What a College Degree Means to Me


During the three months before I entered university, many people asked me things like: “What major have you decided on?”, “Do you know the classes you’ll be taking?”, or “Have you thought about the initiatives and clubs you’re going to join?” Accustomed to this frame of mind, it became the main vision I had about college life. Amidst the whirlwind of life-planning decisions, my sister told me, “Sis, this is probably going to be the only legitimate holiday you’re going to have for some time, why are you stressing yourself?” Then, I started thinking: isn’t it funny that we were just out of high school, where we had to labor through four years in an institution only to pass a check-point to enter yet another institution… to pass through another check-point and labor for... the rest of our lives? What makes this different than the past twelve years of education that we’ve been through? My uncle once told me that the term “university” stems from the words “universe” and “study”; “the study of the universe.” He wanted to challenge the idea that learning about the world can only happen on an expensive and stressful college campus. To that, I replied, “I just like learning.” I like to learn about vastly different things, and university — and more specifically, Claremont McKenna College — will serve as the platform to further grow my intellectual curiosity.

There is more to education, however, than the things I will learn in my classes. I’m excited for the Athenaeum, for learning Spanish and Korean, and for exploring new fields like philosophy and astronomy. I am just as excited for road trips with friends, midnight sushi or bubble tea runs, and study-turned-meaningful-conversation sessions. So the day I arrived on CMC, I asked myself: What do I want to gain out of my time here?

I want to meet new people: ones who will help me grow as a person, sharpen my intellect, and expose me to new cultures and ideas. The old adage says that it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know. I want my college degree to mean that I forged new relationships that sprawl all over the world.

I want to learn soft skills. With the expansive array of extracurricular activities available, learning “beyond the classroom” is inevitable. Beyond the research institutes and career-oriented organizations, I want to learn from the risks I take and the mistakes I make. Partying a little over my limit even though I have a sports match the next day will be likely to teach me moderation and self-control; taking a late night Uber ride from Los Angeles to campus will remind me to be aware of my surroundings; attending career fairs is not just about marketing myself to potential employers, but observing and learning to strategically navigate my way  within the dynamic “lab” where we learn how to read body language, weave through conversations tactfully and exercise empathy towards others. The hard skills are easily taught in lecture halls and club conference rooms, but I want my college degree to include having acquired these unlisted skills because it is these that are more highly applicable after college.

I want to continue cultivating my “CQ” or “curiosity quotient.” When I Skyped my family after the first week of classes, they asked what I was most excited to learn about. To that, I squealed that I was really excited to start learning how to skate. They laughed, of course, but I meant it. The thing about being in college is that I have complete autonomy over how I want to manage my life. Aside from keeping the life of the mind alive through academic rigor, I want to keep the life of the soul alive. I want to continue learning calligraphy and lettering, just because I think it’s such a beautiful art form. I want to discover the “science” behind color combinatorics, and the Instagram guru’s trick of putting together a killer post. Even though there are expectations and responsibilities placed upon us, I want my college degree to mean that I succeeded in staying curious and inquisitive about seemingly trivial things and I made time for the things I love. What is growth if one’s soul is not kept just as nourished as one’s mind?

Four years from now, I want to be able to look at my CMC degree and say I’ve lived loudly. I want to be able to smile to myself as I think about that day when a group of friends and I “moved in” to Professor Helland’s office and listened to him drop life wisdom. I want to laugh over that day I went to watch a midnight show even though I probably should have taken those extra hours of sleep before a midterm. I want to live through silly life decisions and grow from them—all with a group of friends whom I can call brothers and sisters, under the wings of professors who became second mothers and fathers.

This is what I want my college degree to mean to me. What does yours mean to you?