“Why” Is Lost In College Today

Break the status quo and pursue work for your own reasons


Garrett Mintz , Fri 13 September 2019
Me: “Why are you in college today?”


Charles (college student): “To get a degree that will hopefully help me get a job.”


Me: “How do you know that getting a job is what you want if you have never experienced it before?”


Charles: “Because that is what you are supposed to do after you graduate. I mean I want to make money and not have to move back in with my parents and I have a lot of debt to pay back, so I kind of need a job.”


Me: “Ah, that makes sense. Well, considering that you could make money at any job and could therefore likely not have to move back in with your parents and be able to begin paying off your student debt, are there any other factors that play into your job search?”


Charles: “Well, I will probably get a job that pertains to my major because that is what companies hire for, so my major plays a factor in my career decision.”


Me: “How did you choose your major originally and do you like the classes that you are taking for your major?”


Charles: “I chose my major because people with my major have one of the highest job placement rates of all majors. However, I don’t really like the classes that I am taking, but I only have 1 more semester to go before I graduate so I figure that I can muster through it.”


Me: “Through your logic of applying for jobs that hire for people with your major, is there a chance that the work you would be doing in your career could be very similar to the work that you are doing in your classes?”


Charles: “That is very possible, but I figure that with the money that I will be making and having a prestigious company on my resume, that I wouldn’t mind working through it for a year or two. Once I quit, I will probably be able to easily find another job because I have that prestigious company on my resume.”


Me: “So you are going into your job with the anticipation of quitting?”


Charles: “Well, ya, I mean a lot of people do that.”


Me: “Similar to how the company that will hire you out of college will hire you because of your major, have you ever considered that the company that hires you after you quit your first job might be hiring you to do the same exact or similar job as what you did with your original company because of your experience doing that work?”


Charles: “I don’t know, I guess maybe, but if I really didn’t like the job I do after college then I won’t look for jobs that are in that field.”


Me: “If that is the case, then what is the value of having a prestigious company on your resume if you plan on quitting and if you don’t like it you will look for jobs outside of that industry that won’t value your experience at that company on your resume?”


Charles: “I have no clue, I haven’t really thought that deep into why I want to work this type of job outside of the money and the resume building.”


The career outlook that Charles has is very similar to many students that I have interviewed over the past 2 years. College students believe that the reason why they go to college is to have a degree that gives them the credibility to get a job. The issue with this mindset is that college students go to college to get a job but get a job because they went to college. All along the way, college students are pursuing careers that they have no clue why they are pursuing (except for the fact that it pays them money).


What I really wanted to ask was “what else do you Charles (or any other college student) value beyond the money?” It is not that making money is wrong, but you can make money at ANY JOB. Why doesn’t college work towards helping college students understand why they want to pursue the career they are pursuing? Helping students understand their values, beliefs, feelings, and aspirations cannot be measured with a test score but are vital to understanding why an individual does what they do.


College teaches students many valuable skills and much knowledge, but if the only reason why students are in college is to get a job offer, what motivation do students have to learn about topics that they want to learn about (not topics they are forced to regurgitate on an exam for their major and then forget about shortly thereafter)?


Colleges are beginning to implement soft skill development with their students because companies have complained that many recent college graduates lack those skills entering the workforce. These soft skill development classes are required courses for one’s major in which students are told to perform actions like goal setting, time management, networking, etc. These skills are vital skills to learn but are only valuable if the person developing these skills understands why they are valuable beyond that passing the course will get them closer to getting a job.


The “why” is lost in college today and its effect is obvious. With over 70% of Americans either not engaged or actively disengaged (a majority of which are recent college graduates) in their careers (Gallup), 80% of Americans unsatisfied with their jobs (Deloitte), and the fact that the average American changes vocation over 15 times in their life (Bureau of Labor Statistics) it is blatantly clear that something wrong is occurring with Americans and their mentality on their careers.


Socrates believed that “you don’t know what you don’t know” and Warren Buffett once said that “getting a job so then you can have it on your resume is like saving up sex for old age.”


As a college student, it is easy to fall in love with the security of having a job offer. Spending 4 years of one’s life living up for that day that a college student gets a job offer is a lot of built-up anticipation and energy for something one has never experienced before. And if the college student is only getting the job to boost his resume and move on to something later, there is no intrinsic motivation for improving his career.


College is one of the most pivotal times in a person’s life as it is the time when a majority of the habits we hold for the rest of our lives are formed (for better or for worse).


Understanding “why” one does what one does (i.e. one’s values, beliefs, feelings, aspirations) will allow an individual to begin the building blocks of the change he wants to make in his life and the world.


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