This might upset some people, and I am sure I will get lots of emails/comments/messages telling me how wrong I am, but here is the core thesis of what I am saying: university is nothing more than a well organized reading schedule.
Think about it, at the core of every class is a textbook. It is then the professor’s job to make sure you absorb the material from that textbook (or similar to that textbook for professors who don’t teach from the book). Everything that makes up a course – tests, finals, projects, essays – are there to ensure and verify that you grasp the material from the book.
Now, University surely has a social and coming of age element to it – I would never argue with that. University is about discovering your passion, meeting new people, and growing as an individual, but the thing is: you don’t need to be at university to do all those things. You can socialize, grow, and meet new people whether or not you are on campus, it just happens to be a bit easier while attending school.
So, here is my core argument: university is 50-75% organized reading. Sure it’s great – it takes the onus of preparation and planning off you, and puts it on the school, but at the end of the day that’s really all it is. All the auxiliary benefits that people would use to rebuttal this argument: networking, socialization, personal discovery, etc. are not exclusive to university life, they just happen to be easier there. At the end of the day, the core element of what you are paying for is facilitated reading.
Why Does it Matter?
What is the purpose of this insight? Why does it matter to you? Well, if you realize that university is nothing more than facilitated reading that should give you a couple key insights.
Firstly, what university you attend matters just like what you read matters. If you go to community college, chances are you will have a harder time getting on the radar of a multinational company. Likewise, if you read Harry Potter every night, the same holds true – not all books and not all universities were created equally.
Secondly, a university degree in and of itself is not going to get you a job, no more than reading a copy of Built to Last or Harry Potter will get you a job. It’s not the university you attend or the books you read that will help you get a job – it’s how you take that insight and learning and leverage it to get the job done.
Thirdly, you don’t need to go back to school. People sometimes think that their skill set is incomplete or lacking – and that might very well be true. The big take away though is that you don’t need to go back to university to complete it – you can just set up your own reading schedule. Figure out what you need to read, plan it out, and – this part is the most important – DO IT!
Finally, make sure if you invest the time in reading (or going to university) you spend the time to get the most out of it. University would be much less effective if the professor handed you the textbook, and said “please read this – there will be no tests, no finals, no exams, but just read it”. You wouldn’t get anything out of the course! Likewise, if you are going to read a book, make sure you are getting the most out of it. Don’t read it casually, flipping page by page, study it. Take notes, underline, write questions, challenge arguments – if you are going to invest the time, make sure you get the most out of it.
In summary, it might be a little saddening to accept that you spent four plus years doing nothing more than following a planned reading schedule. However, you can take that insight and apply it to your future endeavours – make your own reading schedules and create your own university degree – you will get more out of it in the long run