Learning to Learn: Being Pre-Life

I had forgotten how difficult it was to be a freshman. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t even begin to quantify how often this year I’ve found myself wistfully daydreaming about my first year at Emory — the classes were easier, and the obligations were almost nonexistent. I probably spend more time reminiscing on my first year than most do, given that I work as a sophomore advisor in a first-year residence hall. Every other week, I overhear a conversation that reminds me of how good it was to be a freshman.

At least, that used to be the case. Then course registration began and brought with it a whole new level of stress. To be sure, unless you’re planning on graduating in a month, course registration was a stressful process, regardless of what grade you are in. But the first-year students seemed to have it the worse.

Not just because they had the latest enrollment times, nor because they seemed poised to be most affected by the credit change.

No, the (dozens of) questions I have answered during the past few days have not focused on selection strategy or credit changes but instead have been much broader in nature and nearly impossible to adequately answer.

Questions like, what classes will I find the easiest? Or, which major will most effectively prepare me for the job market?

Inevitably, the questions became more personal, as the students begin to inquire about my personal experiences and opinions. Eventually, the question gets asked: why would you choose to be an economics major instead of going to the business school?

The question irks me more than I’d care to admit. I am not being asked whether I think a degree in economics is more useful or fulfilling than a degree in business. No, the answer to that question seems to be a foregone conclusion, leaving me to justify why I would choose such an inferior field of study.

Do I think that an undergraduate degree in economics will be more useful to me, given my interests and goals, than a degree in business would be? Of course I do. As a matter of fact, I think an economics degree is generally more useful than one in business, regardless of a person’s particular interests or goals.

But this kind of analysis was not why I chose to major in economics. It wasn’t the degree I was concerned with. It was the education behind the degree.

Yes, a degree in business is undoubtedly useful. The particular skills taught at Goizueta (or any other business school, for that matter) are unlikely to go out of demand any time soon.

But is college really the time to focus purely on developing a particular set of professional skills?

College is a unique time in a person’s life. For many of us, this is the last opportunity we will have to be full-time students. For a few short years, we have the opportunity to learn about virtually anything.

Politics, culture, film, music, literature — those topics that we were tempted with in high school, that our teachers spent only a fleeting few minutes on before realizing that they had strayed too far from the established curriculum.

Had I pursued a degree in business, I would have had substantially less time to study politics, economics and philosophy. Gone would be the class periods spent discussing and questioning, replaced by hours of number-crunching. I would have spent more time learning how to “business,” and less time learning how to learn.

The problem with our education system is not that we’re learning the wrong things. The problem with our education system is that we’ve forgotten what it means to want to learn, forgotten what it means to love the actual process of learning.

I have my share of problems with the American way of doing things, but the relative importance we place on a liberal arts education is not one of them.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t keep our eyes on the proverbial post-graduation prize. Many who graduate from the business school will undoubtedly go on to find comfortable jobs with a good salary. But does that mean that the rest of us are wasting our time, studying things with little to no practical relevance?

I have the rest of my life to develop professional skills and find a job that I enjoy. I have only the next few years to make the most of my college education.

I would rather spend my time learning about the things I love than learning how to balance a bank sheet, having little faith that if I love what I study and study what I love, I’ll end up finding a fulfilling job. I think that’s far from a controversial sentiment.

Ryan Gorman is a College sophomore from Plano, Texas. 

  • A.J.

    “But is college really the time to focus purely on developing a particular set of professional skills?”

    The answer is yes.

  • Reality

    If you’re going after a liberal arts degree, you’re going to need some serious networking skills. Otherwise, you’re going to get filtered out for every job you apply for.