February 29, 2024
Illustration by: Franchelle Fallaria

When I started college, I thought I knew exactly what I had to do in order to secure myself ‘the good life’ after school. Just like what we always hear from our parents, “Study well, so that you may landat a good job and enjoy a stable future (because we won’t be around forever.)” I took such advice as the same thing as having excellent grades because I had the habit of wanting to do all things right. ‘To study well is to excel in school,’ I often reminded myself. However, even though I held on to that belief for quite some time, I never expected that later on, I would understand how little did grades matter to my life as a student and even more in the life ahead of me.

I started my freshman year with so much excitement and optimism that my seventeen-year-old self was so determined to do great things (because here I was, finally moving on to face something that could potentially shape my future). College, I thought, was supposed to be the ‘real thing’ as most people often say that it was very much different from high school.  I really wanted to excel in everything that my institution would require of me for I was expecting to learn profound things in college. Indeed, I was so determined to do just that.

“I really thought that we were up to something that was way beyond just remembering names and dates and other forms of indefinite information for the sake of acing a single exam.”

It turned out that my vision of college was not even close to what it actually was. I’ve only been in college for three years, but with these, I realized that college was a lot like high school (at least here in De La Salle Lipa). We were still required to memorize facts and figures, to familiarize ourselves with charts and tables. Most of the early topics were even a mere reiteration of our previous years in school.

So suddenly, I started to disengage. And it was not because I was no longer interested in those lessons or areas of knowledge (I still believed that they were considerably relevant to understand) but because at that point, I really thought that we were up to something that was way beyond just remembering names and dates and other forms of indefinite information for the sake of acing a single exam.

Such a routine went on for a couple of semesters. Normally, the teacher would begin a topic and after a few days, an assessment would follow— tests which only intend to measure ‘how much’ we knew instead of truly gauging ‘how well’ we understood a certain principle. As a result, my first two years in college unfolded and I was not able to fulfil the promise that I made to myself. I did not excel in everything that my institution required of me. My grades were not as satisfactory as the ones I earned when I was still in high school. And this was all due to my sudden disengagement even though I considered it as a conscious decision.

With that experience, I began to doubt myself  whether I have made terrible mistake at this crucial point in my life as a college student. I feared that if I was no longer excelling in the things I should be doing throughout the course of my life (as reiterated by our professors, reminding us of our career choice), my future would be miserable or perhaps I just wasn’t cut out for the challenges of the real world.

It was not until I got used to obtaining mediocre academic remarks that I realized something significant: In real life (after we graduate), we won’t be sitting in one room, figuring out the answers to questions found in a textbook. Instead, we would be in different places figuring out the answers to problems we might never have read in any textbook discussed in school. These could be problems that sometimes would not involve anything from the subject matters taught by our professors. Instead, they would be concerned more on our own character as an individual which could never be measured by test remarks or any kind of scoring rubric.

Thus, if college is meant to prepare us for the future, one might be wondering: How come we are only being equipped with the abstract knowledge of the world? How can we be fully ready if we are being trained to excel in endeavors which do not resemble the reality ahead of us?

Despite this, I still do think that college prepares us for the future. Other than honing our technical competencies, the college system, as it is, already gauges our character as students in ways that are very much different from how grades are calculated.

When I started to loosen up on my academics, I have also discovered what might actually be the most important lesson I have learned in college so far: There is more to the college experience than just the academic setting. Outside the classrooms, there are also a lot of tests we face as students. College requires us to adapt to all sorts of life situations such as creating new sets of friends, dealing with unlikable people, working out financial difficulties or even overcoming an unexpected heartbreak. This is because we are already at the point in our lives wherein we get to know more about ourselves as young individuals setting out into a world that would require us to make real and important decisions. In the end, no one shall reward us with grades on how well we handled such situations. Instead, the only way to know whether or not we passed such tests is by self-assessment— being able to reflect on our gains and losses in times of success and misfortunes. Indeed, the college system is already a mimicry of the real world, a venue to make lasting connections with people who may actually help us with our lives in the future. And I think that this idea should matter more than the numbers we reap through the activities done inside the classroom.

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