On Campus

Going to university is not a sentence

Chances to really think about things are rare. Don’t waste those chances while you are in university.

It’s advice time again, and though I have doled out advice before, there is one big suggestion that will be helpful if taken to heart by everyone who goes to university, and has not, to my knowledge, been offered elsewhere. Here it is:

You are not in prison.

This might seem unhelpful since university, of course, is not prison, but my point is that a great many students treat it like it is. Put another way, many students treat their university years as thirty-six to forty-eight months that must be endured to get a degree.  Do your time, keep your head down, stay out of trouble, and eventually they will let you out with a piece of paper saying that you deserve your freedom.

One problem with this approach is that it often fails. Students find that many courses actually require substantial effort and, sadly, some profs don’t give time off for good behaviour. After a year or two of this, they drop out or are kicked out, none the wiser and much poorer.

But the bigger problem with this approach is that even if it works, it represents a staggering missed opportunity. University is a time when you not only have the chance to learn about, read about, think about the most interesting questions in the world, you will actually be rewarded for it. If a professor asks you what you’re working on and you reply that you’ve been thinking a lot about St Augustine’s notions of evil as represented in Hamlet, your prof will think you’re a genius. Say the same thing to your sales manager in a few years and he will think you’re a nutcase. You may think that having to sit and read a book is about the worst thing you can be made to do, but believe me, there will come a day when you will be ecstatic if the most pressing thing you have to do in a day is sit and read.

You can approach university passively. You can get by with as little trouble as possible. You can just muddle through to get a credential.

But you will have missed the biggest opportunity of your life.

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