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Patel: Focus on learning at college, not just job market

Meera Patel, Columnist

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When colleges were first instituted, students attended solely because they wished to learn more about a particular subject and broaden their knowledge base. These days, however, the overwhelming reason for earning a college degree is to secure a job.

I changed my major last summer, and when trying to decide what subject to pick, people kept telling me it didn’t matter what I studied as long as I stuck with some sort of engineering degree. But when I was trying to pick this new major, I wasn’t choosing based on what job I could get. I was trying to decide what I wanted to spend my last two years of undergraduate education studying because I wanted to learn about something I cared about.

Last week, my sorority had a fireside with University President Morton Schapiro. At one point, he started talking about how Northwestern was different from another college and how NU is a pre-professional school. People graduating from NU, he said, almost always graduate with an idea of what job they’re going to get after college.

I thought this was an interesting point. NU is a highly ranked university, and we do have programs for students looking for specific jobs.

But it makes me sad that people think learning for the sake of learning isn’t a larger part of our culture here at NU.

A few years after you land a job, your GPA won’t matter so much. Given that, it’s easy to start thinking it won’t matter whether you memorized a bunch of information from one of your distribution requirement classes that you’re never going to use on the job. What does it matter if we aren’t trying to retain the information we’ve learned in classes we don’t care about? If we’re here to get jobs after graduation and not to learn, it doesn’t matter what classes we end up taking, as long as we get a degree and can figure out what to do once we are in the workforce.

Learning will help you in the long run. Even the classes that you think are completely irrelevant to your aspirations will teach you something. You learn skills that you can use when you’re talking to a new person and trying to understand his or her point of view. Every subject has its own worth. Learn each subject for its intrinsic value, not for the job that you may land after having studied it.

As for whether NU is a pre-professional school, I’m not too sure I agree. Personally, I think it’s great that we have distribution requirements at NU. It ensures that students take classes in areas other than their direct fields of study, encouraging them to branch out and learn other subjects. Isn’t that learning for the sake of learning?

I don’t think the only attitude at NU is a pre-professional outlook. There are many majors here that aren’t specific to a job coming right out of college. We have a variety of programs, and whether you want to come here to study a less lucrative-seeming subject or come in as part of our Honors Program in Medical Education, you’re still welcome here. People have picked majors because they like the subjects; all students have not chosen their major based on what they want to do professionally.

If you’re trying to decide what to do with your major or worrying about what job you’ll get upon graduation, keep in mind that the initial purpose of attending universities was to learn. What lands you a job in the end isn’t necessarily your degree; it is how you’ll apply what you’ve learned to whatever job you get. If you learn to the best of your ability, you will secure a job one way or another.

In college, you have the priceless opportunity to study whatever you want to learn about. Our goal as students is to learn as much as possible while we’re here. Keep that goal in mind.

Meera Patel is a McCormick junior. She can be reached at meera@u.northwestern.edu. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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