What Is the Value of a University Education?
Today was the last day of classes for term one, but it didn’t really hit me until I realized that I won’t be returning to UBC for classes anytime soon. I’m going on exchange next term and starting my first co-op term after that. The soonest I’d be returning to UBC is in more than a year’s time (January 2016). My goodness. I won’t be seeing you, UBC, for quite a while.
Since I started this blog in September, I’ve always had it in my mind to post some things. Sauder had its first ever public speaking competition at the beginning of the term, with an interesting topic: what is the value of a university education?
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to hear the finalists speak on the topic at the competition, but I’ve been thinking about the question ever since.
This year, I made a couple of decisions that will change (or have already changed) my whole university career and life. In January, I applied to go on exchange to Tsinghua University in Beijing, and I’m leaving for Beijing in about two months. Also in January, I saw a friend’s Facebook post about an information session on volunteering with GIVE in Kenya, and decided to go check it out. I didn’t know that I would actually slip on a huge backpack and fly to Kenya for two months in the summer. Just a few weeks ago, I applied for the co-op program, and got in. I’m looking to start my first co-op when my exchange in Beijing is over.
What is the value of a university education? Having been through 2.5 years of university, I’ve definitely learned a couple of things. How to read financial statements, why consumers buy the things that they buy, and what constitutes a great cover letter are some examples of what I’ve learned in the classroom. The bulk of my tuition pays for these classes, but this is not where the real value lies. Sure I’ve learned a couple of things so far that will help me along the way, but when I graduate, will the $35,000 have been worth it? Will I have gained $35,000 worth of business knowledge? Or $35,000 worth of skills for a career? Or $35,000 worth of experiences?
I can’t say I haven’t gained any of those, but I think there’s more to it.
The value lies in what you make out of it. It may sound cheesy to you, or simple, whatever, but this is one of my greatest ah-ha moments of the semester. What do I want to accomplish in these four of five years? How do I want to grow in these critical few years of young adulthood? Where do I want to go, and how will I get there? This realization not only applies to my time in university, but to everything I do. It’s kind of scary to know that I am the driver; I steer the wheel and can jump on the gas, or break.
Throughout childhood, high school, and even the first two years of university, I just went along and did what other people told me to do. I listened to my parents, my teachers, and my friends. I learned the French, I got the good grades. In my first two years of university, I got involved in several clubs/organizations, later realizing that not many of them were true interests of mine. I had only gotten involved because other people told me to.
What I really want to do is travel. Having lived in Vancouver my whole life, I sometimes feel trapped. The rain doesn’t help either, haha. As much as I love Vancouver, I’ve made a decision that it’s about time I go out. I need to see what’s out there. But I’m not just going to jump on a plane and tour the world. I ain’t got that money. University has given me so many opportunities to live abroad for long periods of time.
I get to spend four months in Beijing, studying at China’s most renowned university. I haven’t applied for any co-op jobs yet, but I could get the chance to live in Germany for six months while working for Adidas. I could go to Canada’s east and experience what negative 40 degrees feels like and spend time with friends I haven’t seen in years. All this is possible because I’m in university. It’s possible because I go to UBC.