What is college for: a reflection

Amanda Maltin, Contributing Writer

Recently, Nick DeMarchis ’22 sat down for an interview with Dean Kari Conrad to talk about her career at the University. She imparted a lot of wisdom about the college experience during the interview, including this piece of advice that she’s told her own children, “You got to love what you do, because you spend the majority of your life in your career and what you’re doing, so, you know, love what you’re doing,” Dean Conrad said.

COVID-19 and an era of rapid societal change has made the University’s environment different than it used to be. Student mental health worldwide is in a state of crisis. This in mind, I wondered if Dean Conrad’s sentiment about “loving what you do” still rings true for the current student population. I asked a few students if they felt fulfilled by their choice of major. 

“Honestly, the only reason I’m a business analytics major is because I heard you can make a lot of money at an accounting firm post-grad. I don’t necessarily find ANOP to be the most meaningful course on the planet, but it did help me secure an internship for next summer,” Hannah Sieg ’24 said. This attitude was pretty common across the student population. “I swear half the kids in my psychology courses are just scrolling through LinkedIn during class instead of listening to the professor, and it’s pretty sad, because the lectures are actually interesting,” Caroline Moriarty ’24 said.  

It is clear that students see college as a pathway to job security, but it does not seem like students are pursuing the majors that really interest them, rather the ones that guarantee financial stability after graduation. While stability is an important, reasonable objective for students, there seems to be a fundamental lack of “loving what you do” on the University’s campus.  

After I talked to a few students, I thought to myself – is it out of touch to even be asking these questions? Sure it’s sad that students are not intellectually piqued by all of their coursework, but is that just the reality of growing up and being an “adult”? And, in a job market that has become increasingly competitive over the years, is everyone “doing what they love” even a plausible option?

Maybe, maybe not. What I do know to be true is that this widespread apathy for learning should be addressed at the institutional level. Educating oneself for the sole purpose of finding a way to make money is antithetical to many of the University’s core values: including the desire to build a living, learning community in which students are able to collaborate to do great things for oneself and each other. The nature of education has become competitive and solely focused on the ability to achieve entry into a “sensible” career that will guarantee a livable salary but be anything but rewarding or interesting for the remainder of students’ lives.

As we wait for institutional changes to take effect, or to even be presented in many cases, a great way to avoid what can become a very funneled educational experience is extracurriculars. The University has a wide array of educational and extracurricular activities available to students – major-related clubs, student research opportunities and special interest groups are just a few ways students can supplement their experience at the University. Although these activities are yet another time commitment tacked onto the many responsibilities students already have, they play an important role in balancing our educational experience, and for students in rigorous majors these opportunities should be made more accessible so that all students are able to have access to a balanced college experience in which they can truly enjoy the benefits of University life.

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