My friend Joseph Ganem, a physics professor at Loyola College in Maryland, offered an excellent reflection on expectations a few weeks ago on his blog. As I see the students returning to Iowa State, I pondered that a good number of them are in a trap–the trap of others’ expectations. Some outstanding advice many college students will never hear:
As a teacher for the past 16 years, I’ve seen many students sabotaged by expectations.
I’ve seen students in majors for which they have no real interest or aptitude, but their parents refuse to fund their college education unless they study something “practical.” The result is students in engineering programs even though they cannot do the math and have no interest in building anything. There are also students muddling through business degrees who would be much better served in the long run with a liberal arts degree. It is actually more practical to have good grades in history major than bad grades in a business major.
I’ve seen students who are not mature enough to be in college but go because it is the expected next step after high school. The result is that they are wasting their time and their parent’s money. Partying all night and sleeping all day can be done at a much lower cost at home than in college, and the results achieved will be the same.
I’ve seen exceptionally smart students who should become scientists, but their parents expect them to become medical doctors because of the prestige it will bring to the family. The result is if you ask these students why they are so passionate about medicine that they intend to devote their life to its practice, they can only express a nebulous desire to “help people.” Of course, I can think of many professions that “help people” and are unrelated to medicine. If you intend to become a medical doctor you should have a real interest in medicine.
I’ve seen students juggle the demands of double and even triple majors so that they can pursue their interests and satisfy family expectations. The result is a great deal of stress from pursuing credentials that have little meaning in the long run. Employers care more that you have a degree with decent grades than all the majors and minors that you acquired along the way.
There’s a lot in Joe’s essay that resonates with me. I floated through my undergrad years. I don’t blame my parents, really: I had my own false expectations I was trying to fill. I don’t know why I got sidetracked from my favorite science, astronomy. But I only took two semesters of it in college. It was in my final semester of undergrad studies that I took a second serious astronomy course and loved it. I loved most of my geology courses, too. Those two disciplines never were put together before the Space Age, and I was far too timid in those days to design an undergrad major in planetary geology. I had no desire to search for underground or undersea oil. While dinosaurs and brachiopods were interesting enough, prehistoric animals and their environments weren’t my passion either. I preferred the historical dissection of continents, ice ages, and continental drift. And how a planet could form and change. Looking back, I see how I enjoyed the wonder, the mystery, and artistry of the cosmos. And that points me in an obvious direction.
Of course, the real draw in my life was from God and from the life of the Church. It might have been all my years of being a college slacker, but by the time I was in my early twenties, most expectations had been erased. Including my own. So when I had the opportunity to start from scratch, it took me a little over a year to discern a life’s course that was more true. When I returned to school, I found myself surrounded not by doubts and personal sabotage. Instead, I felt a calmness and the old wonder for learning. I was far more successful as a grad student–and I had both inner motivation, a deep love for theology, and the confirmation of my environment.
I think a few students catch this blog now and then. I hope you go to the link above and read Joe’s full essay. A few parents might be dismayed, but the message is vital for any college student with the slightest doubt or hesitation about her or his future.