23 March 2012

College Choices

I was reading an off-hand remark in someone else's journal that said that the Evergreen State College (from which I graduated twenty years ago) is a fun but not a practical school and it didn't attract employers.

I started to respond... and then I realized that I had a lot more to say than I thought. So rather than clutter up another person's journal I decided to clutter up my own with my thoughts on the college experience generally and the Evergreen Experience specifically. I originally wrote this in 2004, but it is still relevant today.

As a counter-example to the Evergreen doesn't attract employers statement, my husband was hired right out of Evergreen, the company paid our moving expenses and he ended up flying back to Olympia for graduation.

All three of the adults in my household are graduates of Evergreen. We are all employed and have done quite well for ourselves. That does not mean we all got dream jobs right out of school but our educations have served us well in our various endeavors.

One of the women I went to school with trained in computers, worked in that field for several years and has now started her own landscaping business. Not what she trained for, but what she found a passion for a little later in her life.

Regardless of the school attended, you get out of it what you put in, getting a job at the end is a nice bonus, but is not guaranteed. Neither is getting a job in whatever field you train for. Luck and timing play a large role in that.

Two other stories. My middle brother went to school on the east coast and settled there. He studied his passion, the Middle East and learned two languages along the way. His hobby was computers. When he graduated school he worked for several different firms doing different things. None of it directly related to his major in school. Currently he works for an internet based company as a lead techie. He met his (now) wife there and seems to be settled in for the long haul.

My youngest brother went to Evergreen. He studied all manner of things (one of the nice things about Evergreen, it doesn't lock you into a major). He's been steadily employed since graduating, not always at jobs he wanted to do, but he has been a passionate fringe theater director and has since moved on to freelance technical writing.

College doesn't prepare you for a specific job, if it did there would be too many square pegs and not enough square holes. Instead it gives you tools to build your life. Finding the right school, one that fits your needs and matches your learning style is important. Sometimes an ideal match is not possible, or sometimes a range of schools with work for a particular person.

One of the many things I liked about Evergreen was that they were willing to make exceptions. Part of their model was the idea that some folks might do well at Evergreen who hadn't done well in other, more 'traditional' schools.

Was Evergreen fun? Yes, but only because I met some really wonderful people who helped me make it though. It was very challenging academically. I cried buckets of tears, I tore my hair out over deadlines, I learned a lot in four years there, and one of the most valuable things, was how to keep learning without the benefit of teachers or the structure of the classroom.

If you go to school and expect that someone will hand you a job along with the diploma at the end, you will be sorely disappointed. The diploma might help you rise a little in the resume pile, since it shows that the applicant can follow though with a project, but it will not guarantee you a job. This is true regardless of what school you attend. So if you go to college, study what interests you at the time, don't try to predict what you will be doing ten years from now and study for that-- let the person you are now, study the things that interest them now.

College is your chance to do the work you want to do. You'll have enough of doing jobs you don't like or that you have no control over once you leave school (or even while you are in school). Education should be fun, and agonizing, and powerful, and stimulating, and exhausting.

1 comment:

Mr. Brueghel said...

To add to your list, here's what my friends ended up doing after Evergreen, at least the ones I kept in touch with:
* Helicopter repairWOMAN (one of, like, three in the country probably)
* PhD in botany from Harvard, now professor/researcher
* Cell biology researcher at AmGen
* Independent high school tutor
* Journalist
* Multimedia producer at Berkeley Repertory theater

There's no common thread among those jobs except that they required a certain amount of vision and drive and cussedness to achieve. They're things those people thought, "I want to do that, so I think I will." What I got out of Evergreen, and it's an odd thing to get out of a school, which is a state institution whose purpose is more or less to rubber stamp your learning, was the idea that I don't need to ask permission or be officially sanctioned to do something. Life is a game where you make your own rules, and the practice of making my own rules and being accountable to myself first and foremost put me in good stead for life. It's an entrepreneurial approach to life, and honestly 15 years later, I've really seen it work. I mean, at Evergreen, you're an *adult* from day one. You have to make your choices and face the consequences. You get evaluations, but you end up pursuing whatever quality of work you pursue for its own sake because there's no quantitative ladder to climb. It's definitely not for everyone; I think a majority of people like clear boundaries and rules and structures that tell them when they are doing hte right thing, but honestly, life really isn't like that even in corporate America, and especially not any more. Let's just say that every time Evergreen asks me for a donation, I give it without a second thought.