College means life-long learning, not just memorization

As a student in the College of Arts and Sciences, I often experience those panicked “What am I doing with my life?!” moments. When I began college I was a psychology major, and if I had a dollar for every eye roll I received when I told people that, I could probably pay for my education.

While I used to have a chip on my shoulder about it, I quickly realized why people had this tendency. Psychology is not a hard major. Yes, it has its challenging moments, but there is just no way to compare it to majoring in accounting or chemical engineering. My decision to double major certainly increased my workload, but I am comfortable enough to admit the actual content of my classes is not unbelievably difficult.

My intention is not to bash majoring in political science or psychology. On the contrary, I truly enjoy both subjects so much that I like going to class and doing my assigned reading. Sounds simple, but I believe having a genuine passion for what you are studying makes all the difference in an education.

Throughout my time here I have perfected time management, organization and how to survive for a least a week on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I have also learned how to get along with all kinds of people who are vastly different from me, all important skills I am sure will prove useful in my life.

But as I get closer and closer to the end of my collegiate career, I just can’t help but wonder if college has actually made me any smarter. When I think back on all the random general education classes I had as a freshman and sophomore, I realize I remember very little from those courses. For most of the classes, I merely memorized the information before the test and then let it escape me in the following weeks.

Although I always did well in my general education classes, if today you asked me anything about biology or biological anthropology, I would likely stand there staring at you dumbfounded. It’s not that I think this information is not important; I just do not believe the nature of college courses always encourages long-term retention of knowledge.

We are rewarded with A’s on exams and we feel like we are learning something, but simply regurgitating information on a test does not prove we have had any real personal growth or development.

Real growth and intellectual development comes on your own time. Anyone can sit down and memorize a study guide a few days before the exam, but true learners are those that use their free time to seek new information about the world around them.

Taking the time to read every day will make you smarter. Traveling and having new experiences will make you smarter. Holding a job or an internship will not only make you smarter, it will also give you practical experience in the professional world. All of these things require taking the initiative outside the classroom, and they are especially important for people in the humanities.

People may tell you your degree is useless, or ask you sarcastically what you’re planning to do with that degree in psychology. But if you have learned how to take the initiative and grow outside of school, then you have taken away an important lesson.

When I have those moments in which I question what I have actually learned in college, I try to remind myself it is not the university’s responsibility to make me smarter. It is my responsibility to take the tools educators give me and learn on my own.

Making good grades on exams is a fraction of what school is truly about, and as long as you keep this in mind, your degree will serve you just fine in life.

Katie Dean is a junior in political science and psychology. She can be reached at

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