College can do a lot for you, but it can’t do everything. By the end of your college years, you shouldn’t have it all figured out. College is a period of change, of growth and of learning. The mistake that students make upon arrival is one of ambitious naivety. They assume that, clueless as they feel now, they will know everything about everything in four years, and all of their uncertainties will disappear.
This is far from reality, but there is some sort of truth in the idea that each and every student can discover something about themselves and, if they try hard enough, about the world. That is why it’s so important that students seek out each and every opportunity to experience new things while they’re at school.
A lot of the time we are warned against doing this; we are constantly told not to spread ourselves too thin, not to get overinvolved, and to focus solely on our studies because that’s what is important. And yes, academic success is obviously important. I’m not arguing against that. But academic success does not equate to growth on every plane. Learning at every level, whether academic, social or personal, is a necessary part of the transitional college years. It is essential that students find outlets for these levels of growth, whether they be in clubs, sports, volunteer work, Greek life or anything else. For me, this means you have to throw yourself into everything for which you can find time.
If you were like me in high school, you’ve already been here. You were the Max Fischer of your school, involved in every club and activity you could fit on your resume. But also like me, and like most other kids, you probably held some of these activities closer to your heart. You established a comfort zone which you will more than likely carry over into your college years.
Break out of it.
The goal of higher education is multifaceted, but it’s absolutely not to stay curled up in the safety zone you’ve created for yourself. Learning is about exposure, and not just the 56-slide PowerPoint on Greek and Roman Art and Archaeology kind of exposure. Learning is a culmination of personal experiences, and you won’t learn until you put down what you think you know and absorb everything around you.
Unfortunately, a lot of students get duped into thinking that if they choose just the right combination of classes, clubs and friends, they can generate a type of certainty about their futures. This sort of closed-mindedness is exactly what holds us back. You are not going to leave college with everything certain and mapped out — because you aren’t meant to.
The point of attending a liberal arts college is to learn how to think, and learning to think is learning to deal with the uncertain. You will leave here with an array of new perspectives, problem-solving skills, communication skills and a diploma. You will not leave here with a certain future. You will still fumble through life, a bit confused and frustrated, but you will have the ability to deal with it because you’ve gone through it before.
So join the fencing club, learn a new language, and eat whatever non-specific meat is being served at the dining hall. Be adventurous, and spread yourself thin. I know it sounds like the exact opposite of what you think you should do, but trust me: It’s worth it. You’re going to be exhausted and probably a little stressed, but if you enjoy everything you’re doing, you’re probably doing it right.
Email Kaitlan Shaub at firstname.lastname@example.org.