By Glenn Sanders, Dean of Arts and Sciences at King University
Dear King student,
The editor of The Kayseean asked me to write an article on “how to make college worth it,” that is, how you might better your college experience and prepare for the future.
I’m writing you a letter instead, because a letter tends to be more direct; I need to lay five things out in just a few words.
First, know your best reasons for being in college. People go to college for lots of reasons: family, social expectations, job prospects, sports. None of these reasons is bad, but none is especially good, either, because your life is your responsibility, and the realities of relationship, employment, and health very seldom match expectations. The best reasons rest on the college’s original purposes: to concentrate learning for young adult minds, to teach students how to recognize good and worthy things, and to model ways of thinking and living that question assumed ways of thinking and acting. College is a gradual, multi-year immersion into the important parts of adulthood. If you see the experience as one simply to complete—preferably as soon as possible—before “real life,” you will miss wonderful opportunities to know the world and yourself, to discern fruitful ends, and to gain wisdom and courage for the future.
Second, attend closely to the basics. Your major is not “the basics.” The major is a start toward knowing about a single subject in depth. “The basics,” in contrast, are simply (!) thinking, reading, writing, and speaking. They also include observing and counting, analyzing and criticizing, synthesizing and concluding, planning and implementing. If you can, pick a major that will help you improve “the basics.” For example, want to improve your writing? Major in English. If your career concerns make it difficult to subordinate your major to “the basics,” pick a major or minor in which you will have to observe things, read carefully, make arguments, synthesize ideas and data, and represent your conclusions cogently and winsomely in both written and spoken words. Attention to “the basics” will improve your thinking (because the better you write, the better you think), will equip you for many jobs, and will provide you means for dealing with the many unexpected things you will encounter later on.
Third, embrace the “self-stretch” with all the attention, strength, and perseverance you’ve got. The demands of assignments and tests can sometimes lead to hopelessness. A reality check can help. Remember that you really only learn from mistakes, and that college only exists because we make mistakes and need to learn from them. If you’re honest, in both classes and your sport (if you have one), you start with mediocrity or failure. In learning, however, the goal may not be as clear as in your sport. Therefore, you’re likely to remain mediocre and unfocused unless you embrace all your courses with single-mindedness, even when you don’t get the point in a particular subject. (Who are you to judge the collective efforts and requirements of the college, anyway?) It’s always best to try hard to do your best, get feedback from your teachers, then keep trying. As in any endeavor, the unfocused, hard work at the beginning often evolves slowly into understanding, mastery, and even love of something about which you understood or appreciated nothing earlier.
Fourth, learn what you love and how to love it better. You may know what you love, but, if you’re like most of us, you’ll take a while to find out. One of the best things about college is your chance to learn about so many things about which you have never heard or thought. Let at least one or two of them remake you—reorient your way of looking at yourself and the world, inform you of an overwhelming reality, impress you with its significance. Despite the danger of “following your bliss”—that is, pursuing what you desire without thought about how to make a living—without some wise attention to life’s conditions, it’s hard to deny the importance of loving something bigger than yourself. Love can move you to the long commitment, can keep you going even when the goal is obscure and uncertain. This effect of love becomes even clearer in the process of loving that cause, or person, or good thing. The compounding effect over the years will show you made a good choice, even when you’ve had to make a living in some seemingly unrelated way. (Not really unrelated, because that love has a way of insinuating itself into everything you do.)
Fifth, remember you’re part of a team. “Learning to adult”—in today’s usage—can be hard and certainly unfamiliar. You may want to withdraw from the process for a while. Please just remember that you’ve friends and acquaintances who are going through the same things. Your sharing of common experiences can comfort you both. You can learn both to ask for comfort and to give it—an explanation of a math problem, a cup of coffee over a movie, a workout together. Just as important: if you’ll seriously listen, these relationships can challenge you just as much as the new ideas you’re learning in classes. Make friends with someone different from you. Watch the person. See what the person can teach you. Multiply this experience a dozen or so times over your years in college and you’d have constructed a personal community that, if built well, could both teach you how to live and help you practice doing so.
I hope you’ve realized by now that I wanted to write you a love letter. All my fellow teachers at King have written their own to you as well. Go ask them for a copy.
Glenn Sanders, Dean
College of Arts and Sciences
Dr. Sanders studied ancient and medieval European history in graduate school. He taught history and related subjects for thirty years at a small college in Oklahoma. During those years Dr. Sanders also developed an interest in helping institutions of higher learning fulfill their moral obligations for educating the next generation. His interests outside work at King center on family and church. The greatest blessings of Dr. Sanders’ life are his wife Alice, our four children, and the three grandchildren.