Why Go to College

I recently heard a man speaking on the radio say that he went to college so he could get a better job. I checked on the statistics. He’s right. College graduates earn on average some $32,000 a year than high school graduates. Their prospects for getting hired are much higher, they’re less likely to become unemployed, and they have more career opportunities.

But the greatest benefit of college is not financial. It’s mental. I didn’t go to college to get a better job. I went to learn. In the process, I gained something I didn’t even know about: my ability to think greatly improved.

It turns out the real reason to go to college is to learn how to think.

When I graduated from high school, counselors recommended that I not go to college. In their opinion, I simply wasn’t intelligent enough. I went anyway. I was determined to improve myself.

I lived in Oakland, California. The University of California in Berkeley was a bus ride away. The tuition for a California resident was less than a hundred dollars a semester. How could I pass it up?

All through the four years of college, I worked part-time—usually between ten and twenty hours a week—to support myself and pay expenses. My grades were mediocre. I believed I wasn’t smart enough to be in college, so I didn’t expect to do well. Besides, I was hard put just to make it from week to week, working every afternoon and evening, going to classes during the day, and studying when I should have been sleeping. I ended up missing my own graduation ceremony because I was in the university hospital suffering from exhaustion.

But I got what I went for: I learned to think.

I discovered that many modes of thinking are valid for the discipline they apply to but not to other disciplines. The rules for music don’t work in mathematics. The underpinnings of economics are meaningless in poetry. The guidelines that drive architecture are invalid if applied to chemistry. And yet the rules internal to any discipline are completely valid unto themselves.

More next time.

One thought on “Why Go to College”

  1. I agree with you, Tom. The greatest value of higher education is to teach you to think. Unless you are educated in a highly technical field, your after-college job may have very little to do with your college courses, but that knowledge and the ability to think and to study will remain with you always.

    One other point. There are many people who neither want nor are suited for a traditional college education. They would benefit much more from vocational training. We need electricians, mechanics, plumbers, tool makers, and welders far more than we need economists and lawyers. And I, as one who is rather helpless around machines, respect and honor these people.


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