Toronto always brings back memories. While strolling through the campus of University of Toronto, a wave of nostalgia washed over me. In the blink of an eye, I am no longer in school, but I still long for those student days. All those student hang-outs, the bookstore and the charming residential streets that border the campus. I have been in those buildings before, sat or slept through lectures. Oh, how life was so easy then. Those days are just memories now. I miss the student days.
Deep inside, I love being a student. I have always retained a craving to learn, as much as possible even if I don’t think I am brilliant. The pursuit of knowledge is what defines me. This then leads to the question of whether students should be in school for so long to acquire knowledge. It is a fair question because we live in a society where level of education has become increasingly decoupled from income and status (although a degree from Harvard is always an asset). There are tech entrepreneurs who never got past their sophomore year. Yet, I know plenty of career students (and long ago including myself). Graduate school has become a default option for many. I used to wonder why people would choose to further education. Why delay your entry to the real world?
The truth is I was one of those people who entered grad school without a concrete goal other than to advance my knowledge. I love learning but the more I think about it, the more I realize that learning can take many forms. Not just being in school focused on any particular subject. Maybe what I wanted was to remain in a comfort zone and have some sort of structure. I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do with my life. In hindsight, the years I spent in school were years taken away my working life and earning potential. In a conversation with a family friend, a bright guy with a degree from Duke, he reminded me of the importance joining the workforce early for financial reasons, and being an economics major, he presented all the opportunity costs of being in school for too long. He could have had many options, but he chose to stop with a Bachelor’s degree and has progressed well through the career ladder. What he didn’t mention is the learning aspect. Learning on the job and most of the time, learning on the fly, and without guidance can be daunting. This is what being a student doesn’t teach you. However, I find it intellectually stimulating as I have always been independent; nowhere else will you get as much latitude to think and be creative. Another aspect of being in the workforce is the ability to work with people of all personalities. Whether in undergrad or grad school, there is a tendency to travel in the same circles (whom I sat next to in first year calculus was my best friend for the rest of the year). What defines success from failure is the ability to work with everyone and respond to different viewpoints.
I will always see myself as a student. Every time I pass through the leafy campus of my alma mater, I will miss the memories of my days as a student. Furthering one’s education is an accomplishment. But I believe just like with every decision in life, it must be grounded in a good justification especially since education does consume a good part of your 20s; there should be a purpose or you will just meander through education. Many pursue higher education because of passion and that is their justification. But don’t be in school just to be in school. Find your purpose and make a decision.