Art Carden  

If I Had it to Do Over Again

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A few months ago, I posted a bit of advice on my cousin's Facebook page as one of her sons has begun the college search. Here it is in slightly modified form:

Forget about "the college experience." It's overrated. Enroll early, take summer classes, and finish quickly.

No matter where he goes, your son will be surrounded by people making poor decisions. I'm not talking about sex & drugs. Those are subsets of a larger poor decision, which is mortgaging the future for the present satisfaction of treating college like a four-year vacation.

The pressure will be almost overwhelming, but his 35-year-old-self will bless his 18-year-old-self for his good decisions and curse his 18-year-old-self for his bad decisions. The more good decisions now, the more opportunities and less regret later.

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COMMENTS (10 to date)
Tom West writes:

While not into sex, drugs or alcohol, the friends I made at university by not applying myself as conscientiously as a I should have were ones that have been instrumental in almost every aspect of my life in the following 30 years.

I'd not have had the jobs, life-long friends, nor my wife without the late night philosophizing, gaming, and general university silliness.

And I'd be missing the warm memories of life before duties and responsibilities made occasional impulsiveness something that hurt others around me rather than just myself.

At least to those who are not gregarious by nature, university is perhaps the single best time to make life-long friends.

Doug writes:

Could not agree more with Tom.

Feel sorry for Art.

Grant Gould writes:

The non-academic skills I built in college -- mechanical aptitude, communal living, home repair, crisis management and leadership, how to give and take life advice, skills of understanding and managing my own personality strengths and weaknesses, project logistics, and how to cook a solid, tasty meal for anything from one to three dozen people on a few hours' notice -- matched or exceeded the academic ones I built (which I mostly relearned on-the-job over the next decade anyway).

The problem is not that students waste their college years on non-academic pursuits. Its that most of them waste those years on the _wrong_ non-academic pursuits. Drinking won't advance you in the world, but living and running a house with other people will. Drugs rarely seem to advance people very far, but a passing acquaintance with solitude, contemplation, and mental self-care will. As for sex, well, rather a lot of my housemates met their future spouses there, so I'll speak no ill of that.

MikeP writes:

I'm going to side with Tom West.

College is an opportunity to avoid all but the simplest responsibilities, namely getting the grades you want. Unless you are driven by maximizing your net worth at age 30 or by wanting to have a lot of responsibilities, the college experience is absolutely worth it. I enjoyed it so much I lengthened it with grad school.

Bryan would probably tell us that whether you can enjoy college and still get an education is predetermined by intelligence and conscientiousness manifest before you enter college. So go to a quality state school, select a major you like that is employable in the future, and maintain your grades. Beyond that, enjoy late night poker, pinochle, and philosophical banter. You can engage with the people who are treating college like a four year party without becoming one of them.

If you can't keep your grades while having fun, then Art's advice is probably correct: get out quickly with the education you need.

david writes:

University is a place for networking: there is no point graduating quickly if it means being the weirdo with no contacts in the workplace.

Shane L writes:

Also agree with Tom, but perhaps the important thing is that everyone needs slightly different advice. If the student is pretty lazy academically and neglects his or her studies, encourage them to knuckle down. If they are very focused on studies and not socialising, exercising, learning how to grow up and deal with people and make amazing friends, perhaps they need different advice.

Dan Hill writes:

To Tom and his supporters, my question is at what price? Are the benefits you tout worth the additional costs? There also seems to be an assumption that a four year school a long way from home is the only way to gain these experiences / contacts.

Steve-O writes:

Pay attention and take rigorous classes in HS, since you're forced to be there and the cost of an AP exam is well worth the college credit. Or Then, attend a school a tier down from the best you can get into. Then you can take it easy in college and get the credentials employers look for because much of the material is review and you can take lighter class and compete against students a rung down on the ladder. Plus, you're not mortgaging the present since you've attended a school that offered you financial aid as an inducement to matriculate.

charlie writes:

Agree with all of the above that this is very bad life advice.

"Ahh, to be 35 again" is not an expression you hear often for a reason.

Rocinante writes:

I'm over 35 and I don't agree that, looking back at my 18 year old self, I made the right decision in avoiding the temptations of college. Partying has its place in life. The key is moderation.

Partying is overrated, but it's rated highly. Its real value is somewhere in between your value of it and the overrated value placed on it by frat brothers everywhere.

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