"The College Experience"7:14 PM
Yes, if you're homeschooled, you know the mantra. You know how the game goes. And you might be wondering, "Well, is it? Is the college experience overrated?"
My answer? No. Not a bit.
(Whether you personally ought to take the plunge into college is another matter entirely and one I'm not capable of commenting on for every individual.)
Let me qualify this statement: it depends. Of course it does; everything "depends" nowadays. Regardless of social trends, it does depends. If the college in question doesn't have a strong community of serious academics, both professor and undergraduate, or if it possesses said community pointed strongly in the opposite direction one wishes to go, then, well, that college experience might be overrated. Not all colleges are built the same.
If, however, we're talking about a serious community of learners that attracts all types while still roughly aiming one in the right direction -- that is gold. That is something one can rarely find elsewhere. And if one happens to be a person who crave this kind of community, this kind of higher education, then time spent there is no waste at all.
College has a way of putting faces and friendships on political issues and philosophical strains and theological beliefs that formerly showed up in books and the internet, to be ridiculed or dismissed from a distance. Now they have names and become attached to you in some way over lunch or a shared class period. You can't ignore them and you can't ridicule them. You learn to learn from them and refute them politely and resolutely -- or join their side, if they turn out right. It's a great remedy for know-it-all homeschoolers (nobody wants to play with you if you're grumpy and unreasonable). It also knocks out the idea that everyone who does not walk in lockstep with you is out for your head. Not only do you end up chatting in the hallway with someone of radically different opinion than you, but you also end up admitting you like them and there are things in common you never considered before.
For instance, the church situation around my school is surprisingly diverse for a tiny town but still doesn't house every denomination and sub-denomination and non-denomination. People end up attending churches that appeal to their "flavor" more than to their exact denomination. I worship next to Presbyterians and Pentecostals. We find out that rarely is there one person who perfectly embodies his denomination of choice. Individuals are too diverse to be encompassed by just one denomination. We try to peg people and end up saying, "Forget that -- we agree on the essentials, and that makes us brothers."
That's not to say that college bundles everybody together under the banner of Kumbaya. Since it smooths over minor differences, the big differences become the center of attention. College provides the perfect place for all sorts of ideas to interact with each other. Some ideas fit, and some ideas run away or clash altogether. For those inclined to shrug shoulders and keep quiet over big beliefs, college remedies this problem.
What I love about college is that it brings together so many different people around the commonality of a curriculum and basic ideas. Back home, I'd say "supralapsarianism" and get stares. Now I say it and it starts a brawl in the student union. A good-natured brawl, with the Calvinists ganging up on the Arminians. (Thankfully I know a couple pre-med students who hang around.) This is what we're here for -- not brawling, of course, but knowing these sorts of big words and fancy ideas. We don't all agree, so through everybody's opinion, we can see all sides of an idea and decide whether it's true or not. If our friends can't answer our deepest questions, we trek upstairs to our professors' offices. If our professors can't answer our questions, we go to our friends and hash it out. The presence of many precocious people prevents permanent problems.
And what's great about college is that we don't have to take time out of a normal life of chores and jobs to drive and meet together: we're already there. A single text brings a whole crowd of eager thinkers and learners to one place within minutes -- no sweat necessary. This allows the niggles of genius to get hashed out while they're still fresh, instead of waiting until Sunday to talk to the pastor or until Daddy gets home or something like that. Resources -- whether people or hardback copies -- lie right there.
I've said little about classes and classrooms. They play a part in the college experience -- I know I'm a different person because I took Western Heritage and read Homer and bled out essays for both. However, those are supplementary to the act of bringing together many, many people into one place -- living together, working together. It's like homeschooling: we love it because it teaches us life as well as academics. College forges another family: you work together, play together, eat together, study together, serve together, worship together. It opens up far more opportunities for life-changing friendships and conversations.
That's the college experience. If you want it and can get it, do so. You will not regret it.