COLUMN: College isn’t for everybody

Angela Oliver

On Kanye West’s 2004 debut, “The College Dropout,” interlude skits feature a young man praising his father for having multiple degrees. Though he seems proud of his dad, he is also questioning his decision to go to college since his dad never amounted to anything despite his education.

Though the skits are comical and clearly have a sarcastic tone, they are also very thought provoking.

They make me think about people’s reasoning for seeking higher education. Is it pressure from family? Is it because institutionalized education is all we know? Or is a bridge to the professional world always the motivation?

Well, I know my answer. But I can easily see that it differs from many others.

To put it simply, college isn’t for everybody. I might be a tad bit late with that stark revelation (after all, if you’re reading this, you’re already here, right?), but it’s rarely ever too late to make a change. That change might be withdrawing and following your dreams. Or it might just be switching your major or the direction you want to go with your studies. Either way, change can be good.

I’m not trying to discourage education, by any means; it’s important and it’s the only thing that can never be stripped from us. But if we’re so tied up in making the grade for show, and we forget to actually learn something, then there’s no benefit. Besides, education can come from more than just the classroom.

Learning can come from traveling, independent studies, making mistakes, observing those around you or daily life experiences. And sometimes those can’t happen within the restriction of a formal institution.

All of our dreams don’t require a degree. Sure, if you earn one, you’ll always have a back-up option, but forcing yourself to complete college because it’s what is expected of you is not good enough. There has to be passion. Perhaps the graduation and retention rates would improve if students and higher-ups realized that there are other equally successful options. Instead, many students end up staying in school for so long, they may have forgotten why they came in the first place.

We’ve all gotten used to formularized school settings since we were old enough to walk, talk, read and independently use the potty. For our most formative years, we are bound to academic institutions. And for some, 13 years is enough. But they come to college anyway, and their experience feels more like a forced requirement than an enjoyable ride.

Others are here to find love, satisfy their parents and tradition, or ensure a financially stable career.

I encourage anyone who attends college for the wrong reasons, according to their hearts, to reconsider. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg left Harvard to pursue their goals and have built multibillion-dollar companies. George Foreman left ninth grade, though he eventually earned a GED and became a boxing champ and businessman. And West, my inspiration for this topic, left Chicago State University, where his mother taught, and is now an international music and fashion icon.

Of course, we can’t all be global superstars. But there are far more ways to achieve success than you may realize. Earning a degree is usually the basis for competing in the work world. But if your goals are attainable without a degree, why not chase them? Remember that you can always come back to school if your plans don’t work out.

A simple culinary, artistic or athletic talent can transform from just a hobby to an influential (and possibly lucrative) career. And we should never be afraid to seek to do what we love, rather than settle for what society tells us is right.

I fit into the college world. If I didn’t think it would lead to my success, I wouldn’t be here. But while I’ve been here, I’ve never been afraid to fail or use school as a tool to promote my dreams, no matter how ambitious. You can do the same with or without a degree, and you might even find that changing your plan could save a lot of time, money and a lifetime of wondering “What if?”