The Many Paths to an Education

Rainesford Stauffer "somewhat blindly" chose her college, she tells us in an opinion piece in The New York Times. When she arrived she seems to have done some of what we tell students to do to succeed. She joined clubs and took her studies seriously.  But she "struggled to conform to campus life."

She did not return after her first-year of college.  Unfortunately, this is not unusual, as about 4 out of 10 first-year students do the same. One in ten will go to another school that next fall.  That leaves 3 out of 10 trying to figure out what else to do. 

The young woman goes on to tell us about how she went to work, volunteered, and eventually obtained some college credit for what she learned in her experiences (what is called "prior learning credit') and graduated from college this past spring.  

But clearly there was a mismatch between her interest and that first college. And perhaps a key to that mismatch is applying "somewhat blindly" to that college.  This is too important a decision to do "somewhat blindly," but often times people make such decisions this way. Perhaps that is why recent research indicates that half of college alumni wish that they had gone to a different college, or had a different major, or got a different kind of degree. 

Rainesford felt like a failure when the expectation she (and others) had of her life did not come true.  But her story is really one of success, in which she finds joy in different careers and eventually gets that degree.  The sadness is that she felt like a failure.

What I want is for a few things to happen.  One is that we make it easier for potential students to pick a college that is right for them.  There is just too little information out there about what matters and how to pick a place that is right for you.  Another is that going straight from high school to college is not the only way to be successful in life.  

Take a year off and figure out what you want to do and why you want to do it.  A gap year can be a great experience that can focus your thoughts.  It is not just for the wealthy.  There are many ways to earn what you need during a gap year. 

Take local classes at a community college while working and taking time to figure out what you are interested in.

There are many paths to an education.  That is more true every day in this world.  More and more people are taking paths like Rainesford that involve combinations and working and learning.  And at 23, I bet she is not done yet.  

Higher education does not start, or stop, after graduating from high school.  Learning is a life-long and enriching activity.  I just signed up for my first online course this past weekend and am pretty excited about it.  

Education should be something that one is excited about.  If it's not, maybe that's a sign to try it another way.  There are many ways.