There are not many things as inconsistent as the future prospects of a student about to enter college.
For years, children are told by adults and the media that they can be anything they want to be; life is only a matter of finding something you genuinely love and the money will follow regardless of your initial circumstances. And it is not that we grow older to find that this is a complete lie, only that the policy actually comes with a couple of preconditions.
You should know up front that this is not an essay bent on cynicism or disillusionment. I am aware there are problems with how society views the youth and too often the culture on education works against itself, but I have never believed that either of these things was beyond help. However, these are not issues that are going to deal with themselves either and, despite conflicting opinions, they need to be discussed.
Society has somehow managed to present higher education in a way that makes it appear both desirable and useless at the same time.
On the one hand, the years you spend in college are supposedly vital in gaining independence and self-awareness; these are the years you discover what you really want to do with your life.
On the other, there is no guarantee you will actually follow through on that. Because, according to the media, earning a college degree can only lead you to one of two things.
The first is that granted by a degree in science, where you are a well-to-do engineer or doctor who speaks only in technical terms, you are constantly assured of the importance of your work. Unfortunately, past your brain, you do not have a lot to offer and your lackluster personality often puts you beside the other mindless robots.
The second lifestyle is that which comes with taking up liberal arts. In this, you are the cool and creative artist with all the friends and life experience. There are not a lot of cons to this life other than the painfully long period of time you will spend living in your mom’s basement and the ridiculous amount of energy you waste on every person that condescends with the classic “what do you even do with a liberal arts degree?”
I am aware that at first, this may read like an overreaction and that these preconceived biases might not seem like a big deal, but they are. Because in allowing children and their parents to believe that there are only two real products of higher education, we create a dichotomy in which students cannot exist without feeling either used or invalidated.
We want to create barriers between the stuff that makes for success and the stuff that makes for failure so badly that we do not take the time to check if we are drawing the lines in the right places. And we are not. How could you assign baggage to someone based on their degree?
The world is not painted in black and white; it is not fair to expect skillful production from individuals and judge them for the stigma attached by society instead.
What they forget to tell us when we are 5 years old is that disappointment lies on every path. There will always be moments when we will question our life decisions and each of us is doomed to a little existential angst. And that is okay. Failure can be awful and disorienting, but it is never final.
I understand that there is more to the job market than crossing your fingers and hoping for the best, that the demand for some types of work is higher than others and that there is a lot more to the economy than I could possibly understand at this age. But I refuse to believe this compromises the value of any field in higher education.
Mathematics, literature, rocket science—they are all worth exploring and discussing. The key to success is a matter of understanding and competence.
(Editor’s Note: The writer graduated with honors from the Philippine Science High School and is bound for the University of Minnesota in the United States this fall to take up industrial engineering.)