Thursday, September 30, 2010

The lessons of college translate well into real life

So many students today doubt the value of college because they don’t believe, first, that it has any practical value.  Will it prepare me for a job?  Second, time spent in college is time wasted when it comes to earning money, as far as they’re concerned.  And the more time that it takes, the more money lost.  Third, it is a lot of work, and they feel they have just put in a lot of work finishing high school, and they just can’t see putting up with a whole lot more of that “crap.”  

Often, for these students, it is just these kinds of sentiments that help destroy whatever value there is in a college education—if they decide to pursue it, that is.  Sometimes it is just these kinds of thoughts, too, that make failure in college a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It is obvious these students haven’t been informed about the lessons colleges teach, listened because the sentiments above have loomed too large in their short-sighted, narrow minded, unimaginative little minds, or believed they are true. 

Hard work.  There are numerous lessons colleges teach that translate well into real life.  It wasn’t unusual for me, as an adviser to many students (our major, speech-communication, often had the most students choosing it as their discipline in the entire university) to have freshmen come into my office who had just experienced their first examination failure.  One of their predominant thoughts was, “I guess I’m not cut out to be in college.”  It is a reflection of the society we live in today.  Failure is a signal to quit and not try harder. It is not a signal to try another approach or seek help at once.  What students don’t understand is that once they quit, it’s easy to do it a second time.  It’s exactly the same in life.  Why, for example, do people who decide to get a divorce rather than work at a marriage, discover that their second marriage is even easier to walk away from?  The statistics support it. 

College teaches students that if they want to succeed, they have to apply themselves.  It can’t be a second or third priority after work, relationships, or partying.  They must do things before examinations, during courses, after class meetings, and even on their own that will assist them in being the best they can be—applying all of their ability, talent, background, and knowledge to every assignment, project, paper, and examination.  To give less often results in evaluations that are mediocre, less than desirable, or even failing. 

Teamwork.  This may not immediately come to mind as one of the “lessons” college teaches, however, if you consider the number of discussion groups, organizations, work groups, clubs, sports, fraternities or sororities, and other associations to which students often devote their time, one can easily see that there may be no better training ground for teamwork than college.  It is certainly true to life.  In the basic speech-communication course I directed for over twenty years, one third of it was specifically devoted to group participation and leadership.  How many people can you think of who achieved success by themselves?  The ability to work with others and help make them become the best they can be comes from lessons learned through practice in teamwork. 

Rules.  Rules seldom bend.  Students may not like the rules, but they have to learn to live by them.  Whether it is attendance, a performance date, a due date for a paper or project, or the day and time for examinations, students have to play by the rules, or they are penalized.  Those students who are flagrant violators seldom succeed.  And when students cheat—to attempt to succeed on their own terms—whether they are caught or not, it is an unfortunate reflection of life, as well.  In some cases, when caught, they must learn the lesson the hard way.  Although nobody likes it and would prefer not discussing it, there are cheaters in life.  Sometimes they are caught, and sometimes they succeed in getting away with it.  Despite all of that, the rules remain. 

Rewards.  Just as in life, there are many different kinds of rewards in college.  Many are obvious, such as getting a good grade.  Some rewards are personal, however.  For example, because I directed a large basic course that involved public speaking, one reward I talked to my students about—especially my more shy or timid students—was just getting up in front of their fellow students and getting through a public presentation.  Forget about the critiques, evaluations, and grades.  “You have succeeded,” I would tell them, “and you deserve a personal reward of some kind, if you can just get up and successfully get through the speech you have planned.”  Sometimes it is just such private, personal goals that can be the most rewarding.  They can cause you to stretch and grow as nobody else would know or understand. 

It is the same way in life.  When there are no obvious grades to reward success, the private, personal goals can be even more motivational and rewarding.  Think about doing something you have never done before such as learning to play an instrument, climb mountains, sky or scuba dive, ride a bicycle cross country, or learn a new language.  When you have succeeded, just as you did in college, give yourself a well-deserved personal reward. 

Life.  Many times during my years teaching in college, I saw students turn their lives around because of a teacher’s influence.  It happened to me in a basic speech course I was required to take, and from a pre-medicine program that had occupied my focus for almost seven years, I changed to become a speech major.  To me, helping my students out of the classroom as an advisor was just as important as helping them become good students in my classes.  A course covers only a short period of life, and then it’s over.  A student’s life after classes, and how he or she lives it, is far more important. 

Even as a director and lecturer in a large basic course, I was able to help students with certain basic “lessons of life.”  For example, I lectured on time management, the importance of the language they use to express themselves, how to gain control of their lives,, the relevance of good organizing skills, how to establish credibility, and how to give the speech of their lives. 

Students need to understand that if the point of life is to not just to run the race but to succeed, college helps teach them that what they sacrifice today, they will gain tomorrow.  I know that for me college reinforced the importance of hard work, strengthened my ability to work as part of a team, underscored the value of playing by the rules, buttressed the role that rewards played in my life, encouraged my change in direction because of a teacher’s influence, and, in addition, deepened, enriched, and improved my ability to live beyond the college walls.  


At, the essay, “The value of a college education,” very effectively discusses the financial benefits and lists other benefits, too.  But what is the most interesting on this website are the 133+ responses to the essay.  The essay and all the responses are well worth your attention. 

At the, website, the essay by Katharine Hansen is entitled, “What Good is a College Education Anyway? The Value of a College Education,” is unbelievably thorough and complete.   If you want to be convinced of the value of a college education, this essay by itself will do the trick! 


Copyright September, 2010, by And Then Some Publishing, LLC.

1 comment:

  1. College also helped me want to always expand my horizons wherever I was working or whatever I was doing.


Essays, SMOERs Words-of-Wisdom, Fridays Laugh, book reviews... And Then Some! Thank you for your comment.