Over the years of teaching and coaching undergraduate and graduate students, I’ve learned a lot about what tends to move someone to pursue higher education. Oh, sure, there are studies in academic journals that offer valuable insights as to why someone from this or that demographic says, “I want to go to college.” Let me tell you about my experience. Students’ reasons for going to college are typically multifaceted and complex, and rarely can Kyle the freshman tell you in a clear and convincing way why he is choosing to go to college. But if I had to categorize the students I’ve had the privilege of walking alongside for 15 years, I’d break them down into these three categories:
1) College for the sake of duty fulfillment: What this motivation looks like is, “Well, they say this is the next thing for me to do after high school, so I guess I’ll do it.”
Who is “they?” Good question. Most often—parents. While well intended, Mom and Dad have often pushed Kyle into going in a direction that Kyle himself isn’t really on board with. And, to be fair to Mom and Dad, Kyle may never have spoken up about his concerns for fear of the uncomfortable family conflict that might arise. Kyle will likely get on that treadmill and do what he believes his parents and the rest of the world expect him to do, but he won’t flourish, at least not at first. Flourishing requires catching a vision that excites the soul and energizes one to dig in and get moving in a way that duty alone cannot accomplish. Don’t get me wrong…duty is important and there is a place for it, but I’ve seen this one all too often. It is not sufficient for flourishing in college.
2) College for the sake of use and comfort: Education for its own sake vs. education for the sake of practical use is a debate that goes back millennia—to the Greeks.
The way that “use” often shows up on today’s university campus is pretty simple. The student realizes he or she will need to “use” knowledge of some kind in order to eke out an existence: hopefully more money rather than less or greater comfort rather than less. Or, if the student isn’t necessarily consumed with the notion of earning a fat paycheck right after graduation, it is often the case that he or she wants the education primarily for the sake of looking important in a career, or achieving success in someone else’s eyes. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in jobs, and I believe in paychecks. I’m not anti-comfort. I believe that students about to graduate from college should do everything possible to be self-supporting immediately following graduation. That is not always possible, but they should make a concerted effort—their BEST effort. The point here is to say that this view of college is one that sees education as ONLY valuable for the sake of using it for self-promotion, money, or comfort in some way.
3) College for the sake of discovering truth: In philosophical terms, truth is a relation between a belief and reality.
If a belief corresponds to what’s actually real, then it is true. Students who are truth seekers are curious. They launch into college eager to learn, eager to discover truths about the world and about the world’s Creator. These students tend to be far better than most at question-asking. They ask more questions, thoughtful questions. Their questions indicate they are teachable—they really want to know about the subject matter. They aren’t just raising a smart-sounding question for the sake of letting everyone else in the class know how intelligent they are. They don’t get defensive when someone disagrees with their perspective—because their curiosity helps them see disagreement itself as a teacher. And, the students who are the most interested in truth-seeking aren’t just interested in academic subject matter; they are interested in learning what’s true about themselves and others. They ask GOOD questions of their peers in order to get to know them and understand what it’s like to see the world from their eyes. These students ask others to dig into their lives and ask them hard questions so that they can become more faithful image bearers of the God who created them and has called them to do something incredible in His world that only they can do with their unique gift set. They are authentic. They are curious. They are relentless in their pursuit of truth intellectually, in terms of their relationships, and in their callings.
If you are currently in college, which view describes your mindset most accurately?
How “ok” are you with that mindset?
If you are not ok with it, what would it take to change it and get more out of your remaining time in college?
“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth, only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” C.S. Lewis