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What is the Purpose of a College Education?

Updated on January 11, 2013

by Vicki Parker

Upon the plains of hesitation bleached the bones of 
countless millions who, 
at the dawn of victory, 
sat down to wait, 
and waiting - died! ~ 
George W. Cecil

Are you trying to convince your children, your spouse, or even yourself that a college education is worth the expense and the effort. I would offer a re-sounding YES. But the purpose of a college education isn’t what you might expect. Science and history books keep getting thicker. Philosophy and psychology books just keep getting deeper. So there is no imaginable way an individual could learn all there is to learn, even in their major courses. Don’t fret yet! College is not designed to teach you everything about something OR even something about everything. Its purpose is not to make a jack-of-all-trades out of a student or to translate a student’s skill set into a career. It may do these things indirectly, but the far reaching goal of college is too multi-faceted to be summarized in a single paragraph. There is not one, but scores of reasons to get your degree.

One purpose of a college education is to help you decide what to do with your life. The core subjects may seem boring and lack the luster that electives do, but in each of them are subtle voices that hint affection or scream distaste. For instance, a core course in science may help a student realize his/her passion for geology or ecology. A core course in math may help a student realize a gift for numbers or a hatred for them. A core course in English may reveal hidden talents such as journalism or an undeniable weakness for the language arts.

College also helps you find your voice and teaches you how to use it as well as how not to use it. Almost all curriculums require some sort of public speech class. Almost all curriculums require you to write and present papers before your classmates and the professors. Almost all colleges require group projects or extemporaneous assignments. As intimidating as this may seem at first, once you muddle through that first assignment and gain acceptance, the experience will strengthen you emotionally and intellectually. It will show you what you are capable of and in this way it serves to motivate you to do more – more with yourself and more with your life. It creates a sort of invisible goal which before you even realize it will turn into a tangible goal, and then another, and then another.....

College also teaches you how to use the ghosts of your past as a catalyst, rather than a crutch. The classic excuse maker will not long survive the challenges of college. Pity parties are not popular hang outs. The faculty will not tolerate it and the campus is crawling with hundreds more that have obstacles far greater than yours. It may teach you compassion or it may provoke arrogance, but it definitively separates you from everyone else. You will either be inspired to achieve or left behind to wade in the shallow waters of excuses and self-pity. In this way, college teaches you the importance of self-motivation.

College will also teach you that true success has nothing to do with dollars and cents. It reveals the countless heroes of ancient and modern times alike, who staked their lives and fortunes for nothing more than what they believed in. It teaches both the price of freedom and the rewards that are reaped by sacrifice. An education opens your heart and mind to those who came before you and those that will come after you. It encourages reverence and appreciation. It is the chain that continues the curiosity of the human mind. It is the link to knowledge and without knowledge, there is no power. An education places your personal truths in the palm of your hand to take and mold them as you will.

The best return on any investment, is the investment you make in yourself. A college education will teach you what questions to ask in a world where it is merely impossible to know everything. It will teach you that for all that you cannot know, you can know enough to recognize what seems wrong or out of place. It teaches you what inspires and motivates you toward the higher purpose of your life. It makes men out of mice. It makes potters out of clay. It makes history out of martyrs and turns theory into empiricism. It separates the wheat from the chaff. It teaches perseverance, humility, and probably above all, college teaches you that life isn’t fair but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth living.

When you complete a degree, you may think you will be standing at the edge of the universe with the world by its tail. Instead, you will find yourself just a speck in the center of the universe looking light years into space for answers you may never find. But it will give you a sense of well-placed pride to know, that for all you don’t know, you do know your place in the universe. You will know and understand that small still voice inside yourself. You will know your limitations as well as your aspirations. You will know your weaknesses better than you know your strengths. You will be humbled by the infinity of knowledge. Some of you will be tempted to cling close to discovered shores, but for the most daring, you will be driven toward the abyssal plain of truth that quietly awaits you - your life’s purpose! So ask your children, ask your spouse, or ask yourself, what are you waiting on?


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      francisco 5 years ago


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      Vicki Parker 7 years ago from the Deep South

      Yes, born and raised!!! Along with many hundreds of intelligent, creative, and famous Americans who emerged from the sea of civil strife, ever looking forward .... Thank you for your post.