Anja Scheib graduated college several weeks ago. She wrote this piece about her time there.
I finished college today.
It’s a very underwhelming feeling. Perhaps I expected that I would have a fist-in-the-air Breakfast Club moment. I didn’t.
In fact, the last moments of college were just as stressful and pointless as the majority of my time in “higher education.” You may be thinking I’m just one of those bums who takes a lack of success out on people in authority. This could not be further from the case.
In 3.5 years, I finished a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a minor in Management and concentrations in Marketing and Economics. I graduated from the Honors College Magna Cum Laude. I made friends with professors, administration, and even got close to the President of my 20,000+ student university. I’m graduating early because I started earning college credit in high school, and I packed eighteen hours into almost every semester. I ran clubs, received scholarships, won competitions, and racked up awards. I’m the girl in your class you hated who completed all the extra credit, all the homework, and still cried about her grades that most people would only dream of having.
You may think I am boasting, not at all. I want to convey how utterly ridiculous this whole process is. Am I glad I did well? Sure, but I don’t encourage anyone to waste energy and time doing what I just did, and here are 7 reasons why:
1. College steers your life towards others’ expectations.
“They” tell you not to fold under peer pressure and “be yourself”…unless your route to success differs even marginally from the “correct” path. “Do whatever is in your heart…as long as it involves spending years being miserable in college.”
I was never excited about starting college. Did I enjoy moving out and being done with high school? Of course, but the idea of college was never exciting. I went on as I was “supposed to.” I worked for that high ACT score to enroll in the honors college and impress others. I nearly chose my school and major for others. Many of my peers were in majors they hated because of a parent or friend group. Don’t do this. Your friends, high school teachers, and neighbors won’t be around when you’re crying in your dorm about how unhappy you are. Your parents will still love you regardless of what you study. Many students go to grad school literally just to kill time while they think about what they want for the first time. This is an extremely unproductive and toxic way to start your career. Luckily, I stopped the buck and didn’t apply for grad school for others like many of my friends did, and trust me, the pressure was there.
2. Colleges exist to teach ideologies.
There’s always an agenda to be found within colleges and departments. I saw kids get indoctrinated into the silliest of beliefs simply because an older person with a lot of degrees “rocked their worlds” with some “research.” I started college as an English major because I love to write. I thought, “fine, I’ll go to college. I’ll just do something I like, and I’ll write. After all, it’s always been my best subject.” Wrong. After my first semester in Honors English Composition II, I realized I was only going to do well if I wrote how my professor saw fit. My first sweat, blood, and tears 12-page paper got a low B. It was a magnificent paper. After visiting my professor to see where I went wrong, I learned the issue was not my writing. It was that the paper didn’t support a political narrative I was unwilling to accept as true. Then, 18 year old Anja put her foot down and continued fighting for her academic freedom.
I wanted a good grade and I wanted everyone to think I was doing well, so I pretended to lap up the ideology and wrote complete nonsense for A’s. I didn’t even have to put in effort once I made this switch. I whored out my writing talents for a woman who didn’t even know me. I got the A and changed my major to business.
While the business school was better, I still experienced a tremendous amount of bias and a severe lack of critical thinking in the subjects I previously thought to be objective and respectable. Economics, law, and even marketing classes managed to fill their courses up with political biases and outright fallacies. The truth is, good students like me are afraid to stand up to professors, so we bend and put our heads down for the grade—for someone else.
Flip the script by learning from people who have it in their own interest to see you succeed. If you study independently or apprentice under someone, mentors will want to see you grow and develop.
3. College accolades are meaningless.
No moment puts this on greater display than graduation day. You will see people you’ve never heard of decorated like a Christmas tree. You would think they had cured cancer with all the cords, medals, and pins hanging off their gown. No such accomplishments to be found. These kids just paid fees to join honor societies that required one meeting per semester and strategically joined clubs that handed out special recognitions. Real value creation was not on the table.
On the flip side of this, you will see people who developed meaningful research in labs and started amazing groups and even revenue generating companies who had no such ornaments on their graduation gowns. University awards are the most superficial pseudo achievements I can think of. None of the people whom I genuinely respected as creators and high achievers were in the “top tier” of any distinguished category in the graduation roster.
Freshman year, I got an award that I probably should not have received. It was a big deal that earned me a banquet, speech, ceremony, trophy, and meal with the university president. They even paid for me to go to DC for a conference. This was the grand award for completing a project that benefitted women. In my essay and interactions with authority figures, I conveniently left out my viewpoints that would have conflicted with the doctrine of the committee and Gender Studies department. Expression of my true views would have certainly disqualified me. How can such an arbitrary award be meaningful? This endeavor was nothing more than a childish game that I won for meaningless accolades.
The awards given to many of my peers were just as worthless, and sadly they beamed with pride over them, clueless to the standards the real world would later demand of them. Most of the awards were created for the school to publicize and print on their departmental brochure, website, or hall of fames. They really could not care less who received them. I never saw an award presented to a recipient and thought, “wow, that student really earned that. What a great accomplishment.” And this does not even touch on the most sought after awards of college—Student Government and Homecoming Elections. Talk about worthless nonsense.
Instead, you should reach for accomplishments, not accolades. Create a project that improves someone’s business, write a blog that helps others, or volunteer for a cause that makes a real world impact.
4. All competence and useful knowledge is acquired outside of the classroom.
Tell me about a time a student just did classwork, nothing else, and turned into a productive and impressive professional.
Students who become successful learned at a job, leading groups, interning, and following their passions outside of the classroom. If degrees are so valuable, why do advisors and other leaders always try to get you to join outside groups? It’s because sitting in a classroom for lectures and in the library doing homework doesn’t create any value. The fact that you know how to solve quadratic equations doesn’t advertise anything to your future employer or customers. It’s always the individuals who started their own business, built their networks during an internship or started their own projects during their college years who become valuable to employers. More of these people used to attend college, but college will not turn you into this type of person. Only you can choose to become that person, and college will do it’s best to crush your dreams and ambitions out of you by pressing you into a mold.
Guess what? You can network and pursue all the above endeavors outside of college and not waste tens of thousands of dollars. College is a convenient hub to find a lot of those connections, and I benefitted from it, but I didn’t need it. I would have found my own way just like I’ve seen many others do without college. Even today, my genuine professional success has nothing to do with any class, professor, or advisor from college. In fact, I’ve spent many days hoping my professors and administrators wouldn’t Google my name and find out about my work outside of school. They’re usually unhappy with it even though it’s brought me a good amount of success and satisfaction. Once again, this is because their ideological agendas are stronger than their desire for my success.
Instead, join networks and clubs in your community, better yet—start one. Get your foot in the door and build experience by Throwing your Resume in the Trash and writing a Value Proposition. Do it without debt and before you get a chance to have someone talk you out of your dreams and down the path of “secure” mediocrity.
5. Professors don’t have experience and are totally insulated from reality.
Your parents still might believe that people with stacks of degrees have experience, but it usually isn’t true. Most of the time, professors are just professional students. They went to undergraduate school, graduate school, became a TA, then went into a PhD program and became your professor. They are just as unthinking and unimpressive as their regurgitating students. The majority have never worked outside of academia. This means that many of their theories and conclusions only apply to reality in theory—theory that is easy to see through. Many of them can’t teach you how to be successful in the private sector because they have no idea how to go about doing it. I once had a professor teaching American Business Policy who had never worked at an American business! They’ve spent so much time dealing with bureaucracy in their careers that they can only give you professional pointers for a future in a bureaucratic setting.
Instead, you need to seek mentors outside the university environment to develop a fruitful relationship. These people are far more helpful and won’t pressure you into graduate school or programs that will waste your time.
6. Your GPA is an awful indicator of your ability to create value.
Sometimes, intelligent students have low GPAs. Conversely, some not-so-intelligent people have excellent ones. This is because GPA is often a measurement of how well you fit into a painfully narrow margin of memorization and regurgitation or how willing you are to bend over backwards for the busy work you are assigned. I know plenty of intelligent students with their own start-ups who bombed their GPA because they felt their time was better allocated building a business and employing people than filling in blanks on an electronic worksheet. They were right.
I spent hours every week skipping books I wanted to read, blogs I wanted to write, conferences I wanted to attend, and speakers I wanted to hear just to jump through arbitrary hoops to maintain my GPA. Even after all that, sometimes it still wasn’t enough. Often, I would meet peers who didn’t have much going on outside of the classroom—no clubs or activities, maybe a sorority or fraternity, and no job experience under their belts. However, they would have a solid GPA because all their free time was devoted to the classroom and academic “pursuits.” It’s not the worst use of their time considering some of the common alternatives in the college experience, namely binge drinking and experimenting with drugs, but it certainly does not demonstrate their intelligence or competence. This type of conveyor belt permission-seeking attitude will at best lead to a solid 9-5 cubicle lifestyle. That’s fine if that’s what you want, but something tells me it’s not what you grew up dreaming about as a kid.
Instead, you should get out there and build something. The value signaling is far more potent and self-evident. Finishing projects, apprenticing, or creating anything will certainly be far better spent towards developing your career. Even if you fall flat on your face a few times, you will know you are growing.
7. The content is useless.
I took a total of four classes in 3.5 years that contained any valuable information. Consider these needles in a haystack as I took around 42 classes. This is because the majority of college courses provided information I either already knew, could have learned by reading definitions out of a dictionary, was entirely nebulous and subjective, or was so outdated, irrelevant or untrue that I’m not sure why it’s even being taught.
A good example is the last class I took. It was my last test of college and largely the reason I didn’t walk out of college feeing accomplished. The class was the last economics class I had to complete. The reviews on the professor were terrible, but there was only one professor available. The material was based on perfectly competitive markets with zero economic profits and measurable utility. This is also known as fiction. The models I had to cram into my brain will never be of any use to me, and I spent 30 dollars per week on a tutor and countless hours teaching myself the material only to make the lowest grade of my life. In fact, there was a point I was worried this one class would keep me from graduating.
In other words, I wasn’t a “free elf” until the final grade was posted. Some professors seem to enjoy failing students, and tenure allows them to remain crappy teachers. Like I said before, the rules of the marketplace don’t apply to a job in academia.
Instead, take that time and money and buy great books, attend life-changing conferences and seminars, and get to know real people who can open worlds of knowledge and skills to you.
If you’re facing hard decisions right now because your gut is telling you school isn’t for you but everyone around you is selling it as a necessity, I feel your pain. “Necessary evil” might even be a phrase you hear pretty often. Never trust anything sold to you as a necessary evil. You can always invent a new way, and tons of people have.
College is dead. It isn’t fulfilling the role in society it once did. Free yourself from the fallacious platitudes and useless acronyms of the classroom. It might be very hard to explain to others, and some might never “get” your choices when it comes to opting out of college. It could make for some awkward family meals, and yeah, some of the people you love the most might think you’re making a huge mistake. At least consider this: I jumped through all the hoops almost perfectly. I cried a lot. I stressed every week over stuff I knew I shouldn’t be. Sometimes I cried because I was mad at myself that I was stressed about stuff that didn’t matter!
I’m successful by almost every account but the truth is this: at nearly 22 years old, I don’t know how to buy insurance or pay taxes, I’ve never paid my own rent, I’ve survived on affirmation from people I’ll likely never see again, and everything aiding my future right now has nothing to do with work done on a college campus. At the very least, allow yourself to imagine what you would do with your time and money if not in college.
Don’t make my mistake. Start your career now.