Wednesday, November 21, 2012

REASON 7: Tunnel Vision

Your future is brighter outside of the tunnel.

By now you've probably heard many people say that a college education opens doors.  In reality, a college education opens the door to a long, never-ending tunnel.  Upon entering college, a student exits a world where possibilities seem never-ending and enter a world where life is limited to a handful of cliche careers and grad school programs.

If you were to round up a group of five-year olds and ask them about their aspirations for the future, you would likely be surprised by the creativity in their answers.  Yes, you're certain to get the standard answers, like a cop or a teacher or a firefighter, but you'll also meet the aspiring professional wrestler or the future "explorer" or rodeo clown.

If you were to round up a group of college students and ask them about their aspirations, your answers would be less vibrant.  Sure, it's understandable that many students are in programs that will help them to enter rewarding occupations, such as nursing or engineering or accounting.  However, the shock comes from the lack of creativity you'll find from students who are supposedly "following their passions over being practical," the liberal arts students.

When you ask a group of liberal arts students what they want to do in the future, their answers range from a hesitant "I don't know" to a firmer "graduate school."  And it's no accident that the average college student lacks the bold imagination that even a group of five-year olds possess.

The dearth of boldness in liberal arts students can be explained by the fact that they're in an environment that limits their vision instead of expanding it.

Unlike the real world, which is filled with never-ending possibilities that are constantly intersecting, the university is an artificial world where everything is neatly classified and divided.  The typical campus is broken up into colleges devoted solely to liberal arts or sciences or business.  The university represents the "professional world" through its grad school programs in medicine or law or education.  It is no surprise that after four years in this environment, the student will begin to also see the broader world as a similarly rigid place.  

There are consequences to this university-induced tunnel vision.  Consider the phenomenon of underemployed or unemployed master's degree holders.  Hindsight tells us that they might have been better served to enter the job market or start a business than to pursue a graduate degree in Medieval Literature with the lofty goal of teaching at a community college.  Yet when a student is surrounded by other people who believe that higher education is the only option and who believe that every endeavor that matters in life requires an admissions essay, taking on even more debt to go to graduate school seems more appealing than facing the unknown.

Often, it is the people we meet that expand our opportunities for employment or adventure.  It's often the random acquaintance who has room for one more on a last-minute trip to Brazil or who's looking for someone right away to staff a new startup.  But the people who can offer you true variety in life are often outside of the university.  

If you plan to pursue one of the careers that universities are well equipped to train you for, such as medicine or finance, then you'll be well-served to attend college.  If your career goals are less defined and you crave an environment that reveals opportunities rather than restricts them, why not give the real world a try?

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