College is a massive investment of time, money, and resources. As time goes on, that investment becomes even more costly, with some figures showing that college tuition and fees have increased 63 percent since 2006.
It’s no surprise then we ought to make the best of this investment. As student loan debt continues to increase, putting an extreme financial burden on those who attend higher education, it is questionable whether that investment is worth it.
However, here are 6 ways you can make sure, even if you accept the financial responsibility of college, you aren’t left feeling like it was a waste of time.
Before Going to College
1) Think About What You Want Out of College, Not Just What College
Stephen J. Dubner, from Freakonomics.com, compiled a list of questions submitted by readers of the Freakonomics blog and presented them to Peter D. Feaver, Sue Wasoilek, and Anne Crossman, authors of Getting the Best Out of College, a book for those interested in exactly what the title offers.
Too much time is devoted to picking what college, the authors believe, instead of what the students hope to get out of it.
We have found that too many students were more strategic and calculating about getting into college than they are about getting out. It is almost as if they have been programmed to believe that the most important part of college is the name on the degree. We agree that is important, but for most students what makes or breaks the college experience is the choices they make after they have picked their alma mater.
Many high schools function like a factory line, pushing and prodding students through the production line in order to get them to graduation.
College will be different for most in this respect. If you don’t take time to consider what want out of the experience, you’ll find it will be haphazard and directionless.
You’ll have freedom to explore your own education. You’ll create your own schedule, deadlines, and projects. Having a direction for these matters.
The authors believe the best way to approach college is to “identify an area of study that they are passionate about and truly enjoy.”
This cliché line of “study your passion” is often heralded as the worst advice one can give to an aspiring college student. “Study something practical, ” you’ll hear from your Grandfather, “artists don’t make money. You should work in the medical field.”
While there is some truth to the criticism, you must eventually decide on something that you can feel passionate about, continuing to excel even after 30 years of work.
The criticism is not lost on the authors, who go on to say, “Of course, this advice is premised on the idea that you won’t just be part of the herd in your lecture hall.”
A sad truth is that some people’s passions are lucrative while others are not. If you decide to pick something you are passionate about you’ll need to stand out and learn to market yourself.
2) Am I Mature Enough for College?
American students boast disappointingly high dropout rates, with some of the worst for developed countries.
The students can’t be blamed for it all. Like mentioned above, rising costs make the jump to higher education and its payoffs seem dismal. Many of those who set out are quickly hit with the reality of debt and jump ship.
However, many students just aren’t ready for college. They lack the maturity needed to be self-driven and be able to take care of themselves.
College brings factors that a student must take into consideration:
This is likely the first time that students have been away from home for an extended period of time. Away from routine, parents, and recognizable situations, more pressure is put on students to handle this freedom responsibly.
Budgeting Time and Money
Students create their own schedule, involve themselves in the projects and groups they choose, and spend money how they see fit. An immature student isn’t able to handle these choices and likely isn’t able to seek out help if they need it.
Less Pushing and Prodding
Fewer people will care if they start skipping classes or not completing assignments. They won’t get many chances before professors stop asking and the college comes knocking to kick them out.
They will be expected to be self driven, and thus capable of keeping up with deadlines and a schedule.
Exposure to Different Cultures/Viewpoints
College can be a culture shock for many. They won’t be used to differing perspectives and may react negatively to those who challenge their beliefs.
Maturity is understanding there are different ways of living and handling them respectfully (even if you disagree).
This is important. If a student can’t take care of themselves they will quickly burn out. Growth and learning take a nurturing environment. It will be up to the student to create this environment for themselves the best they can.
This includes nutrition, sleep, exercise, money management, and basic hygiene.
Maturity involves taking responsibility for the beliefs and ideas that you hold. A mature student believes in themselves because they have taken the time to make their beliefs their personal testimony. They are not the mouthpiece of their parents or past teachers. This makes them more capable of handling themselves once they set off on a path, as they hold deep and meaningful beliefs about themselves and the world.
If you are considering college and are worried you might not be ready, have an honest conversation with your parents, coaches, or teachers on the matter. Feaver and the other authors agree with this, stating that it “is a decision best entered with the wise advice of parents, teachers, and/or high school counselors who know you best.”
While You are In College
3) Develop Healthy Relationships with Faculty
James M. Lang, writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, lamented in a March 10, 2010 piece about the increased workload on professors once they had achieved tenure status.
“The service load,” he says, “has grown heavier since I earned tenure a few years ago, as I find myself taking on more and more tasks to support a college that seems as if it will be my permanent home…”
Professors typically spread themselves thin when it comes to their work agenda. Teaching, independent research, and taking part in different university services are just samples of the many workloads a professor could have on their plate.
Lang interviewed Anna Neumann in his article, whose research involves helping professors keep their passion for learning through the workload and, subsequently, become better teachers in the process:
“When a scholar teaches in a way that connects what goes on in class,” she said, “with what goes on in her own search for substantive understanding—seeking meaning that matters to her—a student may be able to glimpse not only that subject but the expert’s live search for it. If the student can tune vicariously into what the instructor pursues, and why, the student also may feel the intensity of that pursuit and the scholarly desire that infuses it.”
A passionate teacher ignites passion in his/her students. Lang believes “Letting students see the passionate thought that animates our own desire for new learning may help inspire them to learn.”
Passionate teachers are hard to find, and it’s possible their passion is buried under heaps of work.
Take the time to get to know your professor and this passion may materialize for you both through conversation. Visit their office hours early in the semester when the workload hasn’t become near unbearable. Take an active part in class and make it clear you believe in and are passionate about what you study.
Get to know your professor and you’ll learn what drove them to study the subject, what drives them now, what they regret doing/not doing, and what they would do now if they were in your shoes. They may have access to or knowledge of resources that would be extremely useful.
In other words, you’ll gain access to “peripheral knowledge” of the subject. You’ll learn not just what it’s like to do math, but how to be a mathematician. You’ll learn how to be an engineer, not just do engineer things. You’ll learn how to navigate the workforce, the research and paper writing culture, or other relevant aspects of your field.
This can give you an edge over others who fail to take advantage of a healthy relationship with a professor.
4) Treat the “Extras” as Just as Important as Your Classes
Attending classes and getting everything you can out of them is important, but it’s the bare minimum of college.
To get the most out of college you’re going to have to take advantage of everything else college has to offer. This will not only make you stand out above the rest of the field, but will give you access to much more information involving your study.
Feaver and others agree with this notion, stating “You will need to be active in your chosen course of study—pursuing independent studies with professors, attending office hours to mine areas of critical thought in the field, and finding internships both in and outside your field to develop depth and breadth.”
Involve yourself with leadership roles and with groups that will give you relevant experience. Even clubs or groups that aren’t relevant can help you meet new friends, learn about different studies, and open your mind to new ideas.
In a 2006 paper on the benefits (if any) of club or organization involvement, John D. Foubert and Lauren U. Grainger administered an assessment to university students to test their growth along Arthur Chickering’s vectors of development.
Chickering’s theory details the process of identity development, specifically for those in higher education.
Using the assessment, Foubert and Grainger found “it is evident that students who are involved in clubs and organizations during their college experience are also those who demonstrate higher levels of development in many areas.”
Taken along Chickering’s theory, this means these students were more likely to be more competent, more emotionally mature, and have a better sense of identity and purpose.
While a benefit was shown, however, the researchers do admit it is a modest one: “Although several areas of difference emerged beyond chance levels, all differences
were in the low range, suggesting minimal to moderate effects of involvement at best.”
It is possible that the payoff for doing all these activities is not worth the amount of time put into them. Getting involved in one extracurricular may have the same benefit as ten.
The takeaway here is to make good use of your time, as it is your most important asset. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Quality matters just as much as quantity.
5) Take Part in Something Rigorous
After graduating from university, I was shocked to learn that other graduates I knew did not have to perform a senior thesis to capstone their college career. It wasn’t as surprising as I thought it was, as a senior thesis is not something that every major necessarily requires, especially at the undergrad level.
Still, however, I felt grateful that I had to do one, no matter how difficult I found it.
The senior thesis, in my experience, was the culmination of years of study put to the test. I had to research a topic of my choosing. I had to keep to a deadline (which didn’t always happen). I had to push myself to produce quality work unlike any I had done before.
Why? Because I would be judged and questioned by a crowd of peers and professors in an hour long presentation.
The entire process pushed me to get better at what I was doing and made me rethink what my education had meant to me.
In this way, I was able to grow into a more competent student. The thesis was more meaningful to me than any other assignment and my work not only reflected the knowledge I had gained throughout my career, but my emotional content behind it.
The thesis was something rigorous which forced me to grow.
If you really want to get the most of your college years, find something that will push you further than any single class will. Find an independent study or something else that will be more personal to you and challenge you. Don’t be afraid to take on the biggest challenge your major has to offer, even if it’s optional.
Commit to not hiding from your weaknesses, but drawing them out through tough work and turning them into strengths.
6) Never Stop Learning
The best way to waste your college experience is to quit learning once you’ve finished.
The content of your education will be important as you begin the hunt for a career, but it is the context of the character you’ve built which will see you towards continued success.
If you cut corners, shied away from rigorous work, and squandered your opportunities to better yourself while in college, those habits will continue throughout your life.
However, if you took an active part in your education and made the most of things, the skills you’ve built up will be useful no matter what career you choose. The key is to not be afraid to be wrong and to look at each experience as a learning opportunity.
The field you actively take part in will continue to expand, technology will continue to become a more integral part of our lives. Changing from within to meet the demands of changes of outside is a necessary skill to continue to be a front-runner in whatever you do.
You may have had a stellar college career, but it means little if you rest upon your laurels and forget everyone else is still moving along.
College can be a period of intense growth as an individual, if the necessary time is taken to make good use of it.
This is done through a multitude of ways, but most importantly by knowing what you hope to get out of it, using your resources and acquaintances to give yourself breadth of knowledge, all the while taking part in rigorous courses from time to time to give yourself some depth.
College is made useful after the fact by putting what you’ve learn to the test, by performance in a career. No matter what career you end up in, the character you’ve built will lead you to further success.
Learning is squandered only when it causes you to cease further learning.