The title of this post is a question that I get asked a lot. For my students it is a running joke because they know I won't tell them. What I will tell them is why I won't tell them (yes, I am a complex person).
College acceptance letters are coming right now which means that an entire generation of students are anxious and worried that their lives will not turn out as they planned if they don't get into XYZ college. The pressure is intense from the job market, parents, schools, and peers and the question I have is why? Not why do we push college, but why do we push the top universities as if they have something special that cannot be offered elsewhere?
When I was in high school, I hung out with the geeky/nerdy crowd. Yet I did not make the same choices as them in high school and so when our senior year came around, they received letters from Harvard and CalTech and I was accepted to the only school I applied to. I ended up joining the Navy and taking the long way around and while many of my friends were graduating, I was discharged from the military and just entering college.
I received a lot of training in the military, I was an Electrican's Mate (Nuclear) and learned a lot in a very short amount of time. I also continued my own research and learning during that time and so when I finally entered University about 5 years after graduating high school, I had already learned and experienced a lot. Looking around me, I realized that for many, college was just an extension of high school. The classes were structured the same, the homework was similar (perhaps slightly longer), and student's attitudes were much the same. There were those who cared and those who didn't.
What I learned was true for college is true for life. It is what you make of it.
My university was very small and while my peers were getting a "superior" education with class sizes in the hundreds, I learned calculus with only 5-10 fellow classmates. All of my professors knew me personally and we had incredible 1-1 talks for hours about physics, philosophy and educational pedagogy. Please tell me if any of your Ivy League buddies had a chance to do that?
Now this wasn't common at the college, I pursued these opportunities. I made my passion and interest known and worked harder than anyone else I knew so I could make the most of my time with these great minds. Yet, if I were to say where I went to college most of you have never heard of it.
Last year, our school was hiring engineering teachers and since I teach robotics I was interested in ensuring that the teachers would be as incredible as the students. I would have conversations with the candidates asking, "what would be the coolest project you could do" or "what are you passionate about"? After a while they would ask me, "what college did you study engineering at?" I always laugh when I hear that question and respond, "YouTube University" or the Library. Aside from the Navy Nuclear Power Training Classes, I never took an official engineering class in my life, but that has never held me back from helping my students learn to design, build, program, and innovate.
One day, I was talking to my Dad about whether or not he felt it was more difficult to be a cinematographer without having gone to film school. He said it was quite the opposite, because he had never been forced into a mold or a certain way of thinking he was always seen as thinking outside the box, when the truth was he had never been put into a box in the first place.
Here is my advice, if you are a student and you do not get into the college of your dreams, don't worry about it, make the best of it. You will not be held back by what college you went to. In fact very few people care which college you went to after you graduate. I know Harvard graduates who are unemployed and I work alongside colleagues who went to far more prestigious (and expensive) universities than I. I am achieving all of my personal and professional goals because I am working to make them happen. All of these supposed barriers like which college you went to, your GPA, financial status, etc; these things will only hold if you let them, so don't!
Make your life what you want it to be and don't let anyone ever stop you from achieving your dreams.
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