The summer before I started college, I was filled with anticipation. Ahead of me were four years when I could pursue my academic interests in an environment dedicated to learning. I would share and cultivate new ideas and build ambitious plans for the future with the smart, engaging professors and students I would meet. Almost everyone I talked to assured me that my years in college were going to be the best years of my life, revolving on an axis of learning, thinking and collaboration.
I am now three-eighths through my college career. Looking back on these three semesters, I find that college is unquestionably a fantastical world — but not in the way I expected.
In college, learning — in its purest form — is not prioritized. To the contrary, it seems that the general objective for many students is to learn the least and still do well on evaluations. This strategy of doing the bare minimum, moreover, is often as successful as the full-effort approach. It is probable that the student who puts in minimal effort will achieve the same exam scores as the student who puts in maximum endeavor.
Students are often rewarded for cutting corners. I have observed that it is rare for students to attend all their lectures in any given week. For introductory classes, many students go to only a handful of lectures the entire semester. They use the textbook to complete their homework assignments. At midterm and finals periods, they cram enough to pass the exams. For most students, this strategy brings free time for other interests and social activities; often, it can culminate in a very good grade Although the student may have acquired knowledge during the semester, the class was not about learning.
In college, many professors and students set high exam scores and excellent grades as the ultimate goal and appear to be ambivalent towards class participation. Especially in science classes, grades are often entirely based on exam scores. Professors rarely recognize passion and perseverance in college. Achieving high exams scores, however, is not equivalent to learning.
If one sporadically or rarely attends class, does that count as going to college? High schools require their students to attend a minimum number of school days in order to receive a diploma. So why should not the same rules apply for college?
One could learn from a textbook without paying tens of thousands of dollars a year. Generally, a college degree is required for a decent white-collar job. But is college preparing us to become diligent employees? Does college teach the right message concerning work ethic? Perhaps the training we receive in college does not prepare us for our post-college vocation. We go to college expecting the University to prepare us for post-graduate life. Is it the school’s responsibility, therefore, to demand that we be more than good test-takers?
In college, we learn the art of cutting corners to achieve arbitrary grades. But this rarely seems to work in life beyond college. As my dad often reminds me, in the words of Woody Allen, “90 percent of life is just showing up.” Both my parents attribute their successful careers to hard work, persistence and diligence. Dedication, diligence, passion and drive are essential to success and fulfillment in life.
In two and a half years, when I graduate and enter the real world, what will get me where I want to go? Will it be cutting corners or perseverance? Perhaps these four years in college are the only years of my life when assiduousness, diligence and dedication are not the keys to success.
Maybe college, neglecting to instruct us in the practical and essential strategies for life, does not train us for the real world. Perhaps colleges and universities need to rethink the values they instill in their students — and reevaluate how they might teach the importance of tenacity, perseverance and dedication.
Wendy De Wolf is a sophomore in Morse College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.