Why go to university?

Whether you're a parent or a student, have you really considered the reasons to attend university? And are they good ones?

By Jeff Rybak

University: What's in it for me?

Why go to university?

Nothing aggravates me more than talking about university with people who don't even know why they are there. It isn't the students who annoy me, it's the entire idea that anyone could go through high school, talk with guidance counsellors, teachers, friends, and family, could apply for government loans and sign into debt, and still not have an answer as to why it happened. It isn't the students who have failed, it's the entire system. It seems incredible to think that anyone could invest years of time, and tens of thousands of dollars, with no clear purpose to justify all that effort and expense, but it happens all the time.

Some students will claim they've gone to university to “be successful.” That isn't an answer. Success means lots of different things to different kinds of people and in many cases it doesn't require university at all.

If you want to study something because you are really interested in it, then say that. If you are looking for a specific kind of job, then say that instead. But acting as though university is the one and only ticket to success in life is both simplistic and flawed. It's another way of saying you went to university because you were scared not to, and you're not quite sure why you are there, but you know the alternatives aren't attractive. That's an answer too, though a problematic and potentially dangerous one.

It's never too late or too early to ask the important questions, so let's start with this one. Why go to university? I've suggested broad categories of the various things university is and does, so presumably if you've gone to university you are there to get one or more of those things. Let's look at them again.

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Excerpted from What's Wrong With University: And How to Make it Work for You Anyway, by Jeff Rybak.  Copyright 2007 by Jeff Rybak. All rights reserved. Published by ECW Press.

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