Why do people really attend college?

An Essay By Ben // 6/24/2002

(written 2 years ago)
Over the past year I have interacted with and observed many people. I met students at the University of Akron — a large state college in Ohio — and at Framingham State College — a small state college in Massachusetts. In these places I encountered both the American student and the foreign student, both the inspired student and the disgruntled, pleasure-seeking student. I also know students who are at the top of the ladder, planning on attending Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia. I know many of these students' plans, and I guess at their motives for attending college. Each has their own set of reasons for attending college, different from every other person. Based on my experience this year, I am inspired to ask the question, "why do people really attend college?" Based on my observations of the past year, allow me to paint a picture of several types of students....

How many times — while in class — have I turned around in my chair to see a whole row of faces behind me staring dully at nothing at all? How many times have I seen a student, bored out of his wits, slumping over his desk in sleep? I have seen this many, many times in every class I have taken. This is the type of student — if I may clump them together — that makes up the majority of the people I come across at college. These students sit in their seats blindly taking notes of whatever the professor writes, thinking of other things. Nothing in their classes seem to interest or impress them, except that "hot" girl or guy sitting in the front row. Sometimes these students excel in their classes — there are many intelligent people in this category of student. But, school is not what really interests them.

What is it then, that motivates them to attend college? Often, these students don’t appear to have thought through why they are attending college, except to acknowledge that this is what everyone does. It is always easier to go with the norm. So, I will attempt to fathom their motives for them. There are two reasons they attend college. The first is short-term pleasure, either in the form of belonging among friends, having a night with a girlfriend, alcohol, or "living the life." There is a sort of pleasure in hurrying everywhere, living in a whirlwind of emotion and desire. Their second motive is to get through college in order to get a good job. College can train you enough so that you can find a comfortable job and make money. This is the first class of students I have encountered.

I also know students who will attend the best schools in America. These students have come from good families. They have grown up surrounded by love; they go to good private schools, and they excel in many ways. In high school, they achieve top ranking and display leadership. They are intelligent, well-liked, and often virtuous. What motivates this class of student to attend college? Although it is different for each one, I think these students have a real desire to please, to gain respect. Going to college — especially an excellent college — is a sign of success. These students may not think so much about the future after they leave college, but they feel assured that college will bring them more success and power. For this category of student as for the last, college is a means for pleasure and a stepping-stone to whatever comes next.

Then, there is the third type of student I have observed. Predominantly, these students are foreign to our country. They have worked really hard to get into college. Often, they have very little money. But, they have a force behind their every action: they are fighting to survive. For these students, education is a ticket for success. But, often, these students also love what they study. They already have a knowledge of how important knowledge is, and this helps them to appreciate everything they learn in college. These students are constantly torn between the two reasons they attend college. First, that they need to learn in order to make it in America, and second, that they want to learn.

Finally, there is the fourth student, who I have never laid eyes on in all this year. This is the student that I hope to be. For this student, college is the chance to learn for learning's sake. Learning is an act of love for this student. He goes to college not for pleasure, power, success, or because he needs to, but because he loves learning. To him, learning is finding truth from every angle and perspective. In this student's mind, life is one long learning process, and college is a sanctuary devoted to protecting and nourishing those who learn. This student approaches learning humbly, not asking it to do things for him or expecting it to obey his plans.

Nowhere can we find this student in his true purity of intention. Every student I have met contains a piece of this fourth student imbedded, and sometimes lost, within his every desire and plan. The first two students go to college for earthly reasons. The third student struggles between what he needs and what he loves — he is caught between a higher motive and a worldly motive. And, the fourth student has leapt off the surface of the earth in his love of learning; he has no ties to worldly motives and is swept away by his desire for knowledge and wisdom. No one falls neatly into any of these four categories. Each person I have encountered has a piece of all these types, though often one type is much larger than all the rest. These are my observations, limited and biased as they may be.

I wrote this two years ago, after being a full-time dual enrollment high school senior. That year was my first real encounter with the classroom 'culture.' Since then I have had two years of real college. I find my critique interesting to read now.... And I don't like my last paragraph anymore.

enjoy apricotpie,




i think i can relate to those who attend college to gain respect. i feel like attending college is going to make my dad happy. and thats all i really want. just to see my father smile for something i accomplished. so that he can feel all his hard work and struggles for raising two girls on his own has paid off.

Anonymous | Thu, 02/07/2008

Reason for attending college

Once upon a time i felt that i was part of those students.I just wanted to attend college just to experience the college life and be able to have a conforsation about it. But not no more i have a better reason for attending college now.

Anonymous | Fri, 07/18/2008


amaaazing amaaazing insight. You should publish this

Anonymous | Wed, 10/01/2008


Really insightful thesis. It really got me thinking what kind of student I am and why I initially decided to go to college, in the first place.


Anonymous | Sat, 11/15/2008

My friend

It is 3 in the morning and as I was delving into my studies I took a miniature break, I stumbled upon this website and read what you wrote. Earlier in the evening I was looking at pictures of my college on the internet and had an epiphany, the love and respect and I have towards what is considered just as an average college campus to most people, is profound to me. I love learning and I am very moved by what you wrote. I felt sort of sad because of the truth behind your words in regards to everyone having a piece of the fourth type of student within them. I wish human beings as a whole would appreciate and love the learning process more. May you have a long and pleasant life. Take care friend.

Anonymous | Wed, 10/14/2009

One of the most significant things I have read on the internet.

Seriously, I teared up when I began reading your fourth description. It hit so closely to what I've been striving for since my last couple of years in high school. I have always felt that understanding the world around us is the most defining trait of human beings from other animals, and that we should all honor our gift to the fullest.

I do have to admit that I probably look like the first type of student you described. I'm often found sleeping or daydreaming during class, and my grades have always been good, but not great. It's mostly a product of my own disinterest with the material in the class and not of my unwillingness to learn. Sadly, even teachers have become unattached from the idea of learning solely to discover and are more caught up in the semantics of a pass/fail system. Not to mention their own disinterest with actually teaching students in favor of making a paycheck (I went to high school in Nevada. You know, that states that ranks, at best, 44th in the nation for public education). I can't help but feel that most assignments given to me in high school were tedious and anything but enriching.  Either that or I already knew the material and I felt that catching up on my sleep was a better use of my time (generally due to the fact that I had been up all night learning many of the things I would have otherwise learned in the future).

I'm glad you've met more students of the 4th kind(hey... wait a minute), and I would actually like to hear much more about your experiences with them. I find it hard to meet any of these people, as they usually doing something similar to what I am. And, unfortunately, I'm too much of an introvert to outwardly search for these people, I just hope that as I advance my career in science and engineering that I will one day meet a few of them. I plan to stay in college for a LONG time ;)

Anonymous | Wed, 11/25/2009

people around me

Where i went to high school, it was far different there than most high schools out there. I just graduated, and i have people asking me "where are you going to college?" and i respond with "I'm going to a community college or no college at all and working for my dad". Everyone i have talked to in my graduating class are going to elite and competitive colleges and it seems like they look down on community colleges every time i bring it up. I feel graduating from such an elite high school, no one understands my position on why i am really going to a community college or not going at all instead of an elite college. It is like my high school expects me to go on to an elite college. Usually, people go to college to get a degree in something they enjoy, and they use that degree to go find a nice job. I already have a job lined up for me, so why go to college? People then would say to go for the college experience. Well college is mainly for educational purposes, and to go to college, and spend filthy amounts of money, just to have a great time, isn't a smart idea. I guess all i'm saying is that i felt obligated to go to college because everyone at my high school was doing it, and that my counselors and my friends were pushing for me to go to college, even though some may have never stated such a thing. On the other end of the spectrum, I actually had someone tell me that they felt "sad" that I was going to a community college or not going to college at all. I also had someone else say to me that certain actions i was going to take will leave me at "a community college with the rest of those degenerates" and after hearing all this, it makes me angry knowing that people judge you depending on the college you go to, if any. F.Y.I. I was accepted to Western Illinois University, and everyone at my old high school was pushing for me to go there instead of my decision of going to a community college or no college at all. I really love the insight you gave on students going to college and i just want other people to understand this insight as well, to understand that college is not necessary for everybody. I just want people to understand my position and i feel that is the hardest thing for people to do because i am basically "the odd person out"

Anonymous | Wed, 06/16/2010


 wow. i am amazed. Your observation really made me think. I am now in college, currently taking a break from studying for my big exam tomorrow. Im in mass communication course.

The reason that i go to college is because it is a stepping stone (the certificate) to get a better job & position in the future. I've been in college for only 2 semesters. still have a long way till i graduate. But now I am confused. I choose to take mass comm because i wanted to build my self confidence & perhaps represent for a big company in the future. but now, i feel that communication is not really my passion. my passion is art & design. i want to be an artist & make it big one day. should i follow my heart & passion, or should i continue taking mass communication? mass communication is great, it really opens upon my world. i can see clearer now that the media is badly influencing us all...  i wish to do both. but money is the only thing that concerns me. college is expensive. bloody expensive. & i can't depend on my parents to support me. :( should i stop mass comm & doing what i love most (thus saving my parents money) or should i just continue mass comm till i graduate & forget about arts & design? you said, learning should be continuous. but if i have no money, how? i must make a good decision. i fear that through art & design i can't make money? sigh. what a materialistic world it is. i need opinions.. :-/

Anonymous | Thu, 07/08/2010


college is a trash can of things you don't need. It turns people into SKELS. NYC looks like a trailer park.These types of people hang around you and rip off your assets. I am an american I live in a boilerroom.

Anonymous | Thu, 08/05/2010

Real talk

I'm like the fourth student.


I belive most asian amaicans are like the first student. Everyone is diffreant, But to me money does not come in lazyness. If you want to make it you'll have to be like the third type of student. If you're going to college to impress others..Expect to be in for a disappointment afterward.

Anonymous | Thu, 11/11/2010


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