Friday, November 14, 2014

unCon 2014 Session: Is Attending College Worthwhile?

By: Jiyoung Jeong

Led by Sterling Dintersmith

As one of the few high school students at the Innovation unConference today, Sterling raised an important—yet rarely asked—question: “Is attending college worthwhile?”

At her session, she noted that many students, at first enthused to experience college, actually find their college academic life uninteresting. When she asked the group’s opinion on that issue, many responded that a college’s challenging classroom environment, nonetheless, teach students “how to think critically.” They went on to highlight the value of critical thinking; one participant mentioned that she, like many others, largely consider an applicant’s critical thinking abilities when hiring.

Many session members also pointed out the importance of network that colleges allow students to create. All of them agreed that connecting with others in such a “unique place” has allowed them to nurture various relationships both during and after college; one participant noted that college acts as a “cultural reference point.” He further noted that most people ask others what college they attended not to gain a sense of their intelligence, but to network; for example, long after graduating from college, a woman who graduated in 1994 may unexpectedly meet another who graduated in 2003— and they may get to make other acquaintances through each other. He pointed out that, in a society where work and opportunities chiefly rely on connections, the ultimate value of attending college—although extremely pricey— is excitingly unpredictable.

But should all students attend college right after graduating from high school? Most of the session group members brought up the option of gap year. “Find the path [you want to take in life] before paying that money [for college],” one of them advised. Many agreed, saying that having a clear goal in mind before attending college is crucial. These days, many students opt for college without knowing what they would like to do career-wise. With the huge growth in college attendees, many high school students are pressured to attend college “just because.” Although one member mentioned that attending college actually helped him define some significant life goals, the general consensus was: people that have clear goals, dedication, and focus are the ones that can get the most out of those expensive institutions. 

The session also touched on the importance of finding the “right school.” Participants stressed that, for a student, colleges’ names shouldn’t stand as the main problem; instead, the questions that they should ask are, does the school fit me? Can I fully apply myself in various areas at this institution?  A participant encouraged having flexibility during both the application process and the actual school life. “You’re [never] stuck,” he said; no matter what college one starts at, he or she always has the choice to drop out or transfer, if the college experience isn’t quite rewarding.
Toward the end of the discussion, Sterling asked the group members to raise their hands if they felt that they had gained crucial academic skills by attending college. Surprisingly, although nearly all of them had spoken positively of attending college, only about forty percent of the group raised their hands. Truly, the most significant value and reason for attending college may not root in the classroom material—but in the diverse relationships that college environments nurture. 

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