As students who got into Claremont McKenna, busy high school schedules were a necessity. There wasn’t a second of free time. We were taught that we could only get into college if we participated in sports teams and clubs while excelling in academics. We were trained to utilize our time. This was perhaps the most important lesson of our formative years. We carried this lesson into our college experience. When our first year started and we class didn’t take up much time, the question began to arise: “What do I do with all of this time?” The answer was found in Senate, CIE, the Rose, The Forum, SIF, internships, and part-time jobs. The mentality that got students into college persists at CMC.
I was having brunch with one of my FYGlets in the beginning of the year and he told me he was going to apply for a position at CIE. I asked him why, and he said it was because other first-years were applying for positions. I asked him what the acronym stood for, and he couldn’t tell me.
The first year, just a week after orientation, application season begins. Because students, wanting to discover themselves and acclimate to this totally new environment, apply to positions they may or may not be interested in, their peers feel pressured to do the same. All these extracurriculars, however, whether they be Climbing Club, Under The Lights, or training for a marathon, take up a lot of time. Thus, very early into the year, students have to make the decision whether they want to spend time on their classes or on extracurriculars.
If we choose to spend time on other activities, it becomes easy to fall victim to the same pressure felt in high school—to study for a grade rather than studying to learn. For me, I was able to devote a lot of time to my high school studies because I liked learning, but the grade was still the priority. When I came here, I got to make another decision. I had worked so hard to get into a place that could give me an incredible education. This four years may be the only four years in which I have the opportunity to devote my time just to school, and to writing, and to learning. I get to devote my time to conversations with my friends who are Computer Science, Biology, Geology, and Economic majors; people who can pass on the knowledge their professors have passed down to them.
As a Literature and PPE major, the coursework for my classes consists of reading. It’s true that for a few of my classes I don’t need to do the reading because there isn’t an essay or a test. Yet if I don’t do the reading, I won’t be able to use the considerable resources of my peers and professors to challenge and develop my ideas. If I don’t do the reading, I can stay afloat during a theoretical conversation of abstract concepts, but if there’s no way to tie that conversation to the text, my intellectual pursuit is greatly hindered. Not only do I learn more, but I can find aspects of every author or subject that I enjoy, whether it is Thoreau’s dalliance with nature or Okin’s suggestion for a non-gendered family structure. Sometimes disliking the material is where I can develop my intellectual relationship with a topic: finding everything I don’t like and positing the reasons I dislike it. The more time I commit to my classes, the more inclined I am to talk about them, and create a more intellectual and curious environment for my peers.
It can be difficult, however, to start and continue this intellectual pursuit. Although we do attend a small liberal arts college, many people look at spending a day in the library as an unproductive way to spend time because a “productive” day is a day filled with meetings for extracurricular projects. I actively need to fight against the fear that if I don’t have three meetings a day, meals booked for two weeks, and a work shift, then I’m not spending my time well.
I’m afraid that when I graduate I won’t have fully utilized the academic resources at the Claremont Colleges. Some of the smartest scholars in the world are here. Almost every professor is published and they often go on sabbatical to continue their academic pursuits. Whenever a student has a question in nearly any subject, there are faculty members who almost surely know the answer: faculty who have spent their entire lives pursuing academic dialogue and who are not only friends with leading scholars but are leading scholars in subjects as diverse as Robert Frost, the philosophy of experience, French poetry, and Spanish Americans’ relationship with religion in America. For these four years, no matter what we want to do afterward, these resources allow us to learn whatever we want, take whatever classes we want, and become experts on minute sections of knowledge.
A major criticism of this argument is that the extracurriculars are what get you a job. You get hired through connections—not through academic knowledge—and you make those connections by working and building up your résumé with experience. This is the tale that we’ve been told since we first realized we would have to eventually get a real job. There’s truth to this, yet I have another reason why someone who pursues an intellectual life in school is a more competitive job candidate than anyone else, and why it makes sense to have an undergraduate major you enjoy rather than one you feel you need to have for the job market.
A major is a pursuit of knowledge in a particular field. Every major on this campus teaches you how to think in a certain way. We’re not learning facts, we’re learning how to analyze and communicate information. I realized that last semester—my third semester of college. With just a few humanities classes under my belt, I started gaining the ability to break up arguments in my head, find the weakness in the exposition, and respond with a counterpoint. I have learned this skill mostly through academic papers and discussions in my literature and philosophy courses. In a philosophy essay, you read an argument, process the information, find its weakest claim, state that claim in your paper, and then clearly provide support for your counterclaim. Literature papers, again, depend on analyzing text, finding a way to connect the dots to make a claim, and supporting it. This analysis is exactly what scientists do. They analyze a problem and hypothesis a solution through research.
Although an economist probably could not run a biology lab, each subject contains elements that relate to any other subject or career. If you become enthralled by an area of study and major in it, then when you graduate college you will have the ability to relate your area of study to a potential job. You prove that you will be able to use your specialties in any field. You may not have the hard skills, but those hard skills are teachable.
We come to college trained to efficiently utilize time and we quickly learn what this means in the context of CMC: career-focused extracurriculars. Before we let these four years pass by, however, we must question what we want from this experience. We must remember that this is the only time we have to study for the sake of learning and that a day in the library is a just as (if not more) effective way of utilizing our time here. Finally, we must remember not to be intimidated by the job market, because an intellectual candidate is a strategic candidate.