to have a community of people who are all there with you learning and trying to bounce ideas off of one another. College can be a great place to learn.
The thing is, learning is not just for the content. The content is a side benefit, the real reason you should learn something new is to know how you learn.
“That’s ridiculous” you say to me. I take classes to learn stuff. You should teach me stuff.
Fair enough, if you want to learn stuff, you can, classes have that, there are books to read, skills to learn, frogs to dissect. But I maintain, the content is the booby prize. Your core reason for being in school is to learn how you learn. Particularly the really hard things.
Here’s why: College cannot prepare anyone for the jobs that will exist in ten years, because we have no idea what those jobs will be. Think about ten years ago. How could we have known that being a social media expert could get you a job? We didn’t know that learning how to make “apps” would be a thing. I’m not sure anyone predicted that the Kardashians would be a thing. There is no crystal ball.
Yes, if you want to be an engineer or an accountant or a professor, there is a certain amount of knowledge you need to learn. No doubt. Go get that knowledge. But even an accountant may have to learn a new computing system, an engineer needs to understand the properties of a new material, a professor has to figure out how to teach online. You will always be learning.
The bonus is that if you stumble onto content you love, you get really helpful clues about the future. I know someone who works in entertainment who was very well served by a childhood of reading comics and watching television. Or a professor friend who writes mysteries on the side and learned how to keep people’s attention through comedy. Or a colleague who is a fantastic meeting planner because she loves throwing parties.
So if you are taking classes in college, use those classes to figure out how you learn. That’s the skill that will pay off in the long run.