Who Loves College?

“What are you going to do with that degree?” This is the question I hear most often and instantaneously when I tell people I am a women’s studies major. Because in the eyes of many, the purpose of going to college is to prepare for a financially lucrative career. It is unfathomable that one would study a subject simply for the pleasure of or interest in it. People are very rarely interested to hear that feminism has been a large part of my life before I even knew what the term meant, and that I count myself lucky among friends to enjoy going to class. For me, the most important part is not necessarily what rewards this path will reap.

In Mark Edmundon’s New York Times article, “Education’s Hungry Hearts,” he discusses the rapidly spreading conviction that for many people a college education is a waste of time if it will not contribute to a profitable job. He also discusses how he has had many students who have been genuinely interested in learning are not necessarily the ones who will “need” to prove a college education in their future endeavors. But if they don’t, aren’t those four years just a giant waste of time and money?

On the contrary, I think college is necessary for certain people based on their individual personality and maturity, not particularly on what their career goals are. In high school, I had older cousins and friends in college routinely tell me that they learned and retained more outside of the classroom that in it. I was told that college forces you to grow up, to meet new people, to consider new ideas and to leave as an enhanced person. I always thought that this kind of talk was clichéd, but then I started experiencing it for myself. I suppose I am in a fortunate position in that I find reward both inside the classroom and out. I have learned to live happily despite being 450 miles away from my family, found friends that I truly consider my own and felt more optimistic about the future than I ever have before, despite the fact that no definite career is in sight yet.

This personal development is what everyone needs, whether you’re going to be an engineer or a mechanic. And some people find that in college; others don’t. For my friends in places like British Columbia, Canada, it’s rare for young people to go out to college; instead, most stay at home or close to home and commute daily. Relationships are formed locally, with people from a limited sector.  But the people there, or at least the ones that I know, still manage to achieve happiness and self-actualization in other ways. The gesture of going to college is not as esteemed, and not going is not as disdained.

Of course, no one ever gets all the answers from one experience. All things come to an end and we all still need jobs, but happiness is vital; otherwise what’s the point?

Perhaps this is an unrealistic, exclusive, overly optimistic way of looking at things. Maybe not everyone feels the need to become more sociable, more responsible, to take more risks or to try different environments. But the general consensus seems to be that those are the true awards of college. And for a lot of people, that probably isn’t worth a  $30,000 dollar tuition. And that’s alright; college isn’t for everyone. And for those people, I hope they find their fulfillment and happiness elsewhere, and for a long time after.

Karam Johal is a second-year women’s studies major. She can be reached at johalk@uci.edu.