Yesterday, while making dinner, La and I were talking about college. Of course we want– and expect– all of our kids to attend college and get a degree. We have several adult friends who didn’t do that, and now due to various circumstances in their lives, they find themselves looking for a new job and having a hard time of it. Without a college education, it seems like most people end up stuck at a certain type of job with a certain salary ceiling.

We both agreed that there are definitely exceptions to the rule. Some who attend college end up in dead-end jobs anyway; some who don’t attend manage to have successful and lucrative careers despite a degree on their wall. But we both feel like college is a key element of success, at least in the working world. Coupled tightly with that is a drive, an ambition to do something more than work at Taco Bell or whatever.

Coincidentally, while reading my nightly news feeds, I stumbled across an article where someone had posted a question about whether or not he should attend college. He’s 19 and has been working on web and computer stuff for a few years, making a decent wage. He’s been attending a local community college to pick up a few credits here and there, but feels that it’s kind of a waste of time and money. So he asked the group (the Hacker News community) what they thought. Keep in mind that the audience is almost entirely made up of self-professed computer geeks (like me, hah) so there’s definitely a bias in the answers.

I thought the first response was perhaps the most insightful:

Go to college.

Take science to discover something you’re good at.
Take humanities to discover something you may love.
Take at least one art or music class.
Take at least one advanced math class.
Join a fraternity.
Learn how to play bridge (and play all night sometime).
Learn how to play foosball.
Get drunk.
Learn how to play foosball while drunk.
Play an intramural team sport.
Get a part time job.
Eat something you never tried before.
Get high.
Do original research.
Take a class you think you’ll hate pass/fail.
Do 5 minutes at a comedy club on open mike night.
Hang out with a professor you like.
Get laid.
Do a web start-up on the side.
Make a few friends for life.
Go to at least one party each week.
Pick a major you love whether it makes career sense or not.
Get someone who has written one of your text books to sign it.
Blog about your college experience.
Enter a college talent show.
Meet as many interesting (and boring) people as you can.
Read good books.
Go without shoes for a week just for the hell of it.

If you don’t go to college, exactly when do you expect to do all of this?

Although I don’t necessarily condone everything in that list, I did most of it in my college days. I think the reason I liked the comment so much is because it encapsulates exactly what I think college provides: a life experience. It’s so much more than books and classes and studying. It’s four or five years when you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience things you’ve never done before (and may never do again) while figuring out not only what you want to do for a career, but who you’re going to be for the rest of your life. For me, five years at UMR was absolutely life-changing. I saw new things, met new people, and in the end became a different person. I have lifelong friends from those few years. I keep in touch with a couple of professors and advisors. I cherish the things I learned and the experiences I had. For me, college was an amazing experience: one I’ll never forget or regret.

Yeah, maybe I’m thinking back on those “glory days” with a little more nostalgia than they deserve. But I really hope all of my kids elect to go to college and have those kinds of experiences for themselves.