In this era, the “Information Era”, we have access to basically all the information of the world in fractions of seconds. Internet allows us to bypass every other source of knowledge and get the information we need, the moment we need that in every place we can be.
This is true also for very advanced topics because we can easily find academic level notions for free (or for very few pounds) on websites like YouTube, Udacity. This is extended also to very prestigious institutions like MIT or Stanford University, which provide a lot of their advanced courses online for free (also including PDF materials and notes).
So, the real question is: is college still worth it?
Or at least, is going to college still worth the money and the time you spend on that?
In this article I want to convince you why the answer is Yes, but also why it is not true for everyone.
When it comes to the knowledge, you are right. There is a lot of free knowledge out there. Also, a lot of high-level knowledge. But there is also a lot of unknown things.
When I started Computer Science at university in Modena (IT), I started with strong idea of becoming a mobile app developer. iPhone was depopulating and I was really into the idea of becoming part of that world. Maybe making a lot of money with a revolutionary app. But as I started my courses, I quickly realized that computer science is way more than iPhones and computers. And I actually changed my mind a lot.
There are tens of different fields, most of them are unbelievably difficult to study. There is a lot of math and it can be very challenging to advance any of those fields. During the years of the bachelor and the master’s degree I had the opportunity to dive into very different topics (algorithms, web development, mobile apps, machine learning, operative systems development, etc) and I figured it out that I would have never even knew about all of them without being at university.
Over there, there are some people we call “Professors” that are amazing people and choose to dedicate themselves to guide all the students towards the topic they find most appealing. Without them I would have never found the interests in my current research field, Data Science, and I would have never found the possible applications of my knowledge to another real-world field, Medicine.
So, it is true that you can gather information and knowledge for free from anywhere, but you will never meet inspiring people, fiends and colleagues by staying in your room, even being the smartest guy of your neighbourhood.
Finally, the experience of your professors, and the stimuli that they can give you are way more powerful in your professional life than everything that you can do on your own. They will show you the direction of an interesting field, explanations of more complex topics, real-life applications of your endeavour. All things that are difficult to have if you are alone.
When you start university, the very first day, you are in that students crowd full of hundreds of guys like you who are disoriented and scared as you are. All of them do not know anything about what you are going to study, all of them do not have any friend yet and they are all looking for something different. Some of them want knowledge, some of them want popularity, some of them dream to get a job in a big corporate and some of them dream to start their own start-up.
But there is one thing that unites them all, they are going to live experiences that they would have never liver staying at home.
I personally think that the relations you build and the experiences you live during university are worth every penny you spend on that, but at one condition. You must be very conscious about the value of those experiences. This will pay you back with interests when, in future times, you will think back to what you lived, and you miss those years.
Of course, you must gain knowledge and pass exams, this is very important. But I would not renounce to the social part of university, like many of my friends, and myself sometimes did.
I suggest living every single day trying to find the best of it and trying to find what you will remember of it in future years.
Once graduated, you supposedly will look for a job somewhere, or will want to create your own job. It does not matter. In fact, you can do whatever you want, but one thing remains certain: you will need a network of people or professionals with whom do the next step.
- If you are looking for a job, it is way much easier to find one while still studying, maybe during an internship, or by your professor’s suggestions (which, by the way, are their own network).
- If you are going to be self-employed, you will need clients, which are a network of people you must build and nurture.
- If you are going to continue academic studies with a PhD, you will need a supervisor who trust you, or a research lab that do what you are interested in and, as before, that trust you.
So, everything you will do, you will need a network of people you want to work with or for. This is one of the main goals of todays academic environments, and you will have a lot of troubles finding a good network on your own, starting from nothing.
This is maybe the main reason you still want to go to university, even if you can study the same things on your own.
The reasons why we attend classes, meet colleagues and go to conferences is that we are social beings and we make bonds by physically being together. We can attend all the classes of the world online, but we go there because we meet people like us, people who believe what we believe, that live the same experiences and to whom we feel similar. This makes our experience of the university and of the business way better because to understand people you must live experiences with people, and nobody will ever be good in business and university without understanding people.
If I went back in time
If I went back in time, I would prevent some mistakes I think I did hindsight. So, if you are about to start university or want to start any academic path, I want to give you those advices:
- Look more for friends and less for colleagues.
- Do not sacrifice friendships for personal gain.
- Do not sacrifice life for working (not too much at least).
- Take advantage of every single opportunity to meet people and cultures (this will make you a better and more interesting person).
- Find the way to go abroad at least once while staying at university.
- Live the whole time as if you want to make it the best of your life, because it will probably be.
Yes! Academia, college, university, or whatever you want to call it, is still worth it. Mostly for the people and the experiences you will live. Do not waste any moment of your journey there because it will end soon, and you want to take advantage of every single moment you are given to become a better person and a more interesting student and professional.