Why I don't want to go back to college (yet)
My mother keeps telling me I should go back to college.
I went to college directly after I graduated from high school. I loved my college experience. I loved having philosophical conversations in the hallway of my dorm room or deserted Dining facility at 3:00 in the morning. I loved working with my fellow engineering students racking our brains to figure out how we could incorporate the few skills we had as freshmen to impress our professor in a cumulative final project. That one credit class that was five times more work than the four credit classes I took that semester--combined. I learned so many skills and formed so many ideas about the person I was and the person I wanted to be.
I discovered in college that I had a unique perspective in writing. I took a single level 300 English course to correct the error of skipping English 101. In Theories of Reading and Writing, I wrote responses that were refreshing and fascinating for the teacher. This led me down the messy sprawls of scrawls on the sides of my chemistry and calculus notes. It made me realize I was better at writing than I was at engineering. Then college taught me that if I could not complete little bubble tests within the allotted time, than there must be something wrong with me. I was intelligent enough to attend this prestigious schools, but not fast at the standardized tests. Therefore, I must have some sort of learning disability.
I learned in college to hate myself. To hate the fact that I had leapt into pursuing a technical field simply, because I enjoyed mathematics. I learned that my approach to solving problems by programming, analyzing results, and adjusting until I achieved the correct results was too inefficient. It didn't matter that my manner that could be proven and repeated. It was less valuable than the instant results of plugging these items into a calculator so that I could operate in an isolated test environment. I considered carefully, as I had once pondered broad philosophical topics aloud in the wee small hours of the morning. I decided the fourth year of my engineering program was terrible enough to negate the merit I had earned before. So I took a break to consider my next course of action.
That was when I learned how expensive college was. Four years without a degree equates to "some college" on a job application, but the same amount of debt as those who had graduated.
When I finally dragged myself out of the hole of self-doubt that my bills and unstable income had dug beneath me, it was difficult for me to acknowledge my recruiter's enthusiasm. He told me that that I had received the highest ASVAB score he had seen in a recruit. I already knew, from college, how dumb I must be. That I was successful in this test, merely lessened the value in my estimation. Still I enlisted; I rediscovered piece by piece that I was an intelligent human being of value. I was not a smart fish in a dumb pond. As a Soldier, I was a highly skilled person whose ability to comprehend technical data was amplified by my aptitude in verbal comprehension and communication.
Now, as I exit the military, I am far more afraid than I ever was of a deployment. Although I search, it is hard to picture a job that so perfectly challenges the mathematical and humanities sectors in my brain. Even harder is finding a job with those factors that impacts my country and community in a profound way.
I am told that the easy answer is to return to college and begin my career after I have a degree to match the experience that I have already earned. Financially, it makes sense to get that final stamp of approval. Sure, I would likely have to redo certain courses for a STEM major, since the programming and laboratory credits I have are drastically out of date. Even so, I served in the military long enough to earn the GI bill. Were I to begin completely over, it financially makes more sense to attend school then to start working.
But I don't want to.
It's not that I don't love educating myself. It's not that I don't thoroughly enjoy diving into a new source of knowledge. I continually explore the world for new information. When I recognize a personal shortfall, I work to rectify that issue. In my military service, I continued to garner educational experiences in my joint service transcript or within specialized courses for my career field. I attended individual lectures and participated in technical symposiums that either enriched my value as an author or enhanced my knowledge on a subject.
On my own, I listened to TED talks or news anchors. I relished a masterclass in the art of storytelling by Neil Gaiman. I binge watched informative youtube videos and nature shows I wrote and lost novels on my laptop hard-drive then rewrote them again. My work as a Soldier and analyst forced me to learn more than all of these. I would not trade the experiences I have had since quitting college for a PHD in anything.
I do not want to go to a college that will discard the value I built into myself. I do not want a college to devalue my intelligence again. Nor do I want a college whose coursework is information of little value to me or my future goals. If I can find a college that makes me feel valued and challenged simultaneously, then I will gladly return to the classroom once more. Until I am accepted into such a program, I would prefer to work. Sorry Mom.