Li: Interested in too much

Grant Li, Columnist

The unique nature of college is often truly underappreciated. You have about four years to spend learning and trying new things. A situation like that is hard to find anywhere else during life. It’s a shame that this period of our lives is confined to only four years.

As I was deciding on my schedule for the winter quarter, I felt overwhelmed by all the different classes I wanted to take. Being a transfer, the pressure of time is even stronger — three years just doesn’t feel like enough.

If it were up to me, I’d stay in college indefinitely and quindecuple major. I would graduate after taking all the classes that interest me. I’d find all the professors that might have answers to my questions about the world, and maybe research with them if an answer doesn’t exist yet.

Obviously, all of that amounts to nothing but a fantasy. Besides possibly flouting a few graduation regulations, it would be monetarily impossible to stay for that long, as it almost already is with just four years of an undergraduate degree.

For students who have no clue what they want to do, the lack of time is compounded. One of the reasons I picked Northwestern was because of the quarter system, which would allow me to take more classes in a shorter amount of time. I have one year to figure it out, but the number of class slots still seems insufficient, and I am sure I’ll still be clueless by the major declaration deadline. Even if I had been here as a freshman, I’m not sure if two years would have been enough.

Education in general is too specialized. Why can’t there be a major where we learn some about everything? Instead, we’re forced to boil our entire spectrum of passions into one or two majors, or maybe a minor or two. Anything more is impossible.

We can’t pin everything on the structure of post-secondary education. Society has somehow pumped the price of a college diploma to a quarter million dollars, and job markets are looking for specialized students. Students are forced to aim their education toward the end goal of obtaining a job, despite the fact that most of the time, their career options and personal interests don’t match.

Ideally, a college education would hopefully satisfy both aspects of learning and a future career. I don’t have all the answers, but some of the solutions already exist. More colleges should implement a core curriculum, or even an optional one. A core curriculum would provide a roadmap for students to explore various domains of knowledge, instead of forcing students to make those decisions when they’re unprepared or don’t possess the wisdom yet to make the right choice.

Companies could also train their employees for the profession after hiring them. Leaving the vocational portions of education to the job itself can give students the untethered freedom to truly study what they want without having to anticipate what job they will want four years in advance. Hiring managers could also hire from a variety of majors, knowing that regardless of the hire, they’ll get training for a year or two anyways. In the future, those who are unsatisfied in their current job might have an easier time switching to a different career, since the opportunity to learn is still there.

There are many other potential solutions, from allowing second and third bachelor’s degrees, to opening more college classes to the general public, and so on. The way it stands right now though, the students whose interests span farther than the bounds of the current college education are left out to grasp at wisps and strands of trying to be a true “life-long learner.”

Grant Li is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.