Written by Pranav Singhania
The popular and rather ‘trendy’ opinion you would hear is, it’s an absolute waste of time. But looking past the rather extreme opinion and dwelling deeper into some by-products of college life, I can say it definitely runs much longer than needed but still serves as an experiential necessity for the masses.
College life comes at such a crucial stage in an individual’s life where they are being put into the final or penultimate personality moulds. Talking from the non-academic perspective, there’s so much flux, this is the first time you’re meeting people outside of your schools, outside of your city and state. Being in a country like India, you’ll most likely be meeting people from diverse backgrounds which opens up your mind. You exchange ideas, you develop and pick up likes & dislikes from each other, right from stand-up comedy, books, to music, food, and beliefs. At this point, most of us haven’t shaped our own opinions, we are just grasping the world around us, we are learning novel perspectives, practices, and ideas, unknowingly without much effort. You end up learning new skills or mastering them and in the process bond with people over it. Some of us transform from introverts to ambiverts to even extroverts and vice versa. If you put yourself out there, you might improve your people skills. You discover new passions (and vices) given that you’re finally independent (well, sort of). For some, these discovered passions become the subsequent path for life. Some even go on to find the love of their lives, or at least a lesson or two about relationships, maturing their concept of love. You probably experience or truly understand “passion” for the first time, either for someone or something. Some get luckier to experience an added layer with the hostel life experience. I’ve barely heard from anyone that they don’t miss their hostel days. You learn how to co-exist, compromise, and empathize. Rationing becomes a survival skill you learn subconsciously on the go. I don’t think we need to even measure the friendships we gain through this journey.
Most importantly, if I were to be brutally honest, the vast majority of us lack the discipline. How do you think most adolescents would utilize their time if they weren’t in some way time-bound? How would they operate if there was no structure and absolutely no rules? Self-discipline is hard, especially in this era of innumerable distractions. It is so easy to be lost, particularly at that age where nothing makes sense, everything’s muddled up, you don’t have answers to most internal questions and you’re experiencing a ton of emotions for the first time. Not saying that it’s absolutely impossible, I believe the ones who know exactly what they want and have some first few steps to get there chalked out, find it relatively easier to inculcate self-discipline. But at that age, most people are yet to figure this out, so it’s simply hard to stay on track when you don’t even know which track you need to take.
Coming to the education aspect, I will give my perspective from my engineering background. I agree what we are taught is mostly archaic, and the curriculum is kilometers (sounds weird right?) away from the industry. But some of the fundamentals are easily applicable across any new technology, however you would have to pay attention to filter these from the noise. If you look closely, it is very much like, what you learn in college are the alphabets (sometimes archaic), few words and some form of sentence structure, if you end up writing/speaking like Shashi Tharoor is totally up to you. It also plays the part of giving you a flavour of the innumerable sub-streams the industry has to offer. College life could’ve been used in two ways, either to explicitly steer each individual to more focused streams based upon a scientific assessment and evaluation of acumen and strengths early on, or we could give everyone a level 2 understanding of the various sub-streams so the students make the choice for themselves. Today, we unfortunately do absolutely nothing to guide students to filter the sub-domains of interest, organically or explicitly.
Coming to the duration, is 4 years really worth it for all of this, given that by the end of it we aren’t even setting them up directionally? 4 years, certainly not, 2 to 2.5 years sounds about right, we could go a lot leaner with the curriculum focusing on cross-domain fundamentals and get the best out of college life for everyone. And then there is a laundry list of life skills that could be covered in college, right from personal finance to tax management, written & oral communication at the workplace, flavours of drastically diverse fields (to open up the mind and perspective), abstract problem solving and much more. All of this is far from reality hence it comes down to each individual discovering these at their own time (hopefully sooner than later).
So to summarize how do you play this smartly? If you’re someone who hasn’t figured your path for life already and can afford a college education, leverage the structure of the college, build relationships, discover your own personality and also build it by expanding your horizons. From an educational perspective, just do enough to stay afloat, somewhere close to the median so that your opportunities aren’t restricted. For example, an 8/10 CGPA might give you as many or almost 95% of the opportunities a perfect 10/10 or 9/10 would give. Utilize the time you hence saved, to further explore domains beyond the walls of your college and the boundaries of your curriculum. Treat college life as an expedition to discover everything you truly dislike. If you do end up identifying something which piques your interest, double down on it, there’s no excuse in today’s abundantly resourceful world to being bounded by what you’re learning in college. Add to it some common life skills you would require irrespective of your chosen domain and you would have got the good from both the worlds. Going against the system, dropping out of college, all of this definitely sounds brave & sexy, but most of us are ill-equipped to put up that fight without crashing and burning. Until we fix the system, we have to live in it, make the most of it, with limited friction and countermeasures to deal with its flaws.