By Isabelle Cachia-Riedl
I first enrolled in college at Portland State, which lasted probably a month. I put it on my high school graduation cap and everything. Then, I ended up running away to Arizona with my best friend instead. When that fell through, I went to University of California in Santa Cruz for maybe three months. UCSC, if you don’t know, is one of those hippie schools gone tech, so you find yourself around a lot of self-proclaimed deadheads (about 30 years too late) who do press pills and happily tell you all about their effective altruism plans and cryptocurrency. After, I did community college and loved it, but found out that being a landscape architect was way less cool than studying to be one, and it was back to square one. Now at 23, I’ve found myself at Brooklyn College studying creative writing of all things, with mostly elective credits under my belt and two more years ahead of me until I get the famed “piece of paper.”
I tell you all this because I think it makes me one of two things: the most reliable or the least reliable voice on the topic of college, and specifically why we go (and even more specifically, why I am going). This is something I’ve been thinking about for years. And I got one thing terribly wrong; I thought whether I was going, where I was going, and what I was going for said something about who I was as a person. People told me that I should go to college to get a better job, to go for the experience, to find myself, to form connections, or to go because simply not going was out of the question.
What they didn’t say was that I would enrich myself with knowledge and find time to write, think, and read; time that for many is only kept sacred during those four years at college. The problem is that the colleges are less and less concerned with this aspect of the experience. They focus on post-graduation employment rates, campus life, and star-studded faculty (who are way too busy to pay you any mind). And it costs so much! I think one of the reasons why is that they are selling us a better version of ourselves: a post-grad employee with plenty of happy memories to look back on and friends to show for it. It is harder to sell classes on art history for such an exorbitant price, but to be a happy and successful adult is invaluable. And so we empty our pockets for that piece of paper.
The professors are just about as screwed as we are. They are paid next to nothing to teach folks who are squirming in their seats, convinced they have something better to do. For the most part (with few exceptions), professors are invested in teaching you something they find worthwhile and think you would benefit from knowing. But colleges aren’t looking for good teachers in their professors, they’re looking for careerists who bring prestige to the school’s faculty page. Teaching is a different skill set than writing, researching, or whatever other career path teaching is a detour on. A person can certainly be good at both, but that is an exception.
I have found that the only way to keep myself attending college is to be hopeful for a full and exciting experience learning things that I wouldn’t get a chance to otherwise. I am still going for that piece of paper of course, I suppose I might need it down the line, but in the meantime, I am going to try and enjoy myself while using everything this place has to offer.
Think about why you are here, what you are doing with your time, and maybe try to get something out of it that isn’t just the credits. The privilege of an education is something to be cherished. Some of my favorite classes were in subjects I was required to take outside of my major, and I think I was only able to enjoy them because I engaged with them. I thought about them and cared about them all for just learning something, however “useless” and extracurricular it might have been.
I am not interested in telling you what to do, but I am interested in pointing out that we can still choose to go to college to learn. Even if we initially came here for the piece of paper, maybe we can stay for the education.