If you asked me when I was 18-years-old why I was planning to go to college, my answer probably would have been something simple like, “Because you have to in order to get a good job,” or “Because my parents said so.” While I do believe having a college degree is a key enabler to having a successful professional career, the value of the college experience is so much broader than that.
One of the most valuable aspects of my college experience was to help me answer the question “what do you want to be when you grow up.” In my freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania, my career pursuit went from doctor to architect to broadcaster to psychologist. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I began to take some business courses and found that a career in business was the best fit for me. College gave me the invaluable time to explore my interests through coursework, clubs, and engaging with fellow students and professors to best answer that lifelong question.
A second key benefit of college was to learn how to work in and lead teams. It is hard to find a workplace where working in teams is not the norm. College provided an important practice ground to deal with the many different challenges of working in teams, such as organizing and delegating work, dealing with conflict, and motivating a team member who is not engaged. As someone who enjoys leading teams, I had many opportunities to take on that responsibility and learn from my mistakes in a safe environment.
Finally, I learned how to balance hard work with my personal interests and having fun. While I was inundated with a huge amount of coursework, I made sure to dedicate time to my personal passions, which included community service, being a leader in my sorority, and spending time with my friends. I knew how important it was to have a well-rounded college experience, and this has now translated into how I currently balance my life. While I was working extremely hard, I always made sure I was having fun along the way, and this is truly how I now live my life.
As I reflect on this very important time in my life, the one person I have to thank the most is my mom. Not only did she push me to work hard through all my years of school, but she also supported me to attend a top university, even when faced with the barriers of high tuition fees and others around us who were disputing the value of this opportunity.
For those who are currently facing this critical decision for themselves or their children, I hope these ideas will help provide some insights to just how valuable a college experience truly is.