When does Jimmy become James?

By Krishna Pamidi

Adding question marks to the idea of college

Illustration by Junyu Guan.

Illustration by Junyu Guan.

It’s the end of summer break and there you are, excited. You can hardly contain your excitement throughout summer and the manic grin on your face all through the drive to college. You think back to all the college rumors that preceded your arrival. No more 7 a.m. classes, no more gym, no more math? You wear what you want, and who cares what you eat? It sounded absolutely riveting when I made my drive from Glastonbury, Connecticut to Syracuse in August 2017.

While this might look like a glamorous picture of debauchery, almost all the 17 million students who go through this every year also carry with them the belief that college is it: the high-stakes round.  You either “make it” or you don’t because the minute you’re out of here, life is going to come crashing through the front door and when that happens, you have to be ready. Every year 17 million students are overjoyed yet overwhelmed by the prospect of college because there is no next level after this like high school; this seems to be the decisive factor shaping who you are and what you’re made of. But is it?

“In my family, who have all attended college as far back as my grandfather, going to college was an unspoken truth. Not going was never an option because my family believed in the benefits of attending university,” says Delaney Hurley, a political science major at Harvard University. There’s no denying that it is a major decision; one that can effectively change the rest of a student’s life, for the better or worse. The positives include the more obvious benefits like higher salaries for college graduates as compared to high school graduates, but it goes much beyond that. According to edsmart.com, millennials with a college degree are more likely to be married and less likely to be living in their parents’ home. College graduates are also more likely to find jobs with higher job satisfaction than high school graduates, which in this day and age is quite an important metric to measure opportunity and education by.

The biggest turn-off with college is the money it requires to attend your dream school. As Collegeboard  puts it, an average four-year private college charges a student around $34,140 every year. However, this can go up to around $67,550 including room and board for the more expensive places.  

For folks like Adam Barrett, a Glastonbury resident, the choice was easy. “I have a job lined up after high school that pays me a lot more than I would get paid even if I went to college,” he says. “Besides, I can always just go back to school if I felt like it”.

Barrett works for his father’s construction company, occasionally painting houses. From his perspective, the next move is clear as eggs in an omelet. He could either make a small fortune by starting work now,  or face debt for at least ten years after he spends another four years for a degree that couldn’t get him anything more than he already has — and he’s made his choice.

Again, there are remedies. According to Khan Academy, although college tuition can go sky high, it can certainly be manageable with the help of the government along with various scholarship opportunities. The picture is a little different for our brethren across the world though.

As a school that ranks 34th out of 1300 total colleges in the USA, Syracuse University is a good hub for international students. According to collegefactual.com there are a total of 4,113 international students enrolled at SU, making up 19% of the entire student body. It isn’t all sunshine and roses. For starters, international students are deprived of many scholarship opportunities that the rest of the students have the luxury of aiming towards. And with the new rules and regulations imposed by the Trump administration, the opportunities present to this student population are quite limited. So the question must be asked: what makes them wake up in the morning?

For students like Shriya Rawal, a sophomore from Dehradun, India whose family is spending, quite literally, a small fortune for her to be here, the picture differs from that of Barrett or Hurley. Her motivation to come away from her family, for months on end and spend millions of rupees is simple: Opportunity. She goes to Syracuse University for the social culture and the general slice of Americana, but above all, she goes here for the opportunity to make it big enough so she doesn’t have to go back. And she only has this one shot; after she makes the leap, if she doesn’t stick the landing in a well-paying computer-science-based corporation, it’s packed bags for her.  Indeed, life is definitely hard when you want to compete in a race starting 50 yards behind everybody else.

Given all that, it’s easy to assume that college is the north star of a student’s life and to plug into it more responsibility and blame for big decisions. But does college decide who you are and what you are going to make of yourself? I think not. A good way to think of it is this: college offers you the real world, but in a more controlled environment, a safety net if you will. It is a means for you to experiment, to try and fail, to take risks. Although you are considered an adult at the age of 18, you don’t automatically inherit the maturity of one. That sort of confidence and wisdom comes through failure, the good sort of failure that builds experience and I personally can’t think of a better environment to do that than in college. The way I see it, you don't enter the gates as one sort of person and exit a completely different sort. You don’t enter college starry-eyed, excited for pizza every day and exit with an unnatural obsession with kale. You just learn to moderate.  It’s not college that changes or enhances you, it’s your interaction with the place.

Rawal might have put it best: “Everybody should go to college, if only for a year, maybe just to get a sense of it,” she says. “Because that’s what college does best: it gives you a sense of things, puts it in perspective and lays it out for you. It doesn’t force you to be something you’re not.” College isn’t supposed to overwhelm you, it is supposed to ease you into the real world because like it or not, you, I and millions of others are going to be running it in a few short years.

Krishna Pamidi is a sophomore studying Finance in the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University.