College & Your Career:Take Your Time

College & Your Career:Take Your Time was originally published on College Recruiter.

When first-year students come striding into higher education from every direction, they have one thing in common: the exhilarating sense that going to college will make some difference in their lives—that doors will open, that opportunities will multiply, that life itself will somehow get bigger and better. These expectations are well-founded. College does make a difference. Something is going to happen.

Mark Van Doren, poet-scholar-teacher, held the lifelong conviction that “more difference is made in a person going to college than anything else.” This judgment was based on the further observation that “the most distinguishing characteristic of a person is the quality of his mind.” These two ideas suggest that there is a whole lot more to going to college than trying to land a job after graduation.
But you wouldn’t think so to hear some people talk. Too often, parents and friends of freshmen expect the decision about what to do after graduation to be determined early, even before the student has walked into a college classroom for the first time. Too many freshmen apologize to their advisors because they’re still undecided about their major field of study and “what they want to do after graduation.”
You may feel compelled to define yourself not as a student but as a future something: future technician, computer analyst, accountant, actuary, teacher, doctor, lawyer—whatever. Even while you’re still a student, you’re asked to think of yourself as a prospective employee whose true usefulness will be in performing some corporate or professional function in society. You’re told to study something “practical,” something with a direct and immediate connection to a particular line of work with a good starting salary. You’re encouraged to choose a major that will speed you to the right place with the right stuff. Going to college becomes a stepping stone to a career rather than the chance for an education that the Greek poet Pindar describes as the chance “to become the persons we are.”
Those who define education in terms of a job or some other simple utility reduce the passion for knowledge to mere commodity, reduce education to mere instruction or vocational training, reduce the self to an object or a function.
This view and its consequences defeat the whole idea of intellectual excellence. These days, an excessive emphasis on education as career preparation generates widespread anxiety among college students. A premature careerism forces a loss of perspective; all the higher uses of education fall out of focus. You begin to ask nothing of your education except the promise of a diploma and a job at the end. You become competitive about grades and work long hours—not for the pleasure of study, but to get the “A” or “what will look good on a résumé” or to win an internship in a fancy corporation or a few more points on the LSAT or MCAT. All this hustle looks like seriousness of purpose, even commitment to study, when in fact it’s a materialistic search for what is immediately negotiable in the marketplace. It subverts the whole intention of true education.
A good education doesn’t define us as job-holders. There is more to us than that! A. Whitney Griswold, a former president of Yale University and a champion of liberal education, declared that the purpose of the best education is “to awaken and develop the intellectual and spiritual powers in the individual before he enters upon his chosen career, so that he may bring to that career the greatest possible assets of intelligence, resourcefulness, judgment, and character.”
Griswold reminds us that John Stuart Mill said much the same thing a century earlier. “Men are men,” said Mill, (and surely he meant “and women are women”) “before they are lawyers or physicians or manufacturers; and if you make them capable and sensible men, they will make themselves capable and sensible lawyers or physicians.”
There is so much agreement on the side of getting an education that’s worthy of the human person that we come upon the idea again in a witty remark by Jack Arbolino of The College Board, who describes “the lingering value of college” this way: “It’s so that later in life when you knock on yourself, somebody answers.”
So college advisors—and parents of students—need to be reassuring that the purposes of education are as broad and as deep as life itself. That the experience of learning, like the experience of living, is wide and various. That the course of a career, like the course of life, is wonderfully unpredictable. There is everything to learn and much to do in the world, and nothing that we know ever really goes unused or unneeded.
Here are three ideas that might help you keep a balanced perspective on the role of beginning to think about a career while you go about getting an education. These ideas can help you discover that you—that all of us—need an education not only to make a living, but to make a life.

  • First, think of yourself as a student, not as an apprentice for a job. Don’t think all that much about what you’re going to do after graduation, as though real life begins only then. Think instead about what you’re asked to think about (that is, what you’re studying), what you’re reading, what you’ve written. A student, after all, is someone who thinks, reads, and writes.
  • Second, try not to be too anxious about grade point averages. You have come to college not just to add up GPAs or to collect A’s, but to begin a lifetime of learning. Consider instead what you like to think about, what ideas hold your attention, catch you by surprise, take your breath away, challenge your prior assumptions, anger you, please you, confuse you. The purpose of all this thinking and considering is to discover the quality of your mind and the color of your imagination—to know yourself.
  • Third (and do pay particular attention to this!), study those subjects that most engage your mind, not what the job market designates as the surest, most lucrative employment after you graduate. If you study what you love, you’ll enjoy the process, not see it as a task or chore. You’ll also learn how to focus your intellectual resources and use your imaginative power to analyze ideas, systems, and structures of thought. In other words, you’ll come to understand what it’s most necessary to know.

You will have learned—incidentally, but no less deeply—what is in constant demand in the marketplace:

  • how to give your whole attention to something (whatever it is)
  • how to organize your forces against the completion of a task
  • how to be happy even when your work is demanding, perhaps even arduous
  • the exhilaration of achievement
  • the anticipation—the lure—of the next challenge.

You will have discovered a passion for knowing, for doing, for living—the vital signs of a good student and of an educated person.
Article by Josephine Trueschler and courtesy of

By College Recruiter
College Recruiter believes that every student and recent grad deserves a great career.