Cushman: College Classes Alone Don’t Ensure a Full Education


The University of Utah student section, The Muss, celebrates a touchdown during an NCAA Football game vs. the Weber State Wildcats at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. (Photo by Kiffer Creveling | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By KC Ellen Cushman, Opinion Writer


I don’t think I’ll ever forget moving into my dorm during the middle of last August, being scared, confused, and excited all at once. I was so eager to be on my own that I kicked my parents out the second I was unpacked, but I was also terrified out of my mind. Everything that seems easy to me now was really difficult when I first came to the University of Utah. I very specifically remember being confused about how to use the TRAX system but being too shy to ask anyone for help. It seems so silly to me now, but learning how to get around on my own was an important part of my college education. My time at this institution matters. How I use it and what I learn matters. I have only been at the U for a year now, but I have come to discover so much about what makes college “worth it.” A worthwhile college education is one that includes education outside of your major — it includes generals, saying yes to doing things outside of class and finding the right people.

Generals Matter

High school counselors constantly stress the importance of completing general education requirements while in high school to save time and money down the road. I followed that advice, taking every AP class I could fit into my schedule to avoid taking history and math classes after high school. While I do not regret that choice, I can genuinely say that I have learned so much from the general courses I have completed at the U. General education classes carry a negative connotation. People often think of them as the more expensive, college version of a high school science class, but that could not be further from the truth. The University of Utah is a big school with hundreds of courses — there are so many unique options for students to complete their general education requirements.

My first semester at the U, I took a jazz class that ended up teaching me a lot. First and foremost, I learned that jazz is not for me, and even though I do not love listening to John Coltrane and Louis Armstrong, I learned so much about a very specific part of history. I have carried that knowledge with me and used it a surprising number of times since. I have used my knowledge of John Coltrane and avant-garde jazz in discussions for other classes and even on a date. My college experience is more expansive and useful because of that single jazz class. Taking classes outside of our majors is important because it pushes us to be more well-rounded and cultured people.

Say Yes to Extracurriculars and Social Events

Since coming to the U last fall, I have learned the most about myself by saying yes. I met one of my best friends by saying yes to getting coffee with a classmate after saying yes to going to a strange concert to which a professor invited our class. Had I been too shy or scared to say yes to either of those things, I would have missed out on a closer relationship with my professor and the opportunity to get to know someone great. It’s intimidating to say yes to new experiences, but saying no is shutting the door to incredible things. Some of my closest professional relationships have been developed as a result of me saying yes when my RA suggested that I apply to write for the Chronicle or a spot on the Editorial Board for the Journal of Politics. College is so much more than sitting through lectures and taking notes. Developing skills and relationships through extracurriculars and social events is just as important as the knowledge taught in class.

The People Around You

When people talk about the college experience, they aren’t just referencing the classes you take during your four years here. It also includes doing crazy things with friends, losing sleep and learning how to be responsible by sometimes making wrong choices. Meeting people that will grow with you and support you at a crucial time for your success. All the things that seem hard when you come to college, like saying yes, talking in class and joining extracurriculars that interest you, get much easier when you have people to teach you how, support you or do it with you. The people around you will also shape who you become during college. My sense of humor was completely different before I met my friends at the U. I was not a journalist until an older student encouraged me to be. I was not as good as a writer until I had peers who helped me find my potential. The people I have met here have been some of the most important people I have ever met. They are as much a part of my college education as the readings I have done for my classes.

It can be easy to develop a tunnel-like focus on academics at the beginning of college. Staying on top of reading, homework and getting to class is its own kind of challenge. Grades are important because they will matter in the future, but they are only one part of a college education. The other opportunities available to college students can be just as formative and important to a student’s long-term learning.


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