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What's the Point of College, Really?

Idealism tends to prevail when we consider the overarching purpose of a college education. It's also worth considering that plenty of people don't end up working in the fields they're formally educated in. Theoretically, the 'point' of going to college is to learn and grow. But is a more practical approach necessary?

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By Sarah Wright

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What's the Point?

There are a lot of reasons to attend college, but there doesn't seem to be a consensus on the 'point' of getting an undergraduate degree. One of the main benefits of a college education is the exposure to new ideas, experiences and people. Sure, some people choose to go to college close to home, and never really branch out of the routine they've developed for themselves since high school. But they're still getting the benefit of taking classes developed by people with years of academic experience in a specific field. This alone can expand one's horizons.

Granted, one doesn't have to go to college in order to get this kind of experience. But it certainly does help. After all, undergraduate school is the first step of an advanced education. A good vocabulary, stellar written communication skills, analytic ability and exposure to new and interesting cultural perspectives are just a few of the important benefits one can get from a college education. These are all skills and abilities that add up to a more mature, complete adult.

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A Road to Maturity

The abstract benefit of expanded horizons and a more mature, complete worldview is one of the ideal reasons to attend college. Under this philosophy, the 'point' of attending college is simply to become a more generally educated and intellectually mature adult. This allows teenage kids to go through an academic wringer and come out as settled adults ready to join the 'real world'.

It's rare that you'll find someone who was completely unchanged by their college experience. Most people tend to have both good and bad experiences that help teach valuable life lessons that could never be learned in a book or classroom. Even people who crash and burn in college tend to learn something about themselves that's worth knowing. And since the expectation for most college students is that they'll leave the academic world eventually, this can be a valuable opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. Overall, it can easily be argued that the 'point' of college is to transition to adulthood.

Reality Check

Though we can say that college ideally serves to cultivate a more mature and educated populace, it's important to separate idealism from practical decision making. Many people feel that education for its own sake is important, but that might not be the most relevant point of view in today's world. The fact is that there are a lot of career paths that look for specific degrees. You might not be able to get whatever job you want if you graduate from college with a degree that has limited practical applications.

In a perfect world, we'd be able to study whatever interested us most without having to worry about the consequences. There are plenty of benefits to getting a degree in, say, English, but at a certain point, the snide jokes about being a Ph.D. fry cook have a basis in reality. It may seem unsavory to some, but the fact of the matter is that we seem to be transitioning more and more to an educational system that is heavily focused on career preparation.

Can you ever really 'waste' your college education? Some would say that there's no such thing as squandering a degree.

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