A Personal Indictment of College, and Next Steps

By: Danny Geisz | June 25, 2020

Project: #Life

Hello readers. I know, I know. Two posts in two days? Is that some sort of record?? Well, astonished readers, it actually isn’t. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it was my intention upon the great digital birthing of this blog to write a post every single day. Intentions, pershhmentions is what I say to that.

Anyyow, (I’ve been saying “Anyhoo” far too frequently for either of our tastes) you may remember in a somewhat distant post that I threatened you poor innocent readers with a whiny post about why I don’t like college. Well, I’ve decided it’s high time to follow through with my threat, even though I’ll be making a good professional effort to keep the whininess to a minimum. As much as it might surprise you, I can actually be professional when necessary.

I think a good place to start with this whole business is to have a frank conversation about the purpose of college. The way I see it (and do yell at me digitally if you disagree) college has four primary purposes:

  1. Fill our bright young heads with all sorts of wonderful knowledge that will either enrich our lives or help us in our careers.
  2. Help us meet and network with other passionate, motivated students who can either be useful connections or lifelong friends.
  3. Get a degree in something or other that will help us get jobs someday down the line.
  4. Be the last final refuge of enjoyment and fun before officially starting our careers.

Now, as we all know, college is expensive. However, from the way I see it, not only is it expensive in terms of the money that is spent, but it’s also four whole years of my life (because I can’t really graduate in three years doing physics/CS unless I want to have a mean Junior year). So, if you’ll let me pop on my cute ‘lil economist hat real quick, the thing that is on the forefront of my mind is this question: is the time and money worth it?

Ok let me start from the top of my list: the academics. In order to understand my frustration with college academics, let’s take a fun stroll down yon memory lane back to my high school years. Basically, since eighth grade, it had been my dream to go to MIT. To make a complicated story overly-simple, I basically decided that the way to get into MIT was to get super good at math and physics (the longer story entails me pulling a theory of everything right out of my butt and proceeding to convince a bunch of high school admins that the only way I could prove it is if I skipped a couple math classes. Wow that sounds so much wilder when I read it than it did in my head).

MIT rejected me, on an academic, personal, and spiritual level, so perhaps you could say that the whole enterprise of me skipping into higher math and physics classes was a bust. However, in the process, I realized something interesting. Basically all throughout high school, I was always teaching myself something about math or physics, be it linear algebra or relativity, directly out of text books. As I did this more and more, I realized that I was able to achieve a significantly higher level of mastery of a subject that I taught myself independently. I also was/am able to retain far more information when I’m learning independently than when I’m in a classroom setting.

Not only that, as Berkeley has so lovingly taught me, I’m straight-up bad at learning in classroom settings. I basically intake zero information from lectures, to the point that I stopped going to most of them (exempting my humanities classes, where the lecture is the class). In terms of academics (and let’s be real, life), textbooks are my best friends because I can move at my own pace and focus more on topics I find particularly interesting.

Additionally, in a competitive and high-energy environment like Berkeley, it seems like academic performance always takes precedence to the content of our classes. And to a certain degree, it makes sense: employers are going to see GPAs, not detailed syllabi of the classes we’ve taken. It’s also been hard for me to escape that mindset because it feels like in order to make the most of the time and cost of college, I should do my best to get the highest GPA I’m capable of getting.

One of the biggest negative consequences of this mostly-toxic mindset is that subconsciously, my focus tends to shift from “oh wow this topic is so interesting, I’d love to learn more about it!” to “what’s the minimum amount of effort I can give learning this topic to still get an A.” While trying to minimize my whininess, let me suggest that the latter doesn’t lead to academic nirvana.

I also find that very frequently in my CS or lab classes, we’re being continuously tested on topics that are incredibly theoretical and don’t have much practical application in industry. Computer Science is such a broad and rapidly evolving field that they can’t really teach us much more than super theoretical topics without lecture content continuously becoming obsolete, but it’s personally quite irritating to spend a bunch of time learning about some super niche topic regarding machine structures that I’m fairly confident will never arise in my life again.

Hmm. I’m drifting onto my fourth page. I’m getting dangerously close to embarking on an all-out diatribe, so let me try to be succinct with this. Meeting students and having fun is great, but I have a very difficult time doing those things when the temporal and monetary price of college is looming in the back of my mind. In practice, while in college I’ve observed myself spending an egregious amount of time studying for topics that mostly infuriate me due to their inapplicability, and then almost immediately forgetting everything about said topics when the class finishes.

Ok, enough ranting. Wait hold on. Belay that order, let the ranting continue: ya wanna talk about degrees, kids? From my (probably naïve, 20-year-old) perspective, it seems like degrees are just nebulous abstractions used to convince employers that you’re a hard worker and have some knowledge in a particular field. Fine. Great. Whatever. The only problem is that after the last couple years, and my internship last summer I learned that I reeaaaaaaaalllly like writing software and I reeaaaaaaaalllly want to be my own boss. Yeah, I know, I can’t just magically be my own boss. But I can try.

Anygree (…you like?), gather round the campfire and let me tell you my future plans. Moving back home for the semester after Corona hit was actually kinda beneficial for me because it jarred me out of my machine-like lifestyle at Berkeley, and I was able to be more honest with myself about my collegiate experience and the activities in which I was involved. After talking about these things with my parents, and also after Berkeley’s decision to do “Classes in the Cloud” (* Danny is heard puking into a nearby trash can *), my parents have graciously allowed me to take a gap year back home in CO. What will I be doing, you ask? Well, the gremlins in my head are constantly trying to convince me that I’m making a mistake by not going back to school in the fall, so I’ll be making my best effort to work the entire time. Work on what, you ask? Stop asking. It’s annoying. Just kidding I live for your feedback, readers. Your words are the sourdough that keeping my heart beating. Anyway, I’m going to be a bit vague about this, but I’ve had a couple ideas I want to pursue, and they most certainly involve web apps. I’ll be coding for days!!

Well, enough of this. I suppose the tl;dr of this post is that I pretty much hate college, and will be doing everything in my power within the next year to achieve a position in which I don’t have to go back. Wish me luck, honey!

Ok, bye.