What's College For

A recent article in University Business caused me to ask myself a question I haven’t had to ask about myself for 15+ years and won’t have to ask my kids for another 10+ years: what’s the value of going to college? Coming from a well-educated, Asian immigrant family, there is one obvious answer: to learn stuff. A distant second, whether for purposes of career advancement or for bragging about your kids to your peer group, is credentialing.

This second generation Taiwanese American urban Christian economist / non-profit thinker affirms the importance of those two reasons, but would like to proffer four additional reasons:

1. To build your network. People sort themselves by the school they go to; so, for example, getting your MBA at Stanford guarantees you’ll swim with tech-savvy entrepreneurial types for two years and then some, and saying you went to Penn State around here will lead you to have doors opened for you by other Penn State alum that you might not have otherwise had opened for you. Of course, many of my ilk, who ended up in technical careers, may not need to work the network as much as I do, since their trades are so scientific that it really is what you know more than who you know.

2. To learn how to learn. No one knows everything, and everything changes so fast nowadays. So learning stuff is inferior to learning how to learn stuff, if you want to stay with the times and make big contributions.

3. To learn who you are. College is most people’s first time to call their own shots – what courses they’ll take, who they’re going to live with, what time they’re going to wake up. It’s a phase that’s rife with possibility for self-exploration, figuring out what makes you tick, how you’re going to compose yourself for the rest of your life.

4. To have fun. Studious children of studious immigrants may act with horror at the thought that part of college is having fun, but within reason, it’s something to throw into the mix. After all, there’s a value to having unforgettable memories, hilarious stories, and lifelong friendships, right?

The University Business article was written by the president of a small liberal arts school, many of which are under siege financially in this increasingly pre-professional world, in which fewer and fewer of us are automatically assuming we’re going to carve out four years of our lives or our children’s lives to not earn any money, spend a ton of dough, and just learn stuff. And yet, he’s right; there’s value in that experience still. I would just like to note that I have six reasons, not just one or two.

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