Finding More Than Yourself in College

Today's college students face a serious challenge. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, "the Great Recession has left many recent college graduates struggling to find jobs that utilize their education." But more intriguingly, their study suggests that "such difficulties are not a new phenomenon." It has become more acute in recent years, but college graduates have been having difficulty finding employment for a long time. While numerous underlying factors could be theorized, allow me to suggest a rather simple explanation and offer a solution.

2015-07-23-1437694275-6566533-17206204563_bf18afec8b_q.jpgFor generations, college-going students have sought out the rites of passage that make up the college experience. After all, college cannot only be about attending classes, doing homework and taking tests. Young people need extracurricular activities to help them develop into well-rounded adults.

For many students, this takes the form of pledging a fraternity or sorority, or joining a club or organization on campus. For others, this might be participating in intramural sports or attending intercollegiate events. Student athletes spend a considerable amount of their time representing their college while engaging in their chosen sport. Other students seek out the arts and develop their performing talents. All are wonderful supplemental activities and can help round out the college-going experience. However, if students want to get the most out of college, they need to engage in these activities but not allow them to become a distraction from their academic endeavors.

I don't want to sound like a complete killjoy, but my fear is that too many students focus more attention on their extracurricular activities and not enough on their curricular studies or that too many students shortchange themselves while in college by selecting the easiest major they can find and doing the very minimum they can to just "get by" in their classes. This ill-advised behavior is sometimes referred to as "majoring in the minors." If students are not taking their education seriously, is it any wonder why so many graduates have difficulty finding jobs? Like so many other things in life, you will get out of college what you put into it.

Students need to keep perspective on what is important while attending college. I have never really understood why a college education seems to be one of the few things in life that people want the least they can get for their money. It's almost like going to a car dealership and paying for an expensive new sports car but being perfectly happy driving off the lot in a beat up used minivan. I just don't get it. If an education is supposed to be valuable and good for you, wouldn't you think that students would want to get the most education they can for their tuition dollars? But far too many students want the experience more than they want the education.

In an ambiguous pursuit to "find themselves," indecisive students can waste valuable time and money hoping for an epiphany to occur that will somehow reveal their true direction in life. What these young people need to realize is that college should not be where you go to "find yourself," it should be where you go to "find yourself a job." If students place the wrong priorities in college, or select the wrong majors, or fail to apply themselves to their studies, they might find themselves in the wrong place after graduation. If they are not careful, they will find themselves standing in an unemployment line or find themselves moving back in with their parents after graduation, and I don't think this is really what anyone is seeking from their college experience.

College is an excellent place to enrich your life and to discover many of the things that you most desire. The college experience can be filled with opportunities for more exploration. Typically, you can find whatever you dedicate yourself to in college. If you are looking for a good time, you are almost guaranteed to find it in college. If you are looking for lifelong friends and relationships, you can probably find them too. If you wish to pursue an interest in a subject area, this is easily done because college can certainly be about the joy of learning. But if you are looking for a livelihood, a professional career, or a way to comfortably support yourself and your family in the future, you can definitely find this too. You can achieve your loftiest goals if you are willing to apply yourself and seriously make them your priority while you are in college.

Not all college experiences are the same and not all college majors are equal. You will truly get out of college what you put into it. If you take lightly your college education, don't be surprised if you are disappointed with what you find after graduation. But if you take it seriously and challenge yourself, you will grow as a person and will find far more than yourself in college. So, what are you looking for in college?

Photo courtesy Yasmeen.