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Why Are You Even Going to College?

Authored By: 
James Vescovi, English teacher

For all the hype about college, get this: The top 10 richest Americans with college degrees are worth $506 billion (top three: Gates, Zuckerberg, Ellison); but, the 10 wealthiest Americans without college degrees is not far behind at $400 billion (top three: Bezos, Buffett, the Koch brothers).  Source: https://college-education.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=006844.

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel (worth: $2.6 billion) has a low opinion of higher education, as is evidenced by his program "The 20 Under 20 Fellowship" (http://thielfellowship.org/). It actually pays students to drop out of college and develop their promising ideas; every year, 20 students get $100,000 for the privilege—not bad considering the skyrocketing cost of tuition. 

Nevertheless, it’s wise to take Thiel’s low view of higher education with a grain of salt. In 2015, college grads earned 56 percent more than high school grads, according to the Economic Policy Institute; thus, a college degree can’t be a complete waste of time. At the root of Thiel’s sentiments is his view of higher-ed as, in his words, “ineffective,” which is true, as it is for all large organizations.  So, here are a few suggestions for getting more out of college:

  1. Go with a sense of purpose. It’s fine if you don’t know your exact major when you matriculate, but if you have NO clue whatsoever, take a gap year and figure it out. Working, traveling, and reading will help you in your quest;
  2. Stay away from courses whose subject matter is narrow and overly topical. Professors love to develop courses that pique their interest or support their politics. But that doesn’t mean they’re worth your valuable time. If the title of a class feels like click-bait—“Zombies in Popular Media,” “The #selfie,” “Politicizing Beyoncé,” or “The Unbearable Whiteness of Barbie”—steer clear. (If you’re that curious, buy the professor’s book.) The best courses are universal and apolitical in their outlook;
  3. Finally, too many professors have low expectations for students—in part, because too many people are attending college when they should be going to trade schools or opening their own businesses. It’s up to you to make the most of your four years. Colleges have money, so take advantage of programs and grants, as well as knowledge and resources offered by professors, to pursue your interests. And keep dormitory gabfests to a minimum.