Opinion | My thoughts on the college experience

By Ethan Tessler, Senior Staff Columnist

College is often thought of as a time for introspection, exploration and of course, finding a career path. But can a time for self-growth and discovery actually also be a time for finding a career path? Yes — but not when you have to pay thousands of dollars in the process.

I grew up a lot throughout my four years at Pitt. Even in my three semesters at The Pitt News, I think I’ve changed a lot since I was first hired as a staff columnist. I can tell based on the topics I used to write about versus the topics I write about now. I’m not a completely different person, but interests and curiosities change in a year and a half — especially if you have months of quarantine to do some soul-searching.

It’s safe to say that when I first entered Pitt as a wide-eyed 17-year-old, I legitimately was a different person. I’ve made a lot of mistakes during my tenure here, but that’s turned me into the person I am today. I often felt boxed-in at school because of the enormous pressure I put on myself to study something practical so I could find a good job. When I first made friends at school, it took me a while to branch out and find what I wanted to do, instead of just going with the group. In this column, I want to impart the lessons I’ve learned as well as give my thoughts on the costly and rigid academic structure of college.

When I came to Pitt, I thought I wanted to study computer science or something in the business field. I quickly realized that business wasn’t for me, but I tried to make computer science work for about three semesters. By the time I took advanced prerequisites in my third semester, I knew I was in over my head. I was struggling to get my GPA to where I wanted it to be and I was running myself ragged for a subject in which I ended up losing interest.

I had reservations about changing my major, mainly because of the money I “wasted” taking those classes. My family told me not to think about it like that, but it’s hard not to when you see how much money these classes cost. That’s why when I finally did change my major, I again chose something practical — information science.

I’ve been taking information science classes for a couple of years now. I liked them at first, but now as a second-semester senior, I’ve come to terms with the fact that this is not a field I want to spend my time in. If I had to do it over, I’d pick something that suits my interests and strengths as a student. I’d probably pick something like political science, philosophy or another subject that reflects the way I think and puts my writing skills to good use.

Being so consumed with the enormous costs of college and my future job prospects, I was pressuring myself to pick a “viable” major. I do not recommend boxing yourself in like this it does you no good as a student, and you’ll probably hate yourself in the future. What’s funny is that the job market looks so bleak for my class that no matter what major I picked I’d probably struggle to find work.

Picking a major you enjoy will give you the best chance at a solid, fulfilling career. That’s why it’s important to keep your options open as a first-year. Perhaps I was too restrictive with the courses I took, but I was just a 17-year-old who was thinking about securing a high-paying job for the future. I don’t think it’s right for children to be making such important decisions for their futures when they’ve experienced and learned so little in life.

At least in some European countries like Germany or Norway, college is virtually free. This would make incoming students feel more comfortable with exploring all of the fields of study that universities have to offer. It also puts less pressure on you to graduate on time because you won’t be breaking the bank to find out what you want to do in life. Putting aside how much American college costs, I don’t think high school adequately prepared me for making such a monumental decision at such a young age.

In America, you need to ask permission to use the bathroom as a 17-year-old. At the same time, you are expected to pick a career path and decide what your future will be like. That’s a ludicrous notion. Looking back, a gap year might have helped me figure out what I wanted to do, or perhaps taking general education courses at a community college. But I was young, inexperienced and uninformed — a gap year was too crazy for me to even fathom. It’s also worth noting that taking a gap year will most likely relinquish your financial aid and/or scholarship. And if I went to community college, I don’t think my experience would be as great as my time at Pitt was — even if I was at community college for just a few semesters. After all, I made a lot of my friends during my first year.

Like I said earlier, I don’t regret any decision I’ve made. Everything I’ve done has brought me to this moment. Overall, I’m happy with what I’ve chosen to do with my four years here at Pitt. I began my education here as a relatively shy and somewhat anxious person. I sometimes felt awkward when I wanted to venture out and do things alone. I often just hung out with my friends instead of exploring other things Pitt had to offer. It took me a few semesters before I finally got comfortable being by myself and doing what I wanted to do. Now, I am comfortable with doing things alone. I don’t choose to do things alone, but if none of my friends want to do something that I want to do then I’m not afraid to do it myself.

Getting comfortable with yourself and what you want to do is an important part of growing up. Embracing risk and the uncomfortable will help you discover things about yourself that you never knew before. Ultimately, no matter what I say, this is something you need to figure out for yourself, or you may never realize the benefits that you reap when you escape your comfort zone.

Staying in your comfort zone is fine, but if you do that for too long you’ll miss out on what life has to offer. We often try to psych ourselves out if we’re scared to try something. That’s why it’s important to listen to your gut — the intuitive feeling you get when you know something is right but can’t explain it.

Of course, I’m just a 21-year-old. I don’t have all the answers. I’m going to make more mistakes in my life and so will you. Learning from them is what will make you a better person. Unfortunately, the structure of our society preys on those who are inexperienced and unprepared. Until something changes, you’re going to have to learn as much as you can so you can make informed decisions in life. Whether you are older or younger than me, I hope that this column will help you become more informed about the college experience.

Ethan Tessler is a senior and writes about issues that don’t seem to be at the forefront of media attention. If you enjoyed the column, hated it or have any other thoughts, write to him at [email protected].