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What's college even for?

  1. Jul 7, 2010 #1
    I'm wondering right now if my undergraduate education really is for the purpose of learning about the world and myself, or if it's some pre-X feeder in which I'm supposed to work in order to attain certain credentials, and use those credentials to enter another feeder program whether it be graduate school, law school, business, med, etc.

    There's just such a greater volume of discussion aimed at the latter than at the former.

    What do you think, PF, should my focus in college be actually learning things and enjoying growth, or tending to my gpa and always fighting to "get ahead"...?

    By the way, I am a rising college junior. The perfect time to evaluate my goals I'd say...
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 7, 2010 #2


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    Why not both?
  4. Jul 7, 2010 #3
    It depends, do you want to do things because it is interesting or do you want to get a good job? If you manage to get by without caring about your GPA that option is way better, but the other option is the safe way to take.
  5. Jul 7, 2010 #4
    You can balance those two aspects but since you are questioning the value of the "rat race" perhaps you'd prefer to focus slightly more on learning over "getting ahead." Sometimes I also feel as if the purpose of college is to go through a "checklist" on the way to the next point; I prefer to focus a bit more on learning and let the GPA take care of itself.
  6. Jul 7, 2010 #5

    Andy Resnick

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    As an educator, I firmly believe the former. As a realist, I acknowledge the necessity of the latter- one should strive to be employable. As you say, you are re-evaluating your long term goals (which is good!).

    I always ask my students what their next step is: what do you want to do *after* graduation? Then, I can help them get to their goal. Where do you see yourself in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years?

    Don't stress about the overall goal-oriented focus at PF- consider who is posting.
  7. Jul 7, 2010 #6
    This is long, rambling, and rather personal... Take it for what it is worth.

    I went through a similar stage where I explored society's perception of a "higher education." Ended up as 30 some odd pages of notes and a heck of a lot of mental growth on my behalf.

    It started as an exploration of what I aimed to achieve with graduate school. I was immensely unhappy with my undergraduate education, and set out to establish exactly what I sought from my proposed post-grad studies. I dealt with various topics such as: the search for "Better" education, and what "Better" really entailed as far as school rankings... Obtaining an education for the right reasons... Society's expectations for what such an education entails in regards to higher education vs Career preparation --> what that really means, similarities/differences etc..

    It snowballed from there into a rather existential search for purpose and what I aimed to do with myself. The problem most often present in today's society is that students view university studies as a "next step" in life, rather than something that should be done for the sake of bettering one's self. Again, the career preparation and getting an education so that "you can get a good career" versus going for the sake of gaining an education for the what I'd consider to be genuine personal growth.

    The entire thing went rather philosophical, and I established what I considered to be the wrong reasons for pursuing an education. Next logical step was to ask myself what exactly the right reasons were. To somewhat borrow from what I'd written...

    Humans have no assigned purpose in life. There is no mandate from a creator specifying the "correct" way to live our lives (in regards to overall purpose.) This is largely self-determined, and varies widely amongst the population. Many situations impose outside needs upon us, and give many people a "purpose." Having children, for example, necessitates that an individual find a way to provide for said children. Be it an evolutionary urge to ensure success and survival of your offspring, this is somewhat difficult to ignore...

    But beyond such needs imposed upon us by society (IE: Taxes), as well as sustenance and so on, what is our purpose? Our raison d'etre? Given the infinite number of directions possible, where does one take their life? As much as we ask ourselves that question, however, at the end of the day, that direction is largely irrelevant. An argument can be made toward utilitarian vocations, but our destinies are largely free for us to decide.

    We either choose to live passively or actively within our greater society. A passive lifestyle follows the traditional expectations of society; assimilation to cultural norms and following the path of least resistance is almost expected. Anybody who hits 25 will tell you the shift in perception that seemingly hits you like a freight train. Get a house, get married, have your kids and a dog ETC. It may not be mentioned, but deviation from the aforementioned list results in somewhat of a sense of guilt and feelings of a lack of "success." The world controls you, rather than you it. No problems are presented when the plan is followed, but you've accepted social dominion over your life.

    Cue the Higher Education. Without it, we fail to gain a true understanding of the world in which we live. We are ill equipped to mold it into a shape which we find desirable. A real education isn't about career preparation - if that's what you had in mind, then you're there for the wrong reasons. Robert Pirsig touches on this subject in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", a fantastic philosophy book if there ever was one.

    In the opinion that I finally arrived at, an education should give you the tools to assist us in the search of truth. I'm talking about pure unbiased absolute truth, if there ever was such a thing. "The marriage of logic, reason, and creativity in an attempt to truly understand ourselves and the reality we live in." That's the big one, to me... If an education can help you to shape your mind into one that aims to see the truth of something for what it honestly is, then you have succeeded. The area of study does not really matter, be it any of the sciences or the arts. That freedom requires absolutely nothing from you, and should be the end result of everything that you do with your life. Eliminating bias is single handedly responsible for mankind's salvation, and the distortion of truth solely responsible for our downfall.

    If that's the end result of your education, you've done well for yourself. At this point, the world is much like a wrapped gift, waiting to be discovered. What's under the gift never changes - you simply exist to correctly discover what's underneath. It isn't about the salary or perceived level of "success"... Just work your *** of and learn what you can of your subject, but learn it for the right reasons. Learn it for the sake of learning. If academic excellence is your goal, the grades and everything else will follow.

    Don't get caught up in the game. If you can avoid that, you'll be alright. If you're working your *** off, you'll be very employable. Just make sure you're working your *** off for the right reasons.
  8. Jul 8, 2010 #7


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    Well, you have to compromise if you're doing a tough degree. There's always going to be hoops you have to jump through to get to what you want. This is especially true for me with math and physics. (Math is the hoop).

    That being said, I was never really concerned about my GPA, as long as it stays above 3.0 (minimum for grad school). If I'm not interested in a class I will slack off, if I'm cutting it close on the passing grade, I'll spend a few extra hours that week. That's just how I am though, I won't invest my emotional and intellectual resources into things I'm not interested in unless doing so will prevent me access from said things.
  9. Jul 8, 2010 #8
    That's really up to you. One thing that you do have figure out once you are in college which you don't have to figure out when you are in college is what do you really want.

    One thing that you need to do in college is to figure that out for yourself. Something that I found useful is to ask questions and read history. For example, what does it mean to "get ahead"?
  10. Jul 8, 2010 #9
    Personally, I've found that by doing "interesting things", I haven't had any problems getting a "good job." Part of it might be that I define "good" as "doing interesting things."

    One thing that has been helpful for me is that I'm quite suspicious. How do I really know that having a high GPA will lead to a "good" job? I've also found that that what seems "safe" really isn't that safe.
  11. Jul 9, 2010 #10


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    Actually, I must attest that one particular professor hired me after getting a C in his class. The other two students got B's. Ironically, the job was even suited to the class.

    We became good friends while I was working with him and our conversations became more casual. I eventually found out that he hired me because of the work ethic I displayed in class and he was impressed by my resume (four years of commercial fishing, nothing academic at the time). I asked him why that didn't get me good grades and he told me how he doesn't consider test scores an important weight, but he's obligated to weigh the test heavily by the school system standards.

    When you do real research, you're not given two hours and barred from using resources. You're given months and encouraged to use as many different sources as possible. I really don't understand the nature of standardized testing, and I loathe tests. Well, actually, tests aren't really that bad when compared to the headache of studying for tests: what do you study? how in depth? is it comprehensive? how is this question supposed to be interpreted?

    There's a more qualitative, creative, conceptual element to research that's often overlooked by standardization and number crunching. There's an art to problem solving that makes it a highly enjoyable practice, even if the current problem is as simple as getting code to run.
  12. Jul 9, 2010 #11
    I meant "safe" as in "safer". Nothing is really safe but having impressive grades can help. However if you constantly show that you genuinely is interested in the subject and not just the grades the professors will love you, as above poster have experienced. That way you can get really good letters of recommendation so I guess that it can also work, but this is a bit of a gamble compared to just getting good grades since there is no guarantee that any professor will actually like you.
  13. Jul 9, 2010 #12
    Nobody is replying to KestrelYI 's post. That's some really deep **** man =). I'm glad i took the time to read it and the parts that i did understand, i really agree with you.
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