Should College Really be the Best Four Years of Your Life?

Isn't that a strange goal? Shouldn't college prepare students to have better lives later on?

NRO’s John J. Miller has an amusing retort to an age-old saying:

I just received one of the University of Michigan’s alumni publications, LSA Magazine (LSA = Literature, Science, and the Arts). A column by LSA dean Terence J. McDonald boasts about Michigan’s performance in college rankings and the university’s general awesomeness. It concludes with this sentence: “And that is why our students will have the best four years of their lives here.”

Isn’t that a strange goal? Shouldn’t college prepare students to have better lives later on? Or is it really all downhill for Wolverines once they set foot off campus, take jobs, start families, and assume the full burden of adulthood?

Neither college nor high school come close to being the best four years of my life.  But those years are, indeed the high point of many people’s existence.  Whether they excelled in sports or were members of the in-crowd, they had little responsibility, fame, popularity, and status.  Those things are much harder to attain in adulthood.

But even for some people who went on to great success later in life, those college years are looked back on fondly. For one thing, the less pleasant parts tend to fade in one’s memory over time.  And there’s something to be said for one’s first taste of autonomy and having the opportunity to fail with minimal consequences.

Work and family are more substantial than frat parties, pep rallies, and football games.  The rewards are greater but they come with many more burdens.

via Glenn Reynolds

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. B. Minich says:

    I wonder if part of this feeling has to do with being the last time many enjoyed their field. Many go to college, enjoy a certain field, but don’t enjoy it once in the workplace. Could this be a reason college is recalled fondly?

  2. Chip Bennett says:

    I loved my years in college, but it was a means to an end.

    Being a productive member of society – and, far more important, being a husband and father – make for far, far better years of my life than any time spent in college.

  3. john personna says:

    It would be a funnier headline with “5” or “6” years.

  4. College was the most pleasurable three years of my life. Part of the pleasure was learning how to distinguish pleasure from happiness. I’ll echo the above about career fulfillment and marriage as significantly better than the sybaritic environs of a four-year university.

    I’m hoping, and confident, that the best four years are yet to come.

  5. JKB says:

    I guess they’re talking about all those students who spend the rest of their lives trying to pay off the debt they incurred during those “best years”? So why all the complaints about school loans, weren’t those “best years” worth the rest of your life?

    For those of us who went to class, then rushed to work and spent late nights trying to solve differential equations or absorb thermodynamics, they were just very busy years with some semblance of a social life sprinkled on the edges. Of course, the best came later when we spent the first paychecks on things we wanted rather than trying to abate the hangover from those school years.

  6. Brummagem Joe says:

    Actually my university years took some beating. Never quite experienced the same sense of freedom and sheer fun since. After a fairly rigorous school it was like being set free in the world. I hadn’t the slightest interest in being a “productive member of society.” I’ve had lots of interesting and enjoyable experiences since but nothing quite the same. When I deposited my kids at their colleges and drove home i was a bit envious.

  7. tom p says:

    If you remember college, you weren’t there.

  8. george says:

    Or maybe its just because college coincides with being young, fit, and effortlessly healthy?

  9. superdestroyer says:

    Does anyone really believe that the students who are commuter students at Temple, George Mason, Georgia State, Memphis, UAB, UT-Arlington, UMKC, Metro State view college as a great time. Do you really think that the 20% of the students who did not come back for their sophomore year at Arizona State, Michigan State, Penn State really thought that college was so great.

    The problem with the U.S. is that the few percent of the population that attends selective university and succeed really linked being in college. Very few other people really did. The elites need to remember that most people settled on a college because they had few other choices.

  10. george says:

    “The problem with the U.S. is that the few percent of the population that attends selective university and succeed really linked being in college. Very few other people really did. The elites need to remember that most people settled on a college because they had few other choices.”

    I don’t know, even most people who went to local colleges because that’s all they could get into or afford tend to look back on those years – perhaps not the college itself – fondly. As I said, they were young, effortlessly fit and healthy, meeting a lot of new people (and as someone said discovering anatomy), with few responsibilities and a body that could take long hours either studying, working part-time, and studying.

    Of course, the older you get the more idealised those college years become.