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What did I miss at college/uni?


Guest Thomas
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Guest Thomas

Hey guys,

 

I see that a lot of you either went to or currently attend college/university. I didn't get the chance to go when I was younger for all sorts of reasons. But some of my school friends did and opinion from the ones I've spoken to since is mixed to say the least. Some people seemed to have great experiences, but others are not happy with the overall result - particuarly those who had a hard time finding work.

 

From a point of view of the experiences you had there, would you say I missed out by not going? If you had the chance to redo it, would you still go or would you change things?

 

Thanks for indulging my curiousity!

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Guest GrapeApe

I don't know what Uni. is like in the UK, but college in America runs the gamut from small schools to very large ones, and serious academics vs. more party type atmospheres.

 

I, myself, went to a large state school, where I spent more time hanging out and trying to talk to girls than I did studying.  Being socially awkward, I tended to join official groups related to drama or music.  Like sketch comedy, or a cappella music.  When I graduated, I realized I wanted to do something else entirely, than what I got my degree in. 

 

It’s never too late to go back to school, though, or at least take a few classes.

 

For those just graduating high school, I would strongly advise considering taking a year off of school to either work, travel, or whatever, before entering college.  A lot of people I knew in college were unprepared for the responsibility of being independent for the first time, and ended up failing out because of drinking or partying too much.

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Guest Jennyanydots
Just my two cents for anyone who is debating (to college or not to college) I settled for a community college because my grandmother who'd raised me didn't want me far from home. I consider that t9 be the mother of all of my mistakes which followed. I think if you know that you want to go to college and there's nothing else you can see yourself doing with those years, you definitely should go for it. On the other hand, if you can see yourself traveling and picking up work as you go, or training in something that doesn't require a degree, college will probably be a waste of your time and money. Don't go to university because you think it will be a fun place to party. You can party without the student loans.
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You will have to pardon my biases, but I think a grounding in critical and philosophical enquiry gives really important civic skills. Undergrad these days is often seen as vocational training, which I think universities, especially new universities without deep intellectual traditions, can be quite poor at. This is in part a new world/ old world divide - unis in places like Europe are seen differently in terms of function. Don't forget Oxford university predates the Aztec empire. It's been around a while. The shift we have seen to 'everyone needs to go to uni' is really a very recent one, and one I too disagree with. The larger tradition is really in training how to think well. And yes, one can learn this outside the academy to an extent - but being pushed in a good course past where you would naturally go is good grounding for a future life of the mind. Also, the networking with peers who will be up and coming in your field, the professional networks with your profs, learning to 'be' in the world and the cultural expectations and practices around some professions. If you ground yourself out wisely even if studying STEM, an exposure to art and ideas in a way you would never encounter on your own, all the while with a cohort of other clever people who are into exactly the same intellectual traditions as you are. That latter - the intellectual community - is incredibly enriching and important. I see a university in its old function - as a lighthouse of enlightened thinking and a kind of cultural north star, from which trained thinkers can then move out to make changes in the world. Of course may unis these days are about training you for a job, which is arguably what the workplace is actually for, but this is a comparatively recent development. That's a small part of my take on it. Universities have always been important in making critical, independent thinking citizens - which in turn is essential for a democracy.

 

I'd also point out that there is a world of difference between undergrad and doctoral training in a field. Maybe what I'm talking about tends to happen more postgrad in many places nowadays.

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Guest Jennyanydots

Hmmm. I have to say that I think the majority of universities I am familiar with fall short of this ideal. Thomas' friends who complain that their degrees are useless are probably right. At least where I am at in USA (California) we have a lot of Jr Colleges which exist almost solely to create a few nurses and to keep older teens occupied and out of the workforce. At many of the universities, you do not meet the sort of intellectual types one might expect - except, perhaps, most of the faculty. You meet a lot of people who are hopeful that getting a college degree will help them to earn a slightly higher wage once they enter the workforce. For many, this is not the case.

 

That being said, there ARE universities where there is a more intellectual dynamic; more of those clever sorts of people and a higher level of "culture". If that is what someone is hoping to experience, I think they will have to choose their school carefully. Also, your choice of coursework is going to affect your experience.

 

The more ideal universities seem to exist more for themselves than for anything outside of themselves, which seems a bit odd, but I think is necessary to maintain the environment.

 

I'll agree with Wolfdaddy that the environment in post-grad studies is probably a lot different. These are the students who came to college to experience college and not just because they were expected to.

 

So, for the most part, most university students at most universities dont seem to experience late teens/early 20s much differently than anyone else. At least where I am and at least those I've known. Many here would have faired better to take entry level jobs out of highschool, even a good factory job (there are many in my area). I am certain it is much different elsewhere in the world. I'll shut up now.

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I think that's a pretty fair assessment, Jenny. It's what I see too, and am what I am referring to by this relatively new vocational focus in 'corporate' style universities that, being newer, don't have vast tracts of income-producing land or other endowments that older universities tend to have. Which means they really need to worry about profit margin. Which means they need to get as many students through the doors as possible, which means catering to a market that sees degrees as job-getting-tickets. And this is all a self fulfilling prophecy. But of course now the flaws with that are becoming apparent as several decades of unprecedented prosperity come to a close. People are finding those jobs the social contract promised them were there if they were good little boys and girls and went to university just aren't there. Technological unemployment will rapidly accelerate this in the coming decades as many/most of what we now know as middle class jobs vanish.

 

Getting a good trade ticket is a wiser financial decision in many cases, especially in a country like America where the government inexplicably charges outrageous fees for education and students rely on debt to get through - an idea that is horrific to much of the rest of the world who see education as a right and not a commodity. Debt-based systems of higher education in a world where most people are expected to take on that debt is terrifying. The idea of so many people starting out so far in the red is setting up all sorts of social problems down the line. Debt is a kind of prison. Debt makes people compliant with the system. The emperor isn't wearing many clothes and the higher education sector is ripe for disruption.

 

But I disagree with this: "The more ideal universities seem to exist more for themselves than for anything outside of themselves". No I think the more ideal universities are very aware of where they fit as civic and secular institutions and what their social function is/ought to be in terms of producing thought leaders. But we do live in an oddly anti-intellectual culture where a common narrative of such universities is that they are bastions of the elite who already aren't common folk and are somehow out of touch. I don't think that's true.

 

EDIT: I also 1000% agree with Jmacdaddy's advice about taking a gap year. Absolutely daft if you don't. Travel, work, take a break from study, travel some more. Have an ill-conceived but electrifying fling on a beach somewhere etc.

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Guest Thomas

You lovely people took this and ran with it - I love it!

 

Okay so, firstly... thanks. I feel a bit better about it now.

 

This is how I (as a non-academic) see it: if you're training for a specific job, such as engineering, medical, legal, teaching, etc. it's obviously mandatory to attend. Because those jobs require more formal qualifications. But I'm not sure it's right for everyone - one of you mentioned university being elitest, but isn't that kind of the point? Only the smart folks should go because they're the ones who need to go?

 

The people I mentioned who complained that it wasn't really "worth it" kind of drifted there because in this country it became expected that if you're from a certain background and you do okay in school, you go to university. It wasn't like that maybe... 25+ years ago. So there are more graduates looking for 'graduate' level jobs, but there aren't significantly more of those jobs available, so a lot of folks end up not only disappointed but saddled with a pretty large debt.

 

That said, even the ones who struggled to find work raved about how much fun they had and how it was this amazing experience. With so many folks in my social group talking that way, I guess I just felt a little left out.

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Guest Jennyanydots

I am not a social person, so I can't really say what you might have missed there. Many of a university's activities are open to the public (at least in California, USA). So, I will say that those activities aren't something you HAVE to miss. It doesn't seem to me that most college parties are different than regular parties and university activities not much different to community activities.

 

I don't think that college is necessarily a "bad" experience for anyone, I just wish that it were a little clearer what one can expect. Especially in US it is nearly impossible to graduate without some debt. Don't go because that's the socially accepted standard. Go because it's what you want. :/

 

Sorry. I have trouble shutting my trap :o

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