The opinion of a former college-skeptic
Just under three years ago, I joined the ranks of 70% of all high school graduates around the nation and headed off to college. Inspired by teachers and parents who stressed the cruciality of attaining a college education, we packed up our bags and left home in pursuit of a “higher education”. Along the way, nearly half of those who embarked on this journey with us dropped out — outlandish tuition prices, an inability to decide on a major, unprecedented stress levels, and a host of other reasons cause these people to cut their time at the university short.
Having just graduated, I’ve began to reflect on my time at school and the value of my higher education. Were the things I learned while at school worth the tens of thousands of dollars, countless hours of work, and years of my life that they took? Or, should I have joined my classmates who chose to forego school for another route?
As I reflect on these questions it becomes clear to me that the value of my college education was not in my learning financial formulas, being able to calculate the number of valence electrons that iron has, or knowing that in 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar II laid siege on Jerusalem. No, the true value of my college education came not from factoids that were taught in the classroom, but through a few priceless experiences that forever changed the way I looked at the world and my own potential.
With that intro, I wish to summarize the three most important things I learned while in college:
1. “Impossible” is just a matter of opinion
It was my second week of in school when I was first told that what I wanted to achieve was “impossible”. I had gone to see my academic advisor to figure out which classes I needed to take and when I needed to take them. After explaining that I wasn’t sure which major I wanted to choose, I told her what I did know — that I wanted to do something in the business school and that I planned on graduating at least a year early. I had heard horror stories of people staying in school 5 or 6 years and racking up unsurmountable piles of student loan debt — that wasn’t going to be me.
She told me that it wasn’t unheard of to graduate early, but that I would have to take heavy course loads and stay for summer school.
Undeterred, I replied, “Oh, I forgot to mention I’ll need my summers free to do internships and save up money — I won’t be able to stay for any summer terms.”
At this point in the conversation my well-intentioned academic advisor did something I’ll never forget, she laughed. “Sorry, I don’t want to crush your goals, but your plan just isn’t really possible. Let’s look at the classes you need to take and build a more realistic plan.”
Less than three years later here I stand, having graduated a year early in a time when it takes many five or more years to attain the same degree.
Whether discussing my graduating a year early, petitioning the school to allow me to take two extra classes while working 30+ hours a week during the notoriously difficult “Junior-business-core”, deciding to learn an entire semesters worth of material in one weekend to test out of a science class, or deciding to add on an extra Global Management emphasis to my already overloaded schedule; I was told my plans and goals were “impossible” dozens of times throughout my time at school.
My time in college taught me that people are doing the impossible everyday — why can’t I?
2. True friendships are forged through love and sacrifice
My first few days in college, I was eager to make any “friends” I could. I remember asking someone if I could go running with them just to have someone to do something with — I hated running! As time progressed I began to realize what a true friend was. A true friend isn’t the person you go to the party with or that you watch the game with — it is great to have people like that, but the fact that you enjoy spending time together does not indicate the existence of true friendships.
True friends are those that will put off studying for their finals to help you on a business Spanish presentation that you just can’t get right. They are the professors that email back and forth with you at 2am to get your resume just right before a job interview the next day. They are those that forego sleep to talk you through your hard times, and sporadically take you out to celebrate the good times. They will talk about the things you care about, because they care about you. They force you out of your comfort zone and encourage you to become the best version of yourself. In short, they are the people who care about you and sacrifice to help you succeed.
I was blessed with the opportunity to have some truly exceptional friends in college. I found true joy in not only reaping the benefits of such friendships, but in seeking to emulate their actions and become a true friend. Of all of the benefits that going to a great university provided me with, none come close to the value of the friends I made while there.
3. Time is the most valuable asset in the world
I hadn’t gotten more than four hours of sleep each night for over a week. I was a zombie attempting to analyze data, but the spreadsheet lines were starting to melt together like a popsicle left on a summer sidewalk.
Eager to give my eyes a break, I looked up from my computer screen and began listening to the guest lecture that was presenting to my class. He was talking to the class about time management and invited everyone to take out their phone and see how much time they had spent on social media throughout the past week. Interested, I took out my phone and was shocked by what it said. I had spent over 3 hours that week using what I would consider “time- wasting” apps. Here I was, desperately fighting a losing battle to stay awake and I had wasted over 3 hours that week looking at pointless posts on Facebook and playing 1010?!
This lit a fire in me — I realized that I had succumb to servitude. My phone had become and albatross around my neck that was holding me back from my potential. I didn’t need to work harder, I needed to work smarter.
That night, I used some basic finance knowledge to project the net future value of my time. I converted that into a $/hour ratio that I concluded was a fair estimate of how valuable my time was. I realized that I had been squandering my time and living far beneath my potential.
From Pareto’s Principle to Stephen R. Covey’s time management matrix, I learned the value of time and how to become more effective with the time I have. This skill has allowed me to accomplish leagues more than what I thought possible before.
So, was college worth it to me? — Absolutely. While these and countless other priceless lessons I learned while in college could potentially be acquired outside of school, there is true value in having a few years set aside after high school to focus on learning and growth. I will never regret my decision to attend school and remain there through graduation.