Why College?


Photo purchased from Bigstock.com.

It was early spring of my Junior year. Looking around me I could see my classmates in various positions, some were seated, paper and pen spread out before them, eagerly awaiting the start of the process. Others sat in corners, their backs pressed against the wall, gazing intently at their various devices. Still, there were those who sat on the edge of their chairs, face pressed to the table, perhaps vainly hoping that if they just ignored it, it would go away. I was excited. And nervous. Certainly insecure and perhaps a little bit cocky. I didn’t really know what to expect from Junior College Counseling, a course that appeared on my schedule without my ever having elected to take it. I was surprised, and a little bit frustrated, when the teacher asked the class one question, “why college?”

Some reacted with surprise, others with indifference, I for one, felt the question to be contrived. Typically I liked this approach to learning, but in this particular case, I just wanted to roll my eyes. It all seemed hypocritical to me, a college preparatory school, forcing me to take a class that was specifically meant to help me get into college, and here is the teacher asking us why we’re all here. I flippantly tuned myself out, preparing to join some of my classmates in completely disregarding the lesson. I had no interest in receiving a lecture about why I should go to college. After all, what choice did I have?

I must have been following along a little bit, because I eventually realized that no lecture would be forthcoming. The question just sat there on the board, “why college?” That was when it hit me, I wasn’t being told, I was being asked. Asked perhaps, one of the most important questions of my adolescence. I tuned back into class and began to think. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get beyond the lame response, “because I want to get a job.” It was lame because I knew it wasn’t true. I had a job. I needed a better reason to spend four years and $200 thousand just to receive a salary so I could eventually pay off those loans.

I was made to think, and in the process I arrived at a greater understanding of myself, and where I am going from here.

Incidentally, it was eight months later at my summer job that a coworker asked me another great question. We were talking about a mutual friend and schoolmate of mine who had recently been admitted to the same prestigious college that my coworker had recently graduated from. There was no pretension in her tone, no judgement in her voice, when she asked me “What’s the point of going to a private school, paying so much money to go to private school, when me and [our mutual friend] got accepted to the same school?” I didn’t have an answer for her, but I continued to give it some thought. When I arrived at my answer it was more than just a response to my coworker, it was an answer to the question I had been asked eight months prior in Junior College Counseling. “Why college?”

I arrived at the conclusion that education is not a means to an end. My coworker defined that end as college. For her, a high school education could only be qualified by a college acceptance. Similarly, it was just eight months earlier in Junior College Counseling that I was prepared to define my education with a job. I decided that her definition did not work for me. I want to go to college because I believe education is a lifelong process, and I hope that my college experience will be a continuation of that process. When I realized this I suddenly found that I could ignore the rankings, the test scores, the high and low yields, scattergrams, charts, and test dates. I was able to focus on finding a college that would work for me, all because I knew why I wanted to go to college.

It has been almost a whole year since I was asked “why college?” In that time I have visited schools, taken tests, attended interviews and information sessions, and finally, filled out applications. I was made to think, and in the process I arrived at a greater understanding of myself, and where I am going from here.