A few months ago I had an afternoon meeting that was scheduled down the street from my alma mater. Since I was still on the clock but the drive back was treacherous, I wandered over to the Student Center to finish out the day.
I graduated from college almost 13 years ago. Since returning to my home state, this was my first real visit.
I hated college.
It was too conservative. It was too liberal. It was too small; it was too big. We took ourselves too seriously. I took myself too seriously. It was a predominately white institution and there were plenty who took it upon themselves to remind us that we weren’t welcome. I know that I wasn’t supposed to, but I took that ish personally.
On top of that my clothes were always too tight. And I was weird.
And not in the cool, hip, self-aware kind of way that I am now. Not in the Robin Williams kind of way. I shared too much. I didn’t share enough. I was always worried about being invited and having a seat at the table.
I liked MMMbop and boy bands. I wanted to meet Robert Frost. I liked Beowulf. I could quote Act 3, Scene 2 from the Friends, Romans, countrymen monologue by heart (and I was proud of that!).
I was a white evangelical Christian (more on that later).
Sitting in the lobby, now 13 years my senior, I realized that everything they say about college is true. College isn’t the answer, but the answers might actually be there.
1. Identity & Culture
On Who You Are & Why That Matters
Finding yourself takes time. Some might argue that it is a luxury. In college, you have more time at your disposal. More time to craft the schedule that suits you and to choose the hobbies, activities, and events that you enjoy. Not every school is the same, but on the whole, there are more opportunities for self-expression and self-discovery in college than in any job I’ve ever known. And I’ve had more than 22.
On Who’s In Charge & What That Means
Due to sheer quantity and proximity, there are more examples of leadership to choose from, emulate, or critique. You can develop solid mentors and create meaningful networks that will sustain you for a lifetime.
My college friends were fearless. I looked up to them; I learned from them. It wasn’t so much their confidence that I admired, but their ability to craft a plan and to execute it. They were detailed and meticulous. Their theories were well-researched, evidence-based, and sustainable. They were thoughtful, compassionate, and wise. They were business savvy, entrepreneurial, and had emotional intelligence.
Good leaders are everywhere; they’re not solely reserved for academic, potentially elitist spaces. But good leaders are bred and fed by their communities, and because of the communal aspect that college can provide + opportunities to explore identity and culture; we may find our leaders there.
3. Work/Life Balance
I went to college four times (but it wasn’t completely intentional). The first was undergrad. The second was dual enrollment in an Alternative Teaching Certification program and a graduate program in elementary education. The third was law school. The fourth was a Master’s in Instructional Leadership/Education Policy.
The first, second, and third were private. The fourth was public. If I can say so without disrespecting my alma maters, I didn’t learn very much. It wasn’t the school’s fault. It wasn’t necessarily my fault either.
I say this to say that sometimes it can take us more time than we think to find a career or to make a life that satisfies us. Sometimes it’s because we weren’t thoughtful and intentional. Sometimes it’s because we were. Sometimes it’s the recession’s fault. Sometimes it’s our mom’s. (Just kidding momma.)
Sometimes work/life balance is simple. You just need a shorter commute. You need time for a walk. You want a closer gym. You need a closer grocery store. You need a more flexible schedule. You need time for naps. You want your friends closer. You need someone to play volleyball with.
Voila! College (usually) has it all. Work/life balance solved.
Because I’m Not Making Two Trips
At the risk of sounding unromantic or crass, it really is a numbers game. The more opportunities for love/marriage, the greater your chances (if love/marriage is your aim).
I hated dating. I was weird and melodramatic. I didn’t like being touched. At my small liberal arts school it was hard to find people I could connect with; in the years afterwards it was considerably harder.
If for no other reason than proximity and access, college has the answers here too.