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College: the real reason to go

As children we are told going to college is our ticket to success.

I went to a small private school from kindergarten through eighth grade. I was one of 300 students told a college education is worth its price because it gives me undeniable credibility for the rest of my life.

While most of my classmates went to private high schools (because, they said, you have a better chance of getting into top universities if you attend a private high school), I chose, to my parents’ relief, to attend a local public high school.

Now I am back in private school, here at Mills College. Full-time tuition is $35,196 a year and after adding the student activity fee of $140, the transportation fee of $96, the campus comprehensive fee of $896, the insurance plan of $2,024 and room $11,480, we are talking about $49,832 to attend school for one year even without the meal plan required for residents. I have the cheapest meal plan at $4,198, so my annual cost of attendance is $54,750. I do not pay out of pocket at all. I have scholarships coming out my ears and loans that will cost me dearly in a couple of years.

It is not so much the cost that worries me, it is the fact that people are paying for the wrong reasons. As a recent Financial Times blog points out, you can be successful without graduating or even going to college. College is for those who want to continue learning in a structured environment.

I am not going to pretend I am attending college just for the pure and simple joy of learning. I could not see myself working a 9-to-5 job right now and learning is something I love. But I am also going to college because I want a good job and going to college is the only way I know to do that. But why is it that I do not know of any other path to success? Because no one ever taught me that there was another way.

When I was younger, I wanted to be an actress. My family was supportive, for the most part, but they saw going to college as a much higher priority because the probability of succeeding as an actress is very low – which is entirely true and I have them to thank for the insight. But they never told me I could indeed be an actress for the rest of my life. They never told me it could be a career if I worked really hard. It wasn’t until after the dream passed that I realized acting could have been my profession. Success in this profession may be rare, but it is not impossible. My life could have been meaningful – even without going to college.

Education is important – there is no doubt about that – but if we start molding education to fit students’ individual interests early on, families can save hundreds of thousands of dollars on education. By allowing students to focus on their interests from the beginning, those who do not need or want to attend college will not feel pressured to do so. Interdisciplinary education is important, but if you study a specific subject long enough, you will find all the subsidiary topics of that subject.

Instead of forcing federally mandated standards for math, science and English, we should support each student in their areas of interest and show how such areas of interest incorporate all other areas of study. Thus students will not only be more engaged in school, but we can more accurately portray the meaning of success, without defaulting to the idea of “college” as the only key to success.