Why do people really attend college?
(written 2 years ago)
Over the past year I have interacted with and observed many people. I met students at the University of Akron — a large state college in Ohio — and at Framingham State College — a small state college in Massachusetts. In these places I encountered both the American student and the foreign student, both the inspired student and the disgruntled, pleasure-seeking student. I also know students who are at the top of the ladder, planning on attending Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia. I know many of these students' plans, and I guess at their motives for attending college. Each has their own set of reasons for attending college, different from every other person. Based on my experience this year, I am inspired to ask the question, "why do people really attend college?" Based on my observations of the past year, allow me to paint a picture of several types of students....
How many times — while in class — have I turned around in my chair to see a whole row of faces behind me staring dully at nothing at all? How many times have I seen a student, bored out of his wits, slumping over his desk in sleep? I have seen this many, many times in every class I have taken. This is the type of student — if I may clump them together — that makes up the majority of the people I come across at college. These students sit in their seats blindly taking notes of whatever the professor writes, thinking of other things. Nothing in their classes seem to interest or impress them, except that "hot" girl or guy sitting in the front row. Sometimes these students excel in their classes — there are many intelligent people in this category of student. But, school is not what really interests them.
What is it then, that motivates them to attend college? Often, these students don’t appear to have thought through why they are attending college, except to acknowledge that this is what everyone does. It is always easier to go with the norm. So, I will attempt to fathom their motives for them. There are two reasons they attend college. The first is short-term pleasure, either in the form of belonging among friends, having a night with a girlfriend, alcohol, or "living the life." There is a sort of pleasure in hurrying everywhere, living in a whirlwind of emotion and desire. Their second motive is to get through college in order to get a good job. College can train you enough so that you can find a comfortable job and make money. This is the first class of students I have encountered.
I also know students who will attend the best schools in America. These students have come from good families. They have grown up surrounded by love; they go to good private schools, and they excel in many ways. In high school, they achieve top ranking and display leadership. They are intelligent, well-liked, and often virtuous. What motivates this class of student to attend college? Although it is different for each one, I think these students have a real desire to please, to gain respect. Going to college — especially an excellent college — is a sign of success. These students may not think so much about the future after they leave college, but they feel assured that college will bring them more success and power. For this category of student as for the last, college is a means for pleasure and a stepping-stone to whatever comes next.
Then, there is the third type of student I have observed. Predominantly, these students are foreign to our country. They have worked really hard to get into college. Often, they have very little money. But, they have a force behind their every action: they are fighting to survive. For these students, education is a ticket for success. But, often, these students also love what they study. They already have a knowledge of how important knowledge is, and this helps them to appreciate everything they learn in college. These students are constantly torn between the two reasons they attend college. First, that they need to learn in order to make it in America, and second, that they want to learn.
Finally, there is the fourth student, who I have never laid eyes on in all this year. This is the student that I hope to be. For this student, college is the chance to learn for learning's sake. Learning is an act of love for this student. He goes to college not for pleasure, power, success, or because he needs to, but because he loves learning. To him, learning is finding truth from every angle and perspective. In this student's mind, life is one long learning process, and college is a sanctuary devoted to protecting and nourishing those who learn. This student approaches learning humbly, not asking it to do things for him or expecting it to obey his plans.
Nowhere can we find this student in his true purity of intention. Every student I have met contains a piece of this fourth student imbedded, and sometimes lost, within his every desire and plan. The first two students go to college for earthly reasons. The third student struggles between what he needs and what he loves — he is caught between a higher motive and a worldly motive. And, the fourth student has leapt off the surface of the earth in his love of learning; he has no ties to worldly motives and is swept away by his desire for knowledge and wisdom. No one falls neatly into any of these four categories. Each person I have encountered has a piece of all these types, though often one type is much larger than all the rest. These are my observations, limited and biased as they may be.
I wrote this two years ago, after being a full-time dual enrollment high school senior. That year was my first real encounter with the classroom 'culture.' Since then I have had two years of real college. I find my critique interesting to read now.... And I don't like my last paragraph anymore.