Mentor Roundtable: The Real Value of College

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the real value of college. Is college really preparing its students for life AFTER college? What do you really get out of the college experience? And given reports of rising tuition and crippling student debt, is college worth it?

Well, if we’re just looking at the numbers, the cost of college actually comes out to negative $500,000. That’s right, negative. Which means that NOT going to college will cost you about half a million dollars in the long-run.

Buuuuuut we had a hunch that the value of college doesn’t just come from statistics on salary and employment. After all, success is not only measured in dollars and job titles. So we gathered our mentors, passed out some virtual pen and paper, and we asked them to weigh in.

What’s the most valuable “thing” you got out of college?

“Creating lifelong friendships was the most valuable part of my college experience by far. Immersed in a campus of brilliant and talented individuals, I forged bonds not based on similarities but on differences. I learned so much from my friends and vice versa; I shared my knowledge of cinema, they’d teach me about a broad range of topics — from international finance, to the political history of Latin America, to the life and music of Charlie Parker. Now, my college friends are scattered across the globe, but we still make a point of staying in touch and seeing each other whenever we can.”
— Stephen Black, Harvard

“When people ask me what it is that made me love Brown so much (and I LOVED Brown), I always say it’s the people I met. I came to Brown thinking I was so smart. I had graduated at the top of my class and gotten a very good score in the International Baccalaureate. I got a 7 (highest score) in higher level math without even studying. Brown was a reality check. It was a bit of a shock after all these years of schooling and no effort to be struggling in math. But I think being put through a challenge like that is what really makes you grow. It was so good to be placed in this environment where I was surrounded by all these intelligent people. It pushes you in a way that you haven’t been pushed before.
— Tanja Manners, Brown

“The most valuable lesson I learned from college was how to find a compromise. Most college students are driven, confident, and passionate, and consequently, they disagree often. Whether the argument’s about 17th century Guatemalan politics, where to eat at 1 AM, or a combination of the two, learning how to reach the middle ground is a skill that’s critical during and after college. After all, CEOs and clients tend to be driven, confident and passionate too.”
— Mike Mochizuki, Brown

“Critical thinking, efficient writing, and a focused, curious mind are all valuable things to take away from college, but from those I’ve come away with this: a hesitation to take things at face-value. On an academic level this means questioning data interpretations, challenging philosophical arguments, and even debating with professors; on a practical, and simple, level it means asking, “why?” I’ve found that success in life, professional and personal, is influenced largely by interpersonal relationships, and so being able to question and understand why someone else is doing what they’re doing is invaluable.”
— Alec Piñero, Harvard

“The most valuable thing I gained from the college experience was a new understanding of how my ideas connect to the world around me. Before college, I could recite tons of facts, but with little conception of how those facts related to other people and to the real world. The college experience allowed me to see how ideas can translate into action, with professors, students, and organizations pushing me to apply textbook knowledge to both local and global problems. It is through this lens that I now try to approach everything I learn, always conscious of how this fact, this idea, this perspective relates to the issues I see.”
— Kathleen Hill, Brown

“The most valuable “thing” I learned in college was empathy – I know, it sounds crazy, but hear me out. At a liberal arts school like Amherst, as well as several American universities, there are no pre-professional majors. Schools like Amherst have some pretty funky classes that may seem not to further our chances in the job market. For example, I took a class on Sexuality in Buddhist history. Why do I need to know about that? Well, I don’t…BUT, during class discussions with incredibly talented peers, you learn that there is never just one side to the story; there are perspectives, biases, and contradictions within every argument. You have to think, “Why do I believe that, and what would make someone else believe the opposite.” In this way, college has changed the way I view the world and the way I interact with others, which will be invaluable for both jobs and general life pursuits.”
— Joey Fritz, Amherst

“Life sometimes feels like one big exercise in decision making. Four years of college force you to face a barrage of tough choices not only academically, but socially and emotionally as well. Because of my time at Brown I feel exponentially more confident in deciding how and when to take charge of different aspects of my life. But thanks to the spirit of inquiry that Brown instilled in me, I also approach situations knowing that not all problems are black and white, and thus not all solutions and decisions can be as well.”
— Mat Kelley, Brown

“The most valuable “thing” I got out of college was the ability to understand and respect a perspective that is far removed from my own. Having attended a racially, socioeconomically, religiously, and culturally diverse university, I was exposed to a plethora of viewpoints that were all forced into a classroom to discuss literature, philosophy, music, art, science, and social issues. This environment has allowed me to develop into the critically thinking, liberal-minded young adult that I am today. I feel eager and confident in sharing my opinion in a respectful, yet direct, manner while still maintaining an open mind as others share their own. These skills will allow me to thrive in both my personal and professional relationships.”
— Michael A. Cadiz, Columbia

“More than anything else, my undergraduate education was a gift to my brain and my soul. It allowed me to critically explore my existence from a variety of perspectives – intellectual, spiritual, philosophical – and granted me tools I use in every moment of my being. Any fiscally-centered response to the question of whether college is “worth it” is incomplete at best and misguided at worst. The skills developed by a college education are essential to fostering a more fulfilling, interesting, and complete life.
— Chris Elias, Brown

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