Are We Just Learning for the Sake of Earning?

Why I’d Rather Commit to Cool Classes and Enjoy My Education than Raise My Resumé


Published: November 3, 2010

There is a three-or-four second lag between clicking on the e-mail icon at and seeing my inbox fully load. Anticipation hangs in the air. Will I have a club notice inviting me to a dance or to a performance of some kind? Is a speaker coming to campus to talk about exactly the issues I am interested in? Did my professor think that YouTube video I sent her was funny, or did I cross some sort of professional boundary there?

My face invariably falls, then, when I see that though I have 13 new e-mails waiting for me, they are all of a similar and tedious nature, and they are mostly from careerplan. Careerplan, careerplan, English majors—what’s this? Is Mary Higgins Clark giving another lecture?! Oh, no, it’s an info session about planning your career—careerplan, careerplan ad infinitum.

Most of these notifications are want-ads for interns. They could be condensed into a couple of longer lists, but then, I suppose, there wouldn’t appear to be quite so many opportunities. And wouldn’t I like, the solicitations ask, to be a nice, shiny intern somewhere this semester? Thank you, but no, not especially.

Maybe I should explain. I’ve ventured onto that road already. I’ve stayed up late, writing cover letter after cover letter, moving classes around so that I might have two free days in my schedule instead of just the one, fantasizing about the amazing connections I would make while counting the ways my life would change forever. Fortunately, those applications were all lost in the mail (or that’s what I tell myself anyway, please don’t ruin it for me) and my class schedule remains intact.

I am now two months into my senior year, and I refuse to sacrifice any amount of my remaining academic experience to a job market that I am going to be a slave to for at least the next forty years. I have exactly eight more chances to learn about whatever I want, just because I’m interested in it, and I plan on making the absolute most of them. Each of these classes contains, from the outset, the possibility that my mind will be entirely and irreversibly blown. Whether this awesomeness takes place at 10 in the morning, 1 in the afternoon, or 5 at night makes no difference.  You just can’t plan enlightenment.

I have already missed out on some amazing courses because of scheduling conflicts. Decisions always have to be made, and the number of those compromises would increase 10-fold around an internship, however flexible. Admittedly, circumstances are different for students studying in a field which is primarily applied and for which the end goal is a career. In such cases, it would be ridiculous not to allow the job to take precedence. The degree is simply a means to a career, the classes a formality.

There have always been apprenticeships and the like—schooling for students to learn particular trades after the appropriate amount of primary education. Universities existed as something separate. These were places where people could study purely for the reward of knowledge. Today, a liberal arts university education is still a unique opportunity which affords those of us who are fortunate enough to be here the ability to learn about whatever we want. This is our chance to open our minds, and to discover who we are and what we believe in the face of new, strange and often unsettling ideas.  For many, this is reward in itself.

But graduating college has become, like the getting of the driver’s license and the legal drinking of the alcohol, just another rite of passage. College is for putting off grown-up life and for getting better paying jobs when we cannot fight time any longer. Universities recognize this and fear that parents will be unhappy if Career Services does not make us all as easily employable as possible. Until seeing a poster in the cafeteria for an info session on what to do with that liberal arts degree, I was not aware that universities were in the habit of apologizing for the educations they offer.

On the surface, it’s wonderful that higher education is encouraged and expected in ways unheard of even 40 years ago. But I cannot help worrying if what we call the democratization of education isn’t really just the transformation of the entire institution into yet another empty commodity.

Of course I want to have job security. Wouldn’t it be silly if I didn’t? But if having that security means giving up on my interests, my questions, and my passions—giving up on myself—then it’s just not worth the cost.