College Does Not Equal Education Or Success

13/10/2016 11:26 AM IST | Updated 14/10/2016 11:48 AM IST

Disclaimer: I am a supporter of higher-education, but with this post, I intend to bring to light how 'general trends' have derailed the youth from charting the best path for themselves.

As school was about to end, I was thrilled to go to college! I was excited to fill in those applications, to write about the "college identity" I created, and, of course, to attend an institution of higher learning for various reasons (among which "education" was somewhere down the list). I had a 'college counselor', who taught me about the 'various strategies' one could use to gain admission into a college. And I loved that experience!

In retrospect, when I question whether it really helped me grow, the word 'NO' stares at me. Why? I was focused on merely ONE end result (i.e. college admission), rather than considering the wide range of opportunities available to me.

Instead of mindlessly joining the flock for a college admission, it's more important to reflect, introspect and try your hand at independent decision-making.

This obsession with the end result has given birth to an age that I call the "college rush" (remember the Gold Rush?), where students reflexively neglect a wide range of other solid options in lieu of the one that "seems" most compelling.

Therefore, I feel that instead of mindlessly joining the flock for a college admission, it's more important to reflect, introspect and try your hand at independent decision-making.

But if you ask an 17-year-old, "Why are you so excited to attend college right after school, and not do other things, maybe even drop a year?" you might hear the following answers:

1. Obviously, college is the next milestone,

2. What will I do apart from attending college? It's what you do to get an education and ultimately success, and

3. That is the most logical thing to do.

Now, these answers seem fairly rational. However, upon examining, you will see there is nothing original about them. These are the external thoughts and voices that are subtly programmed into the youth's software and psyche—so much so that they are believed to be universal truths.

My aim is to bring to light these illusions and facilitate the flow of independent and original thinking.

So, what must an individual do to filter out the external voices and come up with their own thoughts? I propose a few steps:


It's usually a given that College = Education = Success. A belief in the infallibility of this equation forms the basis of a majority of applications.

But how accurate really is this equation? I'd like you to pause and at least give it a thought and reflect for a moment. (Taking the time to pause is extremely critical, especially with hyper-connected distractions taking the lion's share of our lives.)

The relationship between "college" and "education" certainly exists. But what does NOT exist is this relationship: only college = education. Similarly, only education does not lead to success.

It's somewhat like this:

If A=B=C, then A=C. This is a mathematical equation, which is false in the real world.

The truth is that in the world, everything is interconnected. So if A=C, then A=X and A=F as well. This is what we, as youth, need to also understand. This understanding will allow our intelligence to flourish.

What does NOT exist is this relationship: "only" college = education. Similarly, "only" education does not lead to success.

As intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing viewpoints in the mind, once you have a counter-point, you can rationally make a decision and see for yourself what it is that suits you as a distinct individual. You are unique and a standard, vanilla approach to education might not work best.

By this, I do not at all mean that you should reject college. No! What I propose is that you pause and engage in some independent reflection. In this process, when you decode and understand what college means for you, then you will have an original approach toward education, and that is what matters.

Be clear

Clarity of mind is the most important resource there is. It is critical to be mindful of how the human mind is cluttered with more and more hidden drivers, indirect influences, false perceived notions and so on. In this scenario, clarity of goal is never achieved. And thus, you tend to fall into the same trap of doing things mindlessly.

Once you know why you are doing what you are doing, you attain an extraordinary wealth.

Be aware of cognitive biases

We often tend to believe that great universities produce great leaders, and, therefore, they are excellent. However, we may be falling for a very subtle cognitive bias here. We are confusing selection factors with results.

Author Rolf Dobelli illustrates this using what he refers to as the "swimmer's body illusion", a reference to the fact that professional swimmers "don't have perfect bodies because they train extensively. Rather, they are good swimmers because of their physiques. How their bodies are designed is a factor for selection and not the result of their activities."

In the context of education, Dobelli writes:

"Harvard has the reputation of being a top university. Many highly successful people have studied there. Does this mean that Harvard is a good school? We don't know. Perhaps the school is terrible, and it simply recruits the brightest students around. I experienced this phenomenon at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. It is said to be one of the top ten business schools in Europe, but the lessons I received (albeit twenty-five years ago) were mediocre. Nevertheless, many of its graduates were successful. The reason behind this is unknown—perhaps it was due to the climate in the narrow valley or even the cafeteria food. Most probable, however, is the rigorous selection.

All over the world, MBA schools lure candidates with statistics regarding future income. This simple calculation is supposed to show that the horrendously high tuition fees pay for themselves over a short period of time. Many prospective students fall for this approach. I am not implying that the schools doctor the statistics, but still their statements must not be swallowed wholesale. Why? Because those who pursue an MBA are different from those who do not. The income gap between both groups stems from a multitude of reasons that have nothing to do with the MBA degree itself. Once again we see the swimmer's body illusion at work: the factor for selection confused with the result. So, if you are considering further study, do it for reasons other than a bigger paycheck."

Just because getting into the top Ivy League college is a socially coveted achievement, it does not necessarily mean that that it's the best path for you. Just because the top achievers get into the top Ivies does not mean that the Ivy is the best.

So, it is important to take a pause, reflect and then decide for yourself.

When we separate the signal from the noise and question ourselves on our decisions and thoughts, only then can we emerge triumphant in every situation.

Questions to ask of yourself

Before you join the 'college rush' that I've mentioned, here are some important questions you need to ask yourself:

  1. Why do I need to attend college?
  2. Is my intent to have a fall-back option or a job safety net?
  3. What are my drivers to apply for college?
  4. Am I influenced by the brand name (which is noise)?
  5. What do I intend to obtain from college?
  6. Am I being true to myself when I'm answering the above questions?

If you have successfully answered the above questions, I shall go ahead and congratulate you, for you have done some commendable introspection. You now understand your mind.

It is this introspection that will allow you to take a pause and think and chart the best course for yourself.

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