College Education and the Search for Purpose

Often, when asked, “Why do you want to attend college?” high schoolers reply, “To get a good paying job”, and implied in their statement, “to figure out who I am” (which typically emerges in subsequent interviews) while their parents nod and smile in agreement. 

So, I reflected on the change in view which also often occurs between high school and college graduation, which Euni, at the time a third year college student earning a degree in literature, shared in the following: 

Euni’s sentiment which another third year college student who could graduate early, but is choosing to study abroad and remaining in college for one more year validated: 

We’re all jaded and we need a break honestly. 

Like just some time to collect ourselves

And its not surprising. 

I’ve often sat across tables from 23-25 year olds with sophisticated undergraduate degrees, like Biophysics or Computational Mathematics, who once again live in their childhood bedrooms, underemployed in service or retail sales work, struggling to live life as a responsible adult

The whole, “I’m going to college to learn about myself and get a good job”, is not being realized—for which the New York Federal Reserve has been confirming with Bureau of Labor statistics, showing pre and during COVID, underemployment rates, working in jobs that don’t require their degrees, have remained steady, hovering at 40%-ish. 

Academics like William Deresiewicz also validate the prolonged adolescence of today’s young adults: 

College is now regarded as the last stage of childhood, not the first of adulthood.

So, no wonder college graduates need more time to “figure things out” or “collect themselves.” 

Deresiewicz continues: 

…the central dilemma of contemporary youth, which is that society has not given them any way to grow up—not financially, not psychologically, not morally.

And, its no wonder. When do young people take time, or are encouraged to rest, contemplate, live spontaneously, “free-range” as was coined for Millennials given the rarity, but really died with Gen X’ers? Gen Z’ers have acted in scheduled activities since infancy—a condition that served their parents and other caregivers, at the cost of their childhoods. 

Thus, as featured in our post, Millennials generally have needed to spend more years working in order to amass wealth at the same level as their Boomer parents and Gen X older siblings, who spent less years working at the same age—not only given the current economic circumstances, and I’d argue, the lack of self-awareness. 

And, as the wealth gap continues widening along generational lines, many Gen Z’ers watching the Millennials from the wings, are instead likely downsizing expectations for financial prosperity—delaying family formation and buying houses—choosing YOLO as their rally cry, in an overdue attempt to seek agency, and (re)discover their life’s purpose hoping to stumble upon peace of mind along the way.

For more information about how to navigate the complex college admissions process to prepare any student for the challenging global socioeconomic situation, contact us at Creative Marbles Consultancy

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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