As I sat in my college apartment the day before graduation, I asked myself, “Why did I really come to college?” The answer was that when I was in high school, people told me that I should go in to finance, get a fancy investment banking Wall Street job, and live a life with Louboutin heels, a grand penthouse in midtown Manhattan, and a corner office with a view. Then, I could retire at 40 and travel the world with the love of my life and 2 kids. My parents’ thought process was similar to that of many other Indian families. My degree options were, of course, computer science, IT, medicine, business, or law. While these were wonderful options for job security and long-term growth, they weren’t what I wanted for my life.
I grew up with the mindset that a college education was my ticket to living a comfortable life. I would have to struggle hard for four years, maybe six years with a masters degree, if I so chose, and then the rest of my life would be smooth sailing. I would be able to afford luxuries, not live paycheck to paycheck, and not struggle like my parents and grandparents had. Others outside my family told me that going to college would enable me to work a real job and not flip burgers at the local fast-food joint.
Despite everything I thought college would do for me, college did not quite happen how I thought it would. What college did do was help me find myself, understand myself, and grow into a new person. I learned about emotional intelligence, how to love myself, how to speak in front of a crowd, and how to push myself when I thought I had no energy. In fact, college enabled me to be able to think for myself, and not seeing a 9-5 in my future was OK. I wanted more from life; I wanted to travel the world full-time and own an online business. I wanted to be able to retire at 40 and not slave away for someone else. I was ready for hard work but definitely did not see this traditional lifestyle for myself.
Staying on campus most definitely helped me define who I was and what I wanted.
I grew, learned, and flourished, but my actual degree left me with a void. Graduation day rolled around, and I realized I had done everything for my family. While I loved my family and knew pleasing them was important, I realized I had spent so much time and effort doing something I wasn’t passionate about.
Had I been passionate about business and craved the lifestyle I was told to live, this college experience would have been an amazing opportunity. For those who desire a career in STEM fields, such as engineering or medicine, college is a great opportunity to have hands-on experience. Hands-on experience is really important, which is why internships and jobs will teach you more than a book will. Performing experiments in a lab, putting money into the stock market, or even signing on as an apprentice is infinitely more valuable than taking multiple-choice exams and memorizing theory.
Before committing to entering a university, define what you want in life.
If you want to be a doctor, then by all means, get your butt to university ASAP However, if you are unsure about where you want to go in life, consider taking a year off, define where you want to be, and decide if college can help take you there. Those who tend to be the most successful are able to define what they want and create a plan for how to achieve their dreams.
The average millennial walks out of college with a cute square hat and 30k in debt. There are few career paths that are worth that much debt. This is not a discouragement piece telling you to completely avoid the system. This is a sign for you to define exactly what you want in life. If you cannot figure that out yet, that is fine. Once you have figured out where you see yourself in 10 or 15 years ask yourself, “Is this path connected to a college degree and, if not, is it really worth going to college?”