College Graduation: A Credential or a Meaningful Experience?

In the October 26, 2009 edition of Newsweek magazine, former University of Tennessee president and current Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander wrote an article called The Three-Year Solution: How the reinvention of higher education benefits parents, students, and schools.

Three-Year vs. Four-Year College Career

The debate over three versus four years of college has devolved into two camps- both of which have fairly valid points supporting their positions broadly defined as finances versus student development. (Check the article’s comments for some of this debate.) Finances certainly enter the equation in the college selection process, but the issue is much bigger than saving a few dollars. It’s important to remember that attending college will be one of your most meaningful experiences if done well. I believe college has to be about more than just the acquisition of knowledge or vocational skills to achieve a credential.

So What is College About?

College is about a lot of things: self-discovery, identity development and learning, to name a few. Much of this personal growth is supplemented by- or for some students takes place exclusively outside- the classroom experience. Study abroad, internships, volunteer experiences, extra- and co-curricular activities are all meaningful and vitally important parts of your college education. Pursue them. There are many resources on this blog that address these areas and I would direct you to them for further discovery.

How Much Time Does it Take?

sb333On average, it takes 120 credit hours to graduate from college. Over the course of a three-year college career you will spend 60-80 hours per week on your academic work (Classroom time combined with the unofficial rule of 2-3 hours of work outside of class for every hour of work in the classroom).  Assuming that you sleep, eat, bathe and have some semblance of a social life, that doesn’t leave much quality time for study abroad, internships, volunteering, or extra- and co-curricular activities.  If you are a varsity athlete, employee, and/or a commuter, you may find it nearly impossible to try and balance your time. 

What Should You Do?

You should give some thought to the trajectory of your personal development thus far, as well as how you want college to serve as a meaningful experience for you rather than just as a credential on your resume. The answer is different for everyone (remind your parents of that if need be.).  Certainly there are pros and cons to either approach. Many student affairs administrators, high school teachers, counselors and college professors will tell you that the college years are a time of great self discovery and identity development. You know my point of view, and thus bias, is defined by my belief that students are developed over time through a series of meaningful experiences. Give yourself the time to have the meaningful experience.

What do you think?  Make it a good day.


Mike Severy is the Director of Student Life at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He views his work through the lens of student leadership development believing that students are developed over time through a series of meaningful experiences and that his role is to help students create and find the meaningful experiences in their lives.  He took five years to graduate from college – the experience remains one of his most meaningful experiences. You can connect with Mike on Twitter (@mikesevery).

Related posts:

  1. Meaningful Experiences
  2. Oh the Places We’ve Been: College Graduation
  3. Meaningful Interactions

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  • Dan Schawbel

    Dan Schawbel, the founder of the Student Branding Blog, is a world renowned personal branding expert, the international bestselling author of Me 2.0, as well as the publisher of the Personal Branding Blog.

  • Connect With Dan

  • Chelsea Rice

    Chelsea Rice is the editor-in-chief of the Student Branding Blog. She began her work for just before graduating from Boston University, where she studied journalism and minored in international relations.

  • Connect With Chelsea

  • Recognition

    • Recommended resource - The Washington Post
    • "A terrific way for students to learn about branding" - Lindsey Pollak
    • "Worth checking out" - Psychology Today
    • HR World's top 100 management blogs