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An okay book, but I think it gives the wrong message about college.
on August 20, 2012
College is an interesting dilemma. It's a huge commitment in terms of time--4 to 5 years of your life--and in terms of money. At an average cost of $50,000 for 4 years at a public university and $128,000 for a private school, these are costs on par with buying a house. It's a whole lot on the line for an 18 year old. Even the brightest 18 year old kids lack life experience and can be overwhelmed by this whole new world. I know that I sure was at that age. It's a big step from the world you once knew. High school is free, generally a lot easier, and much more structured and restrictive. College, as the book points out, is not free, you have loads more autonomy and with it a lot more responsibility. It causes a lot of shell shock in teenagers. For that, I think this book is a great resource. I would encourage parents of college bound high school juniors and seniors to buy a copy. Read it ahead of time, and have your kid hang on to it when he or she goes off to college.
That said, I feel like there are some downsides. The book is far too casual about the academic aspect of college. It seems to focus on college less as a place to learn and prepare for a career, and more as a place to go for an experience. In scheduling classes, students are instructed to place higher priority on the identity of the professor who will be teaching the class than the content of the class. I find this is a bad lesson to be teaching kids. When you're out there in the working world, you have to deal with bosses and co-workers who may be difficult to work with, but you do it because you need to work and you need to deal with unpleasant people.
It further tries to teach the lesson that choosing a major based on the potential career prospects is a bad idea. I couldn't disagree more. I know it can be difficult to figure out what you want to do in life, particularly at such a young age. I've known kids who are in college but have no idea what they want to study. I think that maybe that kind of confusion means that maybe college is not right for them at this particular moment in life. College is way too expensive to just screw around trying to find yourself. I'm fortunate in that I have a mind built for computer science, mathematics, and engineering, so I mesh well with those sorts of in-demand fields. On the other hand, the liberal arts bore me to tears and I find the rote memorization and deep analysis of the issues that those fields demand to be a weakness for me. Some people don't take to mathematics, science, and engineering quite so well, and would likely fail if they tried a computer science major just because they thought it was in demand.
So am I saying that you should find out what the most in demand majors are and go straight for one of those? Not necessarily. If you suck at math, don't major in engineering. You will fail. I think you should be aware of the demand of various majors, consider your strengths and weaknesses, and TRY to see if one of those fits you. Think of where you excelled in high school, then research the job market, then consider what majors will play to those strengths. The book seems to imply that job market demand should not even be a consideration when choosing a major.
The book says that you should study for the sake of a love of learning. A love of learning is admirable. I enjoy studying history and the law casually, as a hobby. I don't pay tens of thousands of dollars and invest four years of my life on a hobby. When you look at college as an experience, rather than as career training, you risk falling in to the horror stories of the scores of young recent college graduates with mountains of student loan debt working menial jobs (or no job at all), trapped in a debt they may never repay. All because you thought that indulging your curiosities was more important than succeeding in life. College is a few years. Real life lasts for decades. If you enjoy the study of music, or art, or sociology, or history, or psychology or literature or whatever, you'll have a lifetime to do so at your own pace. College is an investment, not a hobby.
And this is where I think the book fails. By not being forward about the risks of being too casual about your college years, treating it like a 4 year social experience rather than what it should be--education for the purposes of upward social mobility and career preparation.