Since the majority of the current traffic to my site is motivated, high achieving students (who else would be wanting to practice mental math over the summer?!), I thought I’d spend a short amount of time talking about my path to where I got to currently and share a few valuable things I’ve learned along the way.
For starters, I know personally how important where you go college means to you. If you were anything like me, that decision occupied the majority of your senior year of high school. Additionally, you can’t help but compare where you go with other people. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would go to Texas Tech — especially after I got into some other top tier universities. Nothing was more depressing as I sat on the award’s podium at TMSCA State sharing with the newsletter writer that I was going to Tech after hearing my fellow winners rattle off a seemingly top-ten list of prestigious universities (Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Cal Tech, etc…). At another time, I’ll talk a bit more about my decision making process of going, for free, to a state-school rather than accepting student loans to go to a more renowned university…
Anyways, one thing that I now learned, with the help of hindsight, that I didn’t particularly think much about back then is how college is a means to end rather than the end itself. No doubt, you are so wrapped-up in completing all your essays, applying for financial aid (whether it’s scholarships or FAFSAs), and prioritizing where you want to go with every admissions letter you receive that it’s tough to take some time and reflect on exactly what you want to use college for and how it can help you advance towards some of your over-arching life goals. I know, heady “adult” stuff for 17/18 year-olds to think about.
Nowadays more so than ever, what you study in college — especially for your Bachelor’s Degree — will not be applicable in 99% of things you will need to do for your future profession. So why do we go through this costly routine if it doesn’t matter? The simple answer is to show future employers (or reaffirm to yourself, if you are fortunate to have entrepreneurship tendencies) that you can do something hard and can challenge yourself further than you have ever challenged yourself before. Although we think of college as a quantitative judge of character (what was your degree, your GPA, your GRE score, etc…), in actuality it is a qualitative one. The most important things you can learn while at university are not Maxwell’s equations or the litany of Joyce’s obscure allusions in Ulysses, but rather stuff like proper time management, self motivation, goal setting (and achieving), and work-life balancing.
And these qualitative lessons are applicable wherever you decide to go. Even if you go to an non-elite university where the coursework is a breeze for you, there are always additionally opportunities that you can find to push yourself forward and help improve on your character . I tell yourself as someone who learned this lesson the hard way. I spent my first year at Tech mostly brooding about easy I had it and how unchallenged as was — wishing a lot for just something more. What I slowly realized is that if I wanted to challenge myself, I can’t relay on others to do this, I have to rely on myself. This idea, what some would call “grit,” was the number one thing I took from college, and needless to say, I didn’t learn it from a textbook. As a direct result of my sudden personality change, I approached professors to help with Putnam training, enrolled in graduate-level courses early on in my under-grad, wrote IEEE student papers, and the list goes on… These are all things I did mostly outside of my classes to become a better person — both from a technical as well as from an inner-human perspective. Even with these few activities I did during my undergrad, it started a chain reaction that led me to where I am today: it led to my getting considered and accepted into an all-expenses-paid dual-degree graduate program that I got to do in Denmark and Germany → my securing an awesome job at the height of the financial crisis when good jobs were hard to come by → my current career advancement and my successful completion of my MBA → and no doubt it will lead to where I want to be in the future, whatever that is.
So when you are choosing colleges and where to go to, please don’t lose sight of what exactly is the worth of college. To be honest, most universities teach the same material in their classes, but it’s what you decide to do to push yourself beyond the lessons that will lead you to the true value of that degree.