By Robert LeVine
People tend to think of higher education as a path to a good job or career. They research annual salaries and statistics that show how a college education results in substantially increased earnings, perhaps $1 million or more over a lifetime. Yet in most cases, the cost of student loans bind young adults just as they’re trying to progress, and obtaining a degree does not always equate to getting a good job, particularly in one’s chosen field. The problem is magnified when one doesn’t choose a suitable field.
What is the true value of college?
Academically, college provides two types of education: foundational knowledge (content) and springboard learning (skills). Proper balance of these different kinds of knowledge leads to the best lifetime results.
Content classes – the courses studied in a major – provide knowledge that forms the basis for career pursuits. Yet while these courses are valuable, their value is limited. Many of the things one learns in college become obsolete. The world changes, including the professional world. Not everything learned today will be relevant tomorrow. Moreover, one learns more about a job in just a few weeks of work than can be collected in all our years of school.
Courses focused on career preparation should not be considered to be a gateway to lifetime success. Rather, treat job-directed courses as starting points, not as the singular jewels of college.
Springboard learning occurs when a student acquires skills that remain useful regardless of changes in career fields. Speaking and writing courses teach necessary communication skills. Psychology and sociology provide insight into human behavior. Basic business courses allow everyone greater control over the distribution of their work. Language and culture classes give insight into how other people act; philosophy broadens perspective; and liberal arts presents a variety of knowledge that high school cannot.
Even the selection of classes – and the different ways that different colleges guide students in the selection process – teaches a young adult how to make decisions. When it comes to earnings, intelligent selection of one’s path can be the difference between financial success and failure. If you do not enjoy what you do, you won’t work as hard, or as well; you won’t make as much money; and both you and your family will be miserable.
College is an evolutionary moment. For most students, it is the first time away from home, the first time in an uncontrolled environment, the first time experiencing new types of knowledge. At a university, we ask our children to make life decisions without significant guidance or even knowledge of what the world has to offer. Parents often want their children to receive “a good education,” yet merely taking college coursework does not guarantee success.
Remember that the time spent outside of the classroom far outweighs the time spent inside. Think expansively about foundational and springboard classes, but also think about what happens outside. How is a campus laid out, and does that promote social learning? What assets and influences exist beyond campus walls, not just for internships, but also for life experience?
College is more than a collection of classes. It is a four-year learning environment, a bridge between youth and adulthood, a place for extraordinary growth. Consider college as a place for inspiration and a precursor for life itself.
Robert LeVine is the CEO of University Consultants of America. An internationally-acclaimed speaker and author, Robert served for Harvard admissions for three decades and is an expert in college and graduate school admissions processes, essays, interview preparation, and personal marketing.