Lately I've been hearing a lot about the merits of a college education. Is it worth it? How will you find the money? Do you regret it? For some reason, the topic has come up several times in the past week. I've seen people get stressed out about the fine print of financial aid, weigh alternative options, blast the idea of college as a whole, contemplate graduate school, etc. All of this. In the past week. That might seem a normal occurrence when you are around college-aged people all the time, but since being set free from the collegiate world in May of last year, it has obviously been brought up much less - until recently.
It got me to thinking about my "college career" (what a silly phrase) and I have come to some pretty interesting conclusions during this time of reflection.
Let me be clear: I am not going to gush and push college on anyone in this post, nor will I lampoon higher education to holy heaven - I am simply looking back at some of the difficult, hilarious, and beneficial things I learned from the journey of post-high school education. I may not be far enough removed from the situation to take this seriously which is why I'll probably have much different thoughts in 5 years.
I'll be honest. I had no idea what I was doing after high school. Pretty much all of my friends got accepted to good schools and shipped off, while me and perhaps one another stayed behind. One of my friends even went so far as to join the Air Force simply because she "did not want to go to community college." Kind of an extreme way to get out of it, but she's been in for 6 years and has more job/financial security than I'll ever have, not to mention highly sought after skills and discipline...I digress.
My best friend at the time (2006) asked me what I was doing after high school. The conversation went something like this:
Him: "What are you doing after you graduate?"
Me: "I have no idea..."
Him: "Did you apply to any schools?"
Me: "Not really."
Him: "Did you at least apply to Palomar (our local community college)?"
Him: "Then you're not going anywhere, you dummy!"
It's true. I hadn't done any planning at the time and was completely oblivious to what was going to happen next. I basically defaulted to our local community college, taking pretty generic courses and not knowing what my major was. At the time, I was extremely ignorant about credit hours and whatnot. I thought 12 hours per semester was the norm. Despite this, after 4 semesters of community college, I only transferred 26 credits.
That's laughable. Even if I was taking 12 hours per semester, I should have had 48 credits, bringing me close to coming in as a junior, only slightly behind. However, I had a terrible second semester at Palomar (Failed two courses because I stopped going, got a D and a C in the two others). Not only that, but I took some dumb classes that would never transfer. Because of this, I was a freshman for five freaking semesters. From the fall of 2006 to the fall of 2008 I had somehow managed to receive less than 30 credit hours. And you know what the funniest part was? I didn't even know that until halfway through that 2008 fall semester. Here I was, a 20 year old who believed he was at least a sophomore (which would still put me way behind) and I had come to find that actually, I was completely misinformed.
If you thought I was dumb and clueless now, surely I was a prisoner in Plato's cave then (college taught me about Plato). It was a period of deep ignorance, to say the least. Maybe that's why it took me 6 whole years to graduate.
Now I wasn't as dumb as the girl in the above meme, but it's clear that by the time I transferred to ACU, I was definitely not as smart or as well-informed as the average 20 year-old. I had to research Shakespeare's plays for my second-semester Literary Criticism class because I hadn't read any Shakespeare and I didn't the foggiest idea of what the heck my classmates were talking about.
I still haven't read anything by Shakespeare.
I'm pretty sure I survived my entire first year (2008-2009) at ACU with less than $300 in my bank account, despite the fact that I had taken an ill-advised and completely unexpected trip back to California in the middle of the fall semester. I had neglected to get a job in the fall and realized in the spring that I should do so if I wanted to make it to 25 or have a social life. I managed to land a job at Pay-Less Shoes (don't know or care if that's how you really spell it). My coworkers were all older women who smoked often and complained about their frequent DUIs. I sort of felt like I was in prison.
I quit after maybe two weeks, inventing some awful story about my family falling on some economic hardships, resulting in my dropping out of college and subsequent return home to help. Ask me about that story later.
My mom even told me that I was being too frugal after I told her I would refuse to go to on-campus events if they cost more than $5, saying that it was smart to save money but I had to at least try to have fun, whatever that means. The real problem wasn't a lack of money, but laziness.
If anyone were to ask me if I regret going to college, I would say OF COURSE NOT. Then again, ask me in 10 years when I am cooking diseased rats over a meager fire in my mom's basement because my will has been broken by debts and perpetual unemployment. College has taught me many things that I would have never been able to learn otherwise. I know a popular counterpoint to that is "Well you didn't need to go to school and waste all that money and time to learn all that blah blah blah". That's fair. I didn't need to, but I chose to so it's a moot point trying to explain it to me....especially if you haven't gone to college.
The truth is, my degree is far down on the list of the most important things I learned while at school. In fact, the piece of paper that tells me I did something for some school or whatever is in my closet hiding under a bunch of irrelevant paperwork and invoices. It's not framed in a very visible place. Heck, I'd pawn it off on Ebay if I could. I learned more than I ever cared to know and took some fantastic courses, including Religious Teachings of C.S. Lewis, Military History, Fiction Writer's Workshop, etc. Of course, there were the awful classes like Introduction to Linguistics and Astronomy, but you get used to the necessary evils of course curriculums early on - or you stew in utter ignorance like I did when changing majors.
No, the important things had very little to do with my education. The important things had everything to do with forging new relationships. How to formulate my own opinion instead of just agreeing with whatever my professors said. How to find a church suitable to my needs now that I was out of my parent's house. No one was going to call them if I missed a class; I would have to accept responsibility for it myself.
Then of course, there were less important but more exciting things to discover. How to troll girls. Good heavens, I cannot tell you how many innocent females on ACU's campus fell victim to my trolling. How to teach freshmen boys that they aren't insignificant, even though I possessed as much maturity as them despite being several years older. Perhaps most important (and most hilarious) of all, college taught me how to cut corners. It taught me to pinpoint loopholes in the educational system and exploit them like a Russian mob boss. I could write a book on how to receive the highest marks while doing the least amount of work, academically speaking. It doesn't really work anywhere else.
When it is all said and done, college is where I needed to be from the fall of 2006 to the spring of 2012. I could have joined the Peace Corps or attended a trade school. Heck, I could have pursued my dream of becoming a drug addict - but somehow I ended up at a prestigious, unheard-of, Church of Christ affiliated, private university in the middle of nowhere west Texas. I could not have predicted that when I started community college, just as I could not have predicted a move to Seattle after school.
College obviously isn't for everyone. Neither of my brothers ever went to college and they have both had higher-paying jobs than I could have ever hoped for (as a History major). Some people think they'll love it and end up not being able to handle it. Some people know it's not for them and they do well enough without it. Everyone has their reasons. But the truth is, my sister and I were the first people in my family's history to ever walk across a stage and receive a college diploma, and we did it together. That may not mean anything to most people, but it means something to me.
So go if you have your heart set on it. Do your research (or end up like me), explore every option, seek the advice of those you love and trust, and pray about it. Otherwise don't waste your time. It could end up being the most rewarding experience ever or the biggest mistake ever. Right now, I'm inclined to believe it's the former for myself, but as I've said many times....ask me again in ten years.
Or twenty, I'll give you a better answer.
PS here's one more for the road:
UPDATES & SUCH
I finished reading The Art of Racing in The Rain, which was very poignant and made me want to get a dog. I highly recommend it. Next up, it's Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child. Can't wait.
I listen to way too much instrumental djent (Wide Eyes, Soul Cycle, Sithu Aye) but Coheed & Cambria's new album leaked and of course, I'm digesting that as we speak. I get to see them in a month!
Lastly, I'm excited for recording with the band I'm in. They're actually waiting for me to finish this post so we can sit down and figure out time signatures and other nuances. I also have a trial run with a family that potentially wants to hire me to be a full-time nanny this Saturday. As in, I get to hang out with their kids to see if I can handle it.
I hope I can.