Most of us go to college to get a degree so that we can have a career that will pay for that education. However, if your sole objective is to get your degree and get the hell out, you’re missing out on everything else the community college experience has to offer.
Maybe this sounds idealistic or even naïve, but if you go to college solely for the degree, that’s almost as bad as going to work just for the paycheck.
Though higher education is an expensive investment in oneself (timewise and moneywise), college has been proven to enhance critical thinking, oral and writing skills, abstract reasoning, and aid in the solidification of soft skills. It also heightened my confidence and perspective.
What’s more, when you’re doing restaurant or retail work, you’re completing repetitious tasks, but in college, you’re advancing every four months to something more challenging (or at least different). When you’re working for a boss, all they care about is that you get the job done; in college, most professors are interested in your success, provided that you care.
One algebra professor gave us daily pep talks about practicing math and taught us that you don’t study math, you do it—sort of like brain surgery—and that “life is better with a degree.” He admitted that Pizza Hut, where he worked so much harder for far less money, made him want to finish college. He was interested in our minds, and, unlike a boss, wasn’t interested in keeping us there but wanted us to leave his class forever, and, if we must, “hate math again.”
I took him up on the latter, especially after I took Elementary Statistics, which was anything but elementary.
In college, you learn the answers to questions you didn’t know you had. For example, this same math professor finally shed light on why we have to learn this “nonsense” (meaning algebra)—that it was to sharpen our attention to detail. “Sometimes, we’re one keystroke from ruining somebody’s life,” he said, and so I could work on this nonsense with a newfound sense of purpose.
College gives you time to think, not just act, and will connect you to people you wouldn’t have crossed paths with otherwise.
So, you watch Shark Tank and see the hustlers who never went to college (but who worked 24/7) and articles about people like Bill Gates being a college dropout, but a degree isn’t just a window of opportunity—it’s a door to experiences that are unique to the college life.
The diversity of a community college makes everyone feel like it’s never too late to get an education, reinvent yourself, or launch a new career, so no matter your age or background, get involved in something outside the classroom.
I did the newspaper and the literary arts journal.
Seek out internship (and work-study) opportunities as well, which you’re more likely to get as a college student, as you’re perceived as a serious individual. Internships are the answer to that old dilemma about needing experience that no one will hire you without.
If you have the chance, take a few classes just because they interest you. (Many people figure out what they want to do by getting a general studies degree.)
College is a time of chrysalis: I enrolled as a Health Information Technology major, so sure I wanted to be a medical biller and coder (to appease the introvert in me), and ended up graduating with a general studies degree in addition to that, because that was the degree I wanted to build on.
So, whether your passion is in STEM or the arts (STEAM is dumb because it leaves out writing), there is something for everyone at a liberal arts college.
Now, I’m at university, studying Creative Writing. This time, I know what I want to do.
I have experienced college life differently—as a thirtysomething with a family instead of a twentysomething living at home (or on campus). I work two jobs, and so I don’t have time to hang out at the coffee shop (F.R.I.E.N.D.S. is a fantasy) or participate in clubs; when my friends and I get together, it is planned and deliberate, as we have jobs, kids, and other responsibilities.
So, I will never know that twentysomething kind of college experience, but I feel like I am getting to know something better. When I come home after a long day at school and then work at the Lab (where I concoct formulas containing commas and hypotheses based on Merriam-Webster), and the sky is just turning twilight, and the breeze through the window invigorates me, I pull up to my humble home, where, through the frosted oval glass in my front door, I see a little girl jumping, so excited to see me. Behind that door, there is a husband who has missed me, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Though I have a couple more years to go, I have lots to look forward to—an internship, a creative nonfiction writing class, and yes, even a grammar class, because I am just that nerdy.
The first two parts were originally published as “First Times and Second Chances” (with minor edits due to hindsight) in the September 2017 issue of The Corsair, Pensacola State College’s student newspaper.