As I’m nearing the end of my degree, with graduation looming and the great uncertainty of what comes next, I’ve been thinking a lot about the value of university, and whether I’ve made the most of the experience.
On reflection, I realised that post-secondary institutions really offer three goals: to promote learning and critical thinking, to prepare you for the workforce, and to offer you an opportunity to develop as a person. If I had understood this before applying to university, I would have been much better equipped to decide what to do, which institution, and what programme to apply for. I’ve already made my choice, but I hope this will help you narrow down your choices and craft a plan that best fits your goals and interests:
Letters from the dorm: setting and achieving ambitious goals while also having a blast and making lifelong friends
Places of pure learning
One view is that university is a collection of people pursuing knowledge and truth: a place where new ideas are born and existing ones challenged. Their primary purpose is to educate for the sake of learning, and for the sake of empowering and enlightening students to become better citizens. Those who follow this line of thought typically want to make university accessible to as many people as possible — because it would supposedly create better critical thinkers, communicators, and problem solvers.
Liberal arts colleges are a great example of this — they require you to take a number of core courses, and then electives across many disciplines to ensure you come out after four years with a breadth of skills and knowledge. Taking humanities courses can also achieve this purpose. They are typically more reading and writing-intensive, which encourages students to exercise their speed-reading and synthesizing skills and also their ability to communicate effectively. Often they will also include discussion groups which enable students to share and listen to different perspectives.
Especially in our day and age where a degree is a prerequisite for most well-paid jobs, many choose to pursue post-secondary degrees for job security and employment options. In essence, a degree acts like a sorting mechanism: it signals to employers that the graduate possesses certain qualities and traits that are desirable in the workforce.
Professional programmes like accounting, law, medicine have therefore become more popular amongst students, which is also why many of these have now become post-graduate programs that require a bachelor degree before enrolment. It’s also important to mention that university isn’t necessarily the best way to accelerate one’s career; technical and vocational colleges can often be much more affordable and efficient ways to gain valuable work skills and experience.
Personal development opportunities
Popular amongst European countries is the concept of a ‘gap year’. Many students take a year off after secondary school and use this time to discern what their goals are, and go after experiences to help them understand who they are as people. Often they will travel, volunteer abroad, or work. Either way, a gap year is meant to be a transitory time to explore and live life, so that when it’s time to apply for university, you hopefully have a better idea of what you want to do and why.
It’s not to say that you can’t achieve all three at the same time- but it’s important to understand what you’re looking for so that when it comes time to sacrifice one goal for the other, you’re prepared to make that decision. You can only do so much in four years.