Putting My Life On Hold
"If career preparation is supposed to be the
point of college, then why isnít it the focus?"

by Shannon Hurd

Going to college was not optional for me. In my family, it was just another step that had to be taken in order to achieve the American-dream lifestyle that everyone around us lived. Consequently, as soon as I graduated high school, I enrolled in the English Department of Colorado State University, confident that I was making a smart decision.

I still remember the day my parents dropped me off. Standing there in a tiny dorm room with stained carpet and torn curtains, I swore Iíd make something of my life. Accordingly, I spent 22 hours writing my first paper. Thrilled to receive a 98 percent, I became addicted to the highs of success. I went on to earn seven 4.0ís, two scholarships, and membership in the National Honor Society. I truly believed the hard work was worth it. My transcript shone like the pot of gold at the end of my rainbow. I had no doubts I would be successful.

It wasnít until a few months ago that I realized how disillusioned I was. I had been combing through the classifieds when my eyes fell upon my dream job. "National College Magazine looking for writers", the boldface type screamed out. "Ideal candidates will have strong creative skills."

Thrilled, I spent the weekend composing a resume that highlighted my most impressive scholastic achievements. Needless to say, I was stunned when the interviewer barely took one glance before tossing it aside.

"No experience," he said flatly. "Next."

I felt like screaming "what do you mean, no experience? Look at these grades", but his secretary ushered me to the door, leaving me alone to absorb the shock of rejection. Nobody ever told me that it was possible for a 4.0 student to be turned down for a job.

Convinced it was a fluke, I applied at the local newspaper. When I didn't hear back from them, I called to check up. The woman who answered the phone politely told me they didn't grant interviews to inexperienced candidates.

This time, I had to fight to restrain myself. This was ridiculous! Didn't all of my hard work count for anything?

As an English major, 45 credits of classes such as Shakespeare or 19th Century Literature are required, in addition to 83 credits of science, philosophy and history. Altogether, I spend 55 hours a week reading, writing and memorizing.

My incredible devotion to school leaves me almost no time for extracurricular activities; nevertheless, I used to write an occasional article for the college newspaper. Eventually, I was promoted to editor, but when the long hours began to interfere with my schoolwork, I quit. I remember rationalizing my decision by saying that school was my first priority, and that jobs would follow after graduation.

However, today when I look through the want ads, I feel like I've been cheated. I see plenty of demands for two years experience at a print publication, but none requiring an extensive knowledge of how to write academic papers. Yet 95% of my energy in school went toward the latter, leaving me little, if any, time to devote toward the stuff the real world is demanding that I have. If career preparation is supposed to be the point of college, then why isnít it the focus?

All Iíve heard for the past 21 years is how valuable a college degree is. For awhile, I agreed. But today, after being turned down for several jobs due to lack of experience, I'm angry that I didn't drop out of school to work on my novel. After all, if I'm going to put so much time and energy into something, it might as well be something worthwhile.

And looking back, what did I gain by sitting in a classroom and taking notes on world wars and the scientific method? Did all of the time I put into memorizing the last 30 lines of Shakespeare's Hamlet help to get me even one job interview? Sure, I may have picked up some valuable life skills while in college, but I'm not convinced that I wouldn't have learned those anyway at my age. I am struggling to understand why so many people insist on praising the virtues of a college degree. Has it just become another one of those meaningless societal status symbols like fancy cars or designer clothes?

A friend suggested my major was the problem. But if this were true, then why do I hear so many of my friends complaining about their majors, too? Whether it be business, computer science or English, nobody understands the point of filling every second of the day with the read-memorize-forget routine.

Given my experience, I feel that a college degree would be a lot more valuable if students were required to get some outside experience to supplement their in-class knowledge. Instead of requiring four science classes, why not three science classes and an internship? Such a change would be especially helpful to English majors like myself whose future will be determined by where we can sell our work, and not whether we can identify the exoskeleton of a crustacean.

I know it is possible. In my college career, I took one class that taught me how to write and submit essays for publication. This ever-so-brief taste of the real world was like holding an ice cream sundae in front of a child and only giving her a small bite. Well, Iím a big girl. I want my college education - the education I am paying for - to include everything. The chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and the cherry.