Ask Andrew W.K.: Should I Bother With College?
[Editor's note: Every Wednesday New York City's own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions, and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose or -- no surprise here -- a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
Photo by Katie Coleslaw
I'll be graduating from high school in a few weeks, so naturally I've been thinking about college. Mainly, about how it seems like a giant waste of time. My two older siblings have graduated from good universities already, but now they can't find jobs and are up to their eyeballs in debt. I've been reading a lot about how college is just a giant scam -- perhaps best encapsulated by this great parody video -- just the next bubble that's going to burst when we all realize the cost has well outpaced the value. I'm thinking about breaking my parents hearts by not going. Is college worth it?
-- Higher Learning
Dear Higher Learning,
When I think back to all my school years now, it all seems so bizarre. School is weird. College seems even weirder. It's like a job, where your main work is studying, but instead of getting paid for the work you do, you have to pay to do the work. Of course, the idea is that you gain wisdom and ability that far outweigh the cost of attending, but as you mentioned, sometimes what was gained doesn't necessarily equal greater opportunity or income.
I never went to college myself. I enjoyed almost all of my early school years, but by the time I hit high school it seemed like more of my life interests were outside of the school curriculum, and the two schedules couldn't coexist. By my junior year, I was determined to get out of school as quickly as possible, so I began taking a bunch of extra credit classes to graduate early. Most of my friends were older and already out of high school at that point, so most of my social life didn't revolve around school. And I was doing lots of music and paintings and sculptures and stuff which school just took time away from working on. Again, it wasn't that I didn't like high school, I just liked doing other things more.
It really began to feel strange to be forced to sit in classrooms when I had a million other things I could be doing that I found much more exciting and important. I did manage to graduate a year early, and even was accepted to the Art Institute of Chicago, but after visiting and touring that school, it just seemed like going back into another regimented environment, the same type I had just worked so hard to get out of. I moved to New York and even went to an NYU open house for about 15 minutes before I finally decided that I was not meant to go to college.
At first, my parents were concerned I wasn't following the path they had imagined I would. But it was more their friends and neighbors who gave them a hard time, and said, "Aren't you worried about Andrew not getting a proper education?" My dad, who's a law professor at the University of Michigan said, "Look, I teach college -- trust me, it's no big deal."
I think it all depends on what you really want to do. College can really help some people find their true passion in life, and then give them a comprehensive knowledge to work with. Then again, I've talked with plenty of college graduates who still don't know what they want to do with their lives, even after eight years of college. In some ways, I think college can confuse one's sense of purpose. When I decided I wanted to be a Professional Partier, I would've had a hard time finding classes that taught me how to do that. I probably would've been discouraged and wound up doubting my dream, however unlikely it seemed.
And as much as there seems to be lots of awesome partying at most colleges, it also seems like you could attend just as many awesome parties -- if not more -- by not enrolling in classes. In fact, I've ended up performing, lecturing, and partying at more colleges from my work as a Professional Partier than I ever would've had I been a Professional Student. My point is, you can still participate in the college experience without ever having to really go. Some people just love college itself, for exactly what it is. These people often become academics and never really stop going to college for the rest of their lives.
At the end of the day, you must follow your instincts. This college decision, just like any other major life choice, is based on many factors, but deep down inside, there is one clear answer, and if you can tune in to yourself and really listen to your soul, I'm sure your destiny will tell you what to do. Some people are meant to go to college and then quit after a year. Some people are meant to go to college and find the love of their life. Some people are meant to not go to college but educate themselves through adventure. Everyone's path is different and you must listen closely to where your path is calling you. I would recommend not making this choice based on things like money or convenience or anything except what you really feel like you're supposed to do at this point in your life. If it just doesn't feel right, then don't go. But if it feels like you're meant to go, then you must go regardless of any difficulty or expense.
Doing anything worthwhile in life takes effort, and usually extreme amounts of it. Don't let the easiness of not going to college be the reason you don't go. In fact, don't let anything be a reason not to go except your undeniable personal sense of fate. Learning to trust your instincts and developing the courage to tirelessly follow your dreams is the most important and valuable skill any of us can develop. You don't have to go to college to learn that.
P.S. But if you do go to college, please invite me to party!