Sunday, April 3, 2016

Why you should go to college

April 2016: just found this weblog that I drafted ... don't know when. Certainly some time end 2012. Don't know why I did not publish it at that time. I still agree. So here it is:

I just read the following slashdot

commenting on an article from the NYTimes

And, as an academic, I simply cannot not comment on this. First of all: Kids, please, think twice! Especially the part where he talks about not attending college at all. Let me explain why.
Often people confuse correlations and causality. Example: because Einstein played the violin, if I play the violin I will be super smart. There is no correlation here (at least not in this direction). Dropping college, because Mark Zuckerberg dropped college and now is who he is, will not bring you big bucks. Not seriously attending college at all and instead traveling through India will not make you a legend.

In general I disagree with how college education is judged in the article. Maybe what follows is simply my European perspective, but anyways. Attending University is about more than just "getting a degree at the end". It is about developing your mind, in an environment where free-thinking is allowed and, even more, specifically wanted. You are surrounded by smart people 24-7, somewhat isolated from reality. This enclave permits you to read and learn and work on the things you would not be able to in "the corporate world" - simply because in reality you would have to think about surviving. University life is different - and it is supposed to be. It is a period in your life to not worry about these things - because you have a scholarship, your parents can afford to pay or (if you happen to be in the USA) you got a students loan. But you won't need a lot of money anyways: you share a flat, you ride a bike, you eat noodles every day. But you are free from all wordly hastles. Free to think. Free to learn. Free to transform yourself into a beautiful and sharp mind. In classes (sure, not in all) you will be exposed to cutting-edge research or crazy theories you will never ever need in real life but that are simply fascinating and mind-boggling. You will spend nights awake discussing with your mates about Darwin and Freud and Einstein and this fu**** integral that took you the whole night to solve. College is about suffering on many levels: intellectually, financially and even physically. You will be some kind of ascetic, living only for the mere purpose of embedding yourself in an intellectual world and to fill your head with knowledge. College will lead you to the edge of wisdom, to the edge of your mind and will push you beyond. Sure, a hacking course will teach you how to program Angry Birds and eventually to become a Millionaire. But attending university is a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience. An experience you will only be able to appreciate at a young age. An experience and exposition to human culture you should not miss. Sure, if during this experience you realize that you had enough and instead are inspired to found an awesome company, then dropping out might be the right choice. But remember (and this was the case for Zuckerberg and Brin and many others): college atmosphere most likely was the reason that you had this spark of inspiration in the first place.

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