What is the value of your college experience?

This was an article that I wrote during my senior year of college, and it was published on the Babson Free Press website. I have made minor edits and added a few more anecdote on this piece than the original. I am sharing this on my blog because I haven’t finished writing any new entries yet. I figured this Fourth of July weekend would be a good opportunity to finish writing any new post. It’s unbelievably hard to find the time to write new materials and I don’t know how other bloggers do it.

Anyways, this article means a lot to me, mainly because I get to share my personal story and reflect on my college experience. This is by far the most personal piece of work that I published and I’m very proud of this. Looking back on my college experience, I’m grateful for not just the lessons in the classroom but the life lessons I gained as well (comment inspired by Lashonda’s Blog). I hope when people read this, they can reminisce about their college experience and any important lessons they learned along the way. Please take the time to read this and let me know what you think.


What is the Value of Your College Experience?

The common consensus is that education is the path to financial success; you hear it in movies and see it in commercials. The message is simple, “stay in school.” The conventional view of a college education is that if you go through the process you are less likely to be headed down the wrong path, and the reward is a well paid position with a fancy title.

Is there more to higher education than obtaining a job and eventually making tons of money? Yes, because what the conventional view fails to take into consideration is that education is empowering and can be rewarding in a non-monetary way.

Growing up in a traditional Chinese household, I was always lectured about the importance of doing well in school. Ever since I was a kid I was taught about the conventional view of college, and dreamed of one day being a big shot businessman. To reach that dream, getting into a good college was the first step.

During the college selection process I chose schools based on rank and the average starting salary post graduation. At the time, I only saw financial benefits in obtaining a college degree. The numbers don’t lie either, and according to Liz Pulliam Weston, Is Your Degree Worth $1 Million or Worthless, the average holder of a bachelor degree earns about $51,000 a year. Also during this period in my life, I was working at a restaurant busing tables and never making more than $13 an hour. I was being bossed around by waitresses and managers with four year liberal arts degrees, and it was painfully obvious to choose a business school with a high starting salary post graduation. Otherwise I could end up in that restaurant for the rest of my life, and that was the last thing I wanted for myself.

I was fortunate enough to be accepted into Babson College, one of the best business schools in the nation, and thought I was one step closer to being a big shot businessman. Even though I enjoyed the subject of history in high school and did well in the classes, I could never pursue this in college because that’s not where the money is. When I got accepted into Babson, and didn’t get any financial aid,  my mom decided to pay for everything from the savings of her retirement account. She made a big investment in me and it would have been too selfish to not consider what she wants from my education.

After years of taking classes I didn’t enjoy, I was getting bad grades and unhappy with everything.  I was unhappy because in the back of my mind I always thought about the huge sacrifice my mom has made, and how I was disappointing her with my mediocre grades. Not to mention the fact I was hurting my chances of landing a good job for the future. Eventually I come to realize that people go to college for the experience, to pursue their passions, or discover new ones. Those who graduate are supposed to leave with a better understanding of themselves and those around them, and have the skills that can make a positive contribution in the workforce.

Mei Zhen Lee, junior at Babson says, “I always knew I’m passionate about math and want to learn more at Babson. I noticed friends who are choosing their concentration based on money. A lot of people have switched into accounting, because it pays well and they are likely to find a job after graduation. I just see something wrong with that.”

It disheartens me to think that people are only learning for a better pay check, because education is liberating. You have the power to choose what you want to learn and develop the ability to think for yourself. This is powerful, because having thoughts, beliefs, and opinions makes you an individual. One person that realized this truth is Frederick Douglass.

Douglass, a famous abolitionist, once said: “Education is power.” He further stated that, “To educate a man is to unfit him to be a slave.” Douglass was born into slavery in 1818; this was an era where it was against the law to educate slaves. Denying education was a way for slave owners to keep control of their property, and any slave caught trying to learn would be killed or severely beaten. Douglass was taught the alphabet by a mistress of his owner, and when his lessons were cut short he took it upon himself to further his learning. Eventually Douglass became an avid reader; and used his knowledge to become an important anti-slavery speaker. His influence was instrumental in ending slavery. Therefore, education’s true power is freedom from oppression.

If everyone attends college for financial reasons, then they are controlled by the pursuit of money. These people deny themselves a golden opportunity to learn and prevent themselves from discovering their true potential. So will you be like the old me and go through the education process by taking countless classes for financial reasons? Or will you be like Douglass and take control of your education, immerse yourself in a wide variety of subjects until you discover your true passion? The choice is yours.


3 Responses to “What is the value of your college experience?”

  1. 1 Sarah June 30, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    I ended up very much in that situation, only I wasn’t even the one considering the financial aspect. For as long as I’ve known, I have been sure that I wanted to either write or teach. Those were my two goals. I knew that when I was five and it has never left my mind. Yet from when I was 8 or so, every time someone would actually ask me, I would respond that I wanted to go into business. Yes, in my third grade yearbook amongst all the people saying they wanted to be ballerinas or doctors or animal trainers, my future profession is listed as accountant (one accounting class at Babson made it completely clear that I would never ever ever do that for a living).
    I always knew that I this wasn’t true, but had been told so often that I should either go into business or law that it became my instant response. I ended up at a school I grew to hate, never achieving as much as I wanted to and constantly thinking that this was not where I belonged.
    Here I stand, about to graduate (late I might add), still unsure of what I want and thoroughly confused by that fact.
    Do I think that my degree is useless? No. I’m just not sure how much it is actually worth. Where is my life headed? I’m not exactly sure of that either.
    I know that I’m reasonably smart, despite what my GPA may indicate. But when it comes to deciding what to do now, I’ve got nothing. No idea at all. No path, just a bunch of applications and resumes sitting in prospective employers inboxes without any rhyme or reason behind choosing that position.
    No use crying over it though. The best thing to do that I can see is keeping plugging away and trying to figure out what to do and in the meanwhile keep my head above water. After all, if you give in and lose hope, then you obviously won’t get all that you want. I at least need to attempt or else I will without a doubt lose it all.

    • 2 Mao's Army July 1, 2011 at 1:40 pm


      That was an excellent comment and I’m glad you can relate to my post. You have experienced some tremendously difficult things in your college experience, and most people would not have handled it as well as you have. Although you are graduating late and not getting the grades you want, your ability to endure hardships and your desire to want to do better says more about your character than the letters on your transcript. You are tremendously talented, and you have tons of potential. I’m sure If every employer had the opportunity to hear your personal story, they will be touched and willing to give you an offer. I’m not saying this to be nice or make you feel better, it’s the truth, and if you don’t believe me look back on your acceptance letter from Harvard. This may be a difficult period in your life now, but those of us that have been tested early in our life will be much better off than those people who always had it easy. That’s why you and I are different from other people, we been tested early in our life and we continue to be tested.

      It’s okay to not know where your life is headed now or what the next step is, many of us don’t. It’s exactly like you said, you can’t lose hope and you always got to move forward. You experienced much more difficult things than the job search, and I have no doubt in my mind that you will come out on top. If things don’t workout now, I’m sure Karma would reward you at some point in your life for all the bad things that’s happened.

  2. 3 Donna Watch July 19, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    This piece of info is very useful for me, thank you!

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