It has been eight years since I graduated from college with a BA in Liberal Arts. Looking back on that time I find I learned a lot, but most of it wasn’t in text books. I was an English major, but I can’t quote too many famous authors. I barely remember any algebra or calculus, despite the years I spent studying it. Every now and then I pull out some random piece of info I learned from a professor or class, but that happens just as often with things I saw on Discovery Channel. Honestly, I’ve probably retained more from Mythbusters and the various nature and science shows I’ve seen throughout the years. Whoever said you can’t learn things from television wasn’t watching the right shows. You can learn things everywhere. You must simply be open to learning.
So what is the point of college, anyway? I studied English for four years only to get jobs in accounting, physical therapy, marketing and retail sales. Every job I’ve had, I was forced to learn as I went with little to no prior experience in that field or profession. I’ve learned things from each of my jobs that I then carried over to my next job or to my writing. Every experience I’ve had was important in some way. That includes college.
In high school, I was completely excited by the idea of college. I wanted to be out on my own, in charge of my own destiny, free to make my own decisions and mistakes for the first time. I packed six months early and moved in the dorm the first day I was allowed to move in. My first lesson was others were not filled with the same sense of personal responsibility and motivation to be their own person that drove me. And honestly, who could blame them? Every time I turned around I found more rules and restrictions designed to treat us all like children who couldn’t make our own decisions. We were coddled and shepherded to make the choices our teachers or the school administrators thought we should make. I angered me a great deal. I was an adult. I could fight and die for my country, but I couldn’t have a co-ed study group after 9 pm. (if we are being completely honest, it is actually easier for boys and girls to enjoy alone time during the day when roommates are gone at work or class than at night when they are all in the same room, but I digress). The point is, I did not understand the discrepancy between how I was raised, how my opinion mattered at home, and how my school gave me far less credit for being able to make decisions than my parents did. If you treat people like irresponsible morons long enough, they will learn to become what is expected of them. It is easier to be a dumb kid. No one blames you for your actions. It’s never your fault. You were just doing what you were told, following hormones, etc. I encountered much of this in elementary through high school, but silly me, I thought things would be different in college.
College can be a wonderful place to cultivate personal responsibility if it is allowed to flourish. It can be a buffer between childhood and full adulthood, where one can take on a few new bills at a time, learning to budget with a safety net. But this is only the case if responsibility is the ultimate goal. If you never take off the training wheels, you can never truly learn to ride a bike. You have to take charge of your own life. It may be hard, but it is worth it. If you always allow others to make your decisions for you, you are never truly free. You must try things that may not work out and be prepared to live with the consequences.
But my college experience was not all bad. I am the type of person who is motivated by my goals to the exclusion of many other things. Once I am focused on something and know what I want, I can not be distracted from that path. I went to college to learn to improve my writing. Throughout my college career I continued to work on my books, and three and half years after I graduated I published my first book, “Wolf of the Past.” I may have learned more to improve my writing through a brief consult with a literary critiquer than I did in college, but ti did help lay some foundation for my skills.
I also learned a lot about dealing with people. Living with someone will teach you a lot. For instance, live with anyone for long enough, and you will probably end up hating them just a little. It’s inevitable. The second a roommate does one thing to upset you, if it isn’t resolved quickly, every little thing they do will instantly become a horrible reinforcement for your bitterness and anger. Of course, you can work past this, and close friendships do develop and grow in a roommate environment, but it is not easy. It is a valuable lesson to learn that can help with future relationships. Once you know what you are doing and understand that it wasn’t really such a terrible slight that the roommate turned out the light while you were reading, or turned on their cd while you were watching tv (or any number of the stupid, little things that just add up over time to make one big thing) you can move past those things and focus on the big things that are really important. Developing this skill set is crucial for dealing with a spouse, as marriages are often prone to the same problems as roommates in general.
Of course I would never had learned any of these things if I had not lived on campus during college. I truly believe living in the dorm was one of the best things I could have done in my life. It helped me grow as a person, take on responsibilities at my own pace and learn to be self-sufficient. I had to learn to budget, pay bills and get myself up for class on time. I had to work my student job, plan my own schedule and balance classwork with fun activities. There was no one looking over my shoulder to make me do my homework. I had to do that all on my own. There is no substitution for experience and hard work. That is what I took from my college experience.