by Semy Rhee
After discussing her Degree Completion Plan and a rough estimate of how many courses she needs to take, this is what I hear from Robin* on the phone: “I don’t think I’m ever going to finish this. Maybe it just means I need to stop. It’s not working out for me.” I spend the next half hour encouraging Robin, praying with her, reminding her that she is getting closer to finishing every day—trying to speak hope and a positive attitude into her somehow.
As an Academic Advisor, I encounter situations like this often. Each one of us has unique life situations that add stress and difficulty to being a student, but regardless of what we are struggling with, we are all trudging our way through the doubts that we have about higher education, about sacrificing so much time, money, and sleep for the diploma that seems invisible right now. Robin’s struggle with discouragement and weariness is familiar to most of us. If you have not already, at some point in your college career you will ask, Is this actually amounting to anything?
Whether it is getting hired for a certain position or making a better salary, each one of us had a goal in mind when we started our education. However, those goals only seem distant, and pursuing an education can seem pointless in the midst of all busyness and stress. This does not mean that your present struggle with education is going to waste, though—the value of a college education cannot be summed up as one big measurable benefit. It cannot be simplified into a salary or even a future career. I believe that there is an important aspect of college education that we fail to recognize, one that is subtle yet so significant that, if forgotten, will make this pursuit miserable instead of delightful and rewarding.
The point of a liberal arts college education is this: to transform you into a better person through expanding your mind and heart. This is the purpose of every course and every assignment that you have—to challenge and push you to examine the world and engage with ideas of others so you can refine your own. This idea is hard to digest, however, because of the desire for instant satisfaction in tangible ways that is characteristic of our society, characteristic of me. We tend to attach our educational goals to a certain salary or career and get frustrated and discouraged when it feels like it is taking too long to get there. It is even more difficult to remember what you are gaining through education when all you can see ahead is the next deadline for an assignment, but we need to remember that every little step in our education, no matter how insignificant it seems, is a moment in a transformation process with a value that far exceeds getting a certain job in the future. You are actually becoming a better person, a more excellent intellectual who can make a positive impact in the world. This is the primary goal of your education; even pursuing a future career is secondary compared to this. If this does not happen in higher education, we will have a lot of ineffective doctors, teachers, lawyers, and so on.
I am not saying that it is easy. I know it is hard. Learning is strenuous and painful. But I want you to take a second to remind yourself that every step in this journey is significant—you are expanding your mind and perspective at this very moment. And after enduring the growing pains of stretching your intellect, you will find yourself knowledgeable, equipped, and transformed. So take heart. Seize the opportunity that you have today to become a better person, and delight in worshipping and loving your Creator with your whole being, including your mind (Matt. 22:37).
*Name has been changed for maintaining confidentiality.