This post may seem unrelated to minimalism, but I don’t believe it is. Minimalism is all about valuing experiences over things, right? What could be a more valuable experience than an education? You receive a formal education for a few years, but you carry its rewards around with you for life.
Another big part of minimalism is the commitment to live a life of financial freedom. You will read many blog posts and watch many videos of minimalists talking about how to get out of debt. Of course, one of the main causes of debt is college.
Some people are fortunate enough to get full-ride scholarships or to have parents who can afford to pay for their college educations, but many of us aren’t so lucky and end up accumulating a significant amount of debt during college.
Nowadays, many people are debating whether or not college is even worth the money. People argue, if you’re not guaranteed a job, why even waste the money? College must just be a great big waste of time and money that our capitalistic society pressures us into pursuing, right?
First, I would like to point out that finding a job is significantly easier if you have a college degree. There aren’t too many high-paying jobs out there that don’t require a college diploma. And it would be unrealistic to say that everyone is capable of becoming a successful entrepreneur straight out of high school. Few people are actually cut out for that. But honestly, that’s not even the main reason why I think college is worth the money.
I just recently graduated, and I believe my college career was worth the money for reasons that are less tangible than jobs and money. I’m going to talk about why I don’t regret going to college at all, despite the looming debt of student loans.
I’m probably going to sound like a real nerd, as for me, college was less of a social experience (introversion + commuting = hermit life) and more of an academic one. I didn’t work nearly as hard as I could have and often slacked off academically, but I kind of turn into a geek when I talk about all that I got out of college.
I gained more knowledge than I could have ever imagined.
This reason alone is worth every penny that I will have to pay back for my college education. Some people like to act as if college is just a waste of time in which you get blackout drunk at frat parties on the weekends and spend the rest of your time being taught a load of meaningless information that isn’t relevant to anything in life. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
I went to a liberal arts school, so I gained breadth of knowledge as well as depth of knowledge. Although my general education requirements could be a real pain, I am grateful for them now. I gained so much from taking a wide variety of classes. Sure, some classes were more valuable than others. But the majority of classes I took had immense value in some aspect or another.
It wasn’t until I was an upperclassman that I began to see how the different subjects I was studying connected to each other in a coherent and meaningful way. So many topics which seemed to have no apparent connection were in fact interwoven. The things I learned were applicable in multiple different contexts.
My litmus test for whether or not a class was truly meaningful is if I still speak about the things I learned in that class during regular conversation. There are multiple classes that I not only still think about, but that have been pertinent to the conversations I have had since. The things I learned about philosophy, literature, history, religion, psychology, and so on, are so relevant in how I see the world today. Many of those subjects were not politically charged or ideologically driven but contained timeless and neutral information that is relevant for everyone.
I know I would not be the person I am today if I had not gone to college. I would not know what I now know about a myriad of subjects. I would be far less well-informed and therefore far less aware of facts and events outside of my subjective experience. This knowledge has not made me more arrogant, but rather humbler, because it has made me more aware of how very big the world is and how much more there is to learn.
The truth is that few of us have the interest or motivation to thoroughly study all these subjects unless we know we will receive a grade. There will likely be no other time in your life in which you will take in such a significant amount of new information. This time should be cherished.
I learned empathy and open-mindedness.
What I value as much as the knowledge I acquired at college was the way that many of my classes taught me empathy and open-mindedness. Being exposed to so many different views and perspectives only made me more understanding of those who are different to me.
There were many classes I took which introduced me to perspectives and subjects that I previously had very little knowledge of. My literature major certainly helped with this, as studying literature has been known to improve one’s empathy. But there were several other subjects which increased my awareness of injustice in the world, such as history, education, and sociology/anthropology.
During college, I became aware of social justice and issues of inequality that I was completely ignorant of before. College took me out of my own narrow experience and introduced me to the experiences of others, both today and throughout history. I became profoundly aware of how the past still affects the present and how we must emphasize the importance of learning about history so that we never repeat it.
Most significantly, I learned to put myself in other people’s shoes, including those I disagree with. That is one of the most valuable skills a person can learn. There are few places in which you will meet as many vastly different types of people as in college. In secular universities, you are forced to interact with people who are completely different than you and who come from entirely different backgrounds and have differing worldviews. This is a beautiful thing. If you don’t learn to be open-minded when you’re young, it will only get harder the older you get.
I learned to take the good and leave the bad.
People like to talk about how secular institutions are indoctrinating their students into holding exclusively far-left ideology. I’m not going to argue that that isn’t true, because in many ways it is. Many universities do teach their students to be overly sensitive and narrow-minded, and even authoritarian in their viewpoints.
However, not every professor is waiting to indoctrinate every student who enters their class. Most of my professors were very kind people who seemed like they had no intentions of forcing students to think like them. Some of my favorite professors were people who had entirely different worldviews than my own. I could sense that there was mutual respect, and I didn’t feel pressured to believe anything.
What I believe is that it is every free-thinking student’s responsibility to think for themselves and to not blindly accept everything they are taught. If people are indoctrinated into one way of thinking, I believe that is essentially their own responsibility. No one can force anyone into thinking a certain way.
Being exposed to many different views, and to views which differed vastly from my own, only strengthened my ability to intelligently formulate my own conclusions about the world. Yes, I believe free speech and free thought should be more widely encouraged on liberal university campuses. But I don’t believe people should avoid these institutions out of fear of being “indoctrinated.”
I learned to chew the meat and spit out the bones. There are some liberal viewpoints that I agree with and believe are perfectly logical, so I take those into account. There were many views that I believed to be ridiculous, like the encouragement of emotional hypersensitivity and the belief that anyone who isn’t extremely liberal should be censored. I refused to adopt those beliefs.
Remain a free-thinking individual and learn to stand up for what you believe wherever you are, even if it stands in opposition to the popular viewpoint. You’ll be better for it. Don’t be bullied into believing anything, and think long and hard about all your views. Put logic and reason before subjective feelings.
I received opportunities I wouldn’t have had without college.
If I hadn’t gone to college, I would not have received the same opportunities. Granted, I unfortunately failed to take advantage of many of these opportunities. I didn’t study abroad and I didn’t join as many clubs or organizations as I wish I would have. I didn’t attend many events that would have been valuable and enjoyable. I kick myself for not doing more. But I still had experiences that I would not have had outside of college.
If I hadn’t gone to college, I wouldn’t have worked the same campus job, which I really enjoyed and where I met some great people. I would not have been able to complete a year-long senior research project on the topic of my choice, where I got to work one-on-one with a professor who was an expert on the era of literature I was studying. And to top it all off, I wouldn’t have gotten to hear Jennifer Garner speak at my graduation. What a way to end my college education.
There are so many great opportunities in universities that you just won’t find anywhere else. In college, you get to regularly interact with respected academics. You get to interact with published authors and poets and artists and composers. You get to go to free concerts and talks and conferences and all this other stuff that you won’t find in other places. Of course, I took this all for granted at the time, as most students do. But looking back, it was pretty darn cool.
I was challenged and pushed in a way that grew me.
Without college, I would not have had to face my fears and self-doubt in the same ways. Being stressed out by the high workload and having to juggle several assignments at once seemed pretty miserable at the time, but looking back, I know that it was good for me. It helped me to learn responsibility and to realize that I can handle more than I think.
Getting good grades on papers and receiving senior recognition for my senior research project gave me confidence in my academic abilities and made me realize that I was capable of more than I thought. It reminded me that hard work does pay off. Will it forever haunt me that my GPA was literally .01 away from Latin honors? Yes, yes it will. I could’ve done better and I certainly could’ve worked harder. But I still felt rewarded by all the times I did well on assignments.
As someone who has always struggled a bit with social anxiety, having to give presentations and participate in class was a real pain, but it pushed me out of my comfort zone in a way that was necessary for growth. As someone who likes to stay invisible, college was there to force me to be seen.
I took classes where I completely disagreed with what was being taught and quite frankly got a little pissed off. I took a weird dance class where I had to endure awkward physical contact with my classmates. I took an art class where I had to paint some old naked guy. I felt uncomfortable at times, but it was good for me. These are all experiences that have only given my life more depth and added a few laughs along the way.
When it comes to college, I don’t for one second regret going. The only things I regret were the things I didn’t do during college; the people I didn’t get to know and the opportunities I didn’t take advantage of.
I know that I will always watch the movie Liberal Arts and get nostalgic (seriously, it’s such a good movie, check it out). Because although college wasn’t all that I’d hoped it would be (I didn’t meet a significant other and I didn’t exactly find “my people”), it was worth all the sweat and tears.
College doesn’t have to be all safe spaces and political protests. It doesn’t have to be all Greek life and solo cups and one night stands and hangovers. College is what you make it. For me, what I value more than anything is the knowledge I gained in the classroom and the meaningful conversations I had with people who were different to me. That’s worth more to me than hazy memories of parties could ever be.
I believe an education is one of the most powerful tools one can acquire. Knowledge really is power. The things you learn throughout your college career can never be taken away from you. If you are truly invested in your education, even years later, you will continue to reap the rewards of all that you learned.
Even if you don’t end up making more money than you would have without a college degree (which is highly improbable), a formal education is not a waste of time or money. There are many meaningless things that we should regret spending money on, but I certainly don’t believe a solid education is one of them.