College is a Tool

I have been a student at UW for two years now, and before my time at UW, I was a student at a community college in Wyoming and where I took a few college classes while still in high school. One of the things I have noticed throughout my collegiate journey, is that there are two main approaches to college. The first approach by students, are those who focus solely on the educational aspects of it: go to class, study for exams, turn in homework, etc., but never really do anything else while in college. That may seem weird to say, never really do anything else in college, after all isn’t college just a continuation of your education? However, speaking from personal experience simply going to classes can be very difficult and while beneficial sometimes doesn’t always achieve the goals you set for yourself.

The second approach is to focus on what college can offer you. More specifically, what you can “do” while at college, what you can “experience” and what college “can do for you”. In this approach, classes take a back burner while extracurricular events take precedence. This is a very tempting option and is often preferred, this is understandable, seeing as it is so inviting. Who doesn’t like to have fun experiences, right? However, this approach usually means you go to all the home football games, you study abroad, join clubs, or perhaps go to half-acre gym regularly. With all that activity taking up your time; homework, classes or studying can be forgotten about or ignored in order to keep up with everything you’ve said yes to, again speaking from personal experience.

Then which is the right approach to college? As is common with college, the answer is a mix of the two, and there are a few reasons for this. One reason being the fact that while eighty-five percent of college is going to class, learning the material in your classes, and getting a degree, this is not all potential future employers are looking for. The reason why there are so many extracurricular activities available is because they can offer you experience in leadership, planning, people skills, or discipline specific skills that are desirable to employers. All of those are things that employers often look for and appreciate when reading a resume and having them means you stand out in the best way possible. One of my favorite philosophies, that highlights this concept, is from author and economist Thomas Sowell, and he says that the key to succeeding in America is to develop the skills and knowledge that people are willing to pay for, and this is achieved through hard work.

A seemingly insignificant choice of joining a club or taking an internship can have a long-lasting ripple effect that will impact you in ways you didn’t anticipate. One of the beautiful things about clubs, student organizations and internships is the people you can meet while participating in those activities. Everybody must start somewhere and oftentimes, opportunities can fall into your lap, or you can take slow but sure baby steps to get where you are aiming for. Either way participating in activities in college is a great way to build a network of connections for yourself, that will stay with you long after you graduate from college.

Another reason for a mix of both approaches, is because college is a tool, and you only ever get out, as much as you put into it. If all you focus on is going to class and passing your classes, you will gain knowledge from your time at college. If all you focus on is the experiences and “extra stuff” you will gain networks, and potentially get to know the right people through them. However, if you learn to balance both options you can graduate from college with a great resume that has extensive and diverse experience, good grades which show discipline and focus, and a network of people that will stay with you in whatever you decide to do.

Of course learning this balance is not easy, as the old saying goes: “If it were easy, everybody would do it,” and to that I say, you’re not alone. Make sure to know your own limits, don’t say yes to too many things, develop study skills that are customized to your learning style, talk to your TA’s, professors, advisors, and friends. Learning this balance is part of your college journey, just know that you’re not alone, it can be done and if you work hard you can and will succeed at whatever it is you choose to pursue!

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