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College Education Emphasis

Yesterday, I went out with a good friend of mine and we sat at a cafe and talked about college. Specifically, we talked about the heavy emphasis on college education that is touted throughout the United States. My friend recently completed her sophomore year of college (she took a year off after high school) and I have recently completed my B.S. in English.

My friend has struggled with choosing a degree program. However, since she is getting ready to enter her junior year, she feels forced to choose anything and stick to it. She’s right, in a way. She has to choose something now and make it work unless she wants to sit in college an extra year or more letting her loans stack higher and higher.

I was faced with a similar problem when I entered my junior year. At that point, I had finished my A.A. at a community college and I was preparing to transfer to a state college. My issue: What should I get my B.A. or B.S. in? My other issue: I still had not figured out what I wanted to do with my life. How can someone when they have done NOTHING in the real world and the only experiences they have had revolved mostly around school?

In the end, when I debated between English and Economics, I chose English simply because I enjoyed the classes more. My friend does not have this luxury. In fact, she has not found any subject for which she has a passion. My mother faced a similar issue and eventually chose a business degree because “you can do anything with that.” Should students choose a degree that makes them passionate or a degree that you could use for many careers? What happens when you find out after college that you absolutely hate what the versatile degree allows you to do?

These are questions my friend and I pondered at the cafe. “The problem is this emphasis we place on a college education when most people agree that many undergraduate degrees are fairly meaningless. It isn’t until you go to graduate school that you work on something more meaningful.”

“Yeah,” my friend said, “However, are we supposed to go to graduate school right after we get our degree. I doubt people have any idea what they even want to do after they get their Bachelors.”

I laughed. “I sure don’t.”

“So, what is the point of going to college right away and struggle figuring out what we want to do with our lives? Shouldn’t we be out in the world, figuring that out and gaining the skills that we need for a job anyway?”

Now, I love school. I’m actually not sure what to do with myself now that I don’t have school work to complete. But, my friend is right. Even with my degree, which I love, I don’t have any idea what I want to do with my life. And many of my fellow grads are going straight to grad school. One of my professors remarked once that people that do this are “putting life off a couple more years.” How true that is. I wanted to go to grad school, but I realized that I don’t know what I want to do with my life, so how can I know what I want to go to grad school for? I don’t. I have no clue.

There are internships now. I suppose that is the way to figure things out in college, but you can only do so many internships. I did one. I liked it, but I don’t think I would love to do that job my whole life, or even for a few years. What did I really learn in college that helps me in the real world? Not much, but that is for yet another post.

The issue at hand is that college is emphasized, and yet, so few college students know what they want to do with their lives, and they have no opportunity to figure it out until they are out of college and have graduated. My friend is at a cross-roads. She has found nothing that sparks her passion, and she only has two years left to fulfill college requirements. Time is running short and the pressure is on. My mother jumped into a program and she disliked the jobs it offered her for ten years. Only now does my mother enjoy her job, but that is a long time coming for a degree that can make someone marketable for many jobs. Even with a degree I was passionate about, I am not sure I like the prospects of what I can get. I have no problem working from the bottom up, but I am not sure the jobs an English degree opens up to me really make me feel passionate about a career I can carry for a long time.

Where is the balance? Should colleges (or even high schools) be focused on helping students figure out what they want to do or should students be solely responsible?

I won’t say I have lost my way, because I haven’t. I will figure out what I want to do (I have inklings). My friend will figure it out as well. She is smart. She might end up with a versatile degree instead of a degree that strikes her passion, but in the end, she will have fulfilled the demand placed on her by society.

I suppose that that fulfillment is one positive mark about a very sticky situation.

S. Eden; 6/7/12

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  1. alison2012internship
    June 22, 2012 at 3:08 PM

    I think you have brought up a very important issue in education. I think it is unfair that students must pick a major and roll with it. After having chosen a major, I questioned how many doors remained open and how many had been shut. Why the worry? The truth is, I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, and the thought of limiting my opportunities to head in various directions in life is scary. A counselor once told me that one’s major does not determine one’s career. This seems fair, after all, many skills we gain in college can be applied to many fields. Yet the question remains–does this really happen? Will an advertising agency really hire a biology or english major even though a communications or business major appears more relevant?

    • June 22, 2012 at 4:09 PM

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. The questions you raise are questions I am grappling with now that I have my degree, which I only thought about in passing before I graduated. Your major might not determine your career, as your counselor pointed out, but experience will, and if our major affects our job choices right out the gate, how will we get experience in other fields?

      I’m sure companies hire people who don’t have the seemingly relevant degree, but I feel like most companies are looking for specific types of degrees and will rarely move away from hiring someone with those degrees unless the person proves his or herself to be exceptional in some way.

      I try my best to sell myself in the cover letters I write to employers. Yes, I do not have a business/communications/marketing degree, but I do have an English degree which has prepared me to handle communications (written and verbal), analyzing, researching, critically thinking, etc.

      As you said, it is unfair to make a student choose a major when the majority of students are still unsure where they see themselves in ten years.

      Again, thank you for your thoughtful response.

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