Why College?

Picture this: You’re in your second week of your first semester of college. Things seem to be going great; your roommate isn’t crazy and your professors seem nice enough. You haven’t gotten much work yet so you don’t exist in a constant state of stress. You sit down to do your assigned reading for your PolSci101 class, an article titled Live And Learn by Louis Menand, in which he discusses three theories for why we choose to pursue higher education. It gets you thinking and you find yourself wondering… “why am I here?”

Does this scenario sound familiar? It happened to me. As I began to ponder that very question, my first instinct was a basic one, “Well, if I weren’t at college, where would I be?”

Fast Food Worker

It is a common stereotype that those who don’t go to college end up flipping burgers at local fast food joints. A high school degree is simply not enough to make it in modern American society. College has become the natural and obvious path for anyone hoping to make a successful living.

“Higher education is widely regarded as the route to a better life. It is sometimes pointed out that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were college dropouts. It is unnecessary to point out that most of us are not Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.”


OK, fair enough, I’m at college because I want a better life. But why am I here?

Michigan Map

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, five hundred and thirty miles away from home. Hailing from Baltimore, there were a plethora of schools I could have chosen from, ones closer to my family and at which I would’ve been eligible for in-state tuition. The University of Maryland, in particular, is very similar to Michigan in size, programs, and culture. But instead, I chose to take my talents to the Wolverine State. Why?

Was it based on prestige? Michigan is widely regarded as an outstanding and respected university. In 2014, US News & World ranked the University of Michigan- Ann Arbor as the #4 Top Public School in the United States. And their relatively low acceptance rate made my admission that much more impressive. Whenever people asked which colleges I was considering and I proudly told them Michigan, I couldn’t help but notice that they looked at me with a little more esteem than they had thirty seconds earlier.   According to Menand’s first theory, this would explain my choice. The theory states that college is used as a sorting mechanism to distinguish between the more and less intelligent in society. My acceptance signified that I have what it takes to prosper at a superior institution. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love the spark in people’s eyes when I answered their question, but that was definitely not the whole reason I picked this school.

Was it because I had an insatiable thirst for knowledge? High school was educational, but it was also packed with students who were only there because they had to be. The classes I took, while sometimes interesting, were mostly just the ones that were required for graduation. At a huge university like Michigan, I have a million and one different classes offered to me. My options are virtually endless, and I am able to get a well rounded but stimulating education. It was certainly very appealing knowing that I can study whatever I want. If I believed in Menand’s second theory, which states that students go to college purely to learn, I could’ve ended my debate here. It would be nice if that was my sole motivation, but it definitely was not.

Maybe it was because I want a job after college? As a hopeful business major, Ross was definitely a lucrative feature of Michigan. The motto around campus is that once you’re in, you’re “set for life.” While that is an exaggeration, there’s definitely some truth behind it. Employers and recruiters come to Ann Arbor all the time, and being a Ross alumnus is a great way to get a job and start a career immediately after graduation. Menand’s third theory would say that this was why I chose Michigan. As he explains, “advanced economies demand specialized knowledge and skills, and, since high school is aimed at the general learner, college is where people can be taught what they need in order to enter a vocation.” Still, I could’ve attended any number of business schools and been given very similar opportunities.

While all of Menand’s theories factored into my decision, I still didn’t feel like any of them fully captured why I came here. His explanation was missing something. While the reputation, the education, and the opportunities are amazing, it would be naïve to call them unique. There is a social and cultural aspect to college that oftentimes gets overlooked. Menand’s second theory hints at this, he looks at college as more of a “normalization” institution, people go so that everyone is on even playing field, not because they genuinely want to be there. I came to Michigan because from the first time I visited, I knew it was the right place for me. While the school prides itself on diversity, everyone comes together over the fact that we all love the University of Michigan. From the little quirks, like the abundance of squirrels and silly superstitions, to revered traditions, and of course magical football Saturdays, there’s no place like hoMe. It’s the Michigan difference, and that is why I packed up my bags, said goodbye to everything I’ve ever known, and moved halfway across the country. That’s why I’m here.

Big House



  1. gretandr · October 6, 2014

    Your connections between your personal experience and Menand’s theories are strong and well thought through! Your overall point was great, as everyone picks their college for their own reason. It’s an interesting topic, considering high school seniors try so hard to narrow down their top college choices…. when there are colleges all around the world that could potentially be the place that they will feel meant to be enrolled in. I also like how you dug deeper to figure out the missing piece of Menand’s puzzle. Awesome job!


  2. dvalrie · October 8, 2014

    i agree that there a lot of different reason’s that people attend school although I interpreted Menand’s theory a little different. I believe that his theory was more directed to how college education is set up. For example theory one talks about how college education should be set up as a kind of sorting out process for professional school and some employers to find the most academically accomplished students. Each theory supports something different, overall I believe that Menand’s goal was just to say that yes now everyone goes to college for very different reasons with different educational goals. Therefore college needs a diverse variety of educational options that can fulfill the diverse goals that are being set by students.


  3. bkriegsm · October 9, 2014

    I am proud to be a Michigan Wolverine. In Live and Learn, Menand introduces his first theory in which he states that college is an institution of Higher learning, however, people struggle with an accurate and decisive way to weed through the hundreds of thousands of college applicants a year. I think it’s important, however, to focus on weeding out students who are applying just to apply, and accepting those who have a connection and a passion to attend a particular university. Take Michigan for example. With an acceptance rate of only 32.2% in 2014, Michigan arguably took the finest and the brightest students from around the country, even the globe. But think about those who deserved the acceptance, applied to their dream school, but didn’t get in. I think about the students who had that perfect 4.0 GPA and/or that 2400 SAT score, came to visit, stood in the Diag and told themselves that they belong here. They told themselves that this was their hoMe. If that profound connection can be made between student and campus, who is to say that the those in the Admissions office are making accurate selections from their applicant pool. Don’t get me wrong by any means though, I will thank the admissions office until the day I breathe my last breath that I am here. I know for a fact that this is my hoMe. But my heart goes out to those who stood on this very campus, exclaimed the same things and had the same dreams as you and I and did not get that acceptance letter. This goes for any school. Who is to say that any group of people who sit down and view papers upon papers, have any idea about the intense connection between students who dream to attend those schools and have that connection but don’t get in. That shift of the student’s path is made by a third party that is basing its decision off of a few essays and some numbers. That is a little scary. There are many many fine institutions around the country. However, how do we ENSURE that capable and deserving students end up where they BELONG and where they will thrive rather than just at any fine school. We are so lucky to be here at Michigan. We are so lucky to be where we belong. I truly believe that if a deserving student is placed in his or her niche in college, then society will be better off because of it. Go Blue.


  4. allanmc2014 · October 9, 2014

    I love the fact that you related ALL of Menand’s theories to reasons why you may have wanted to come to Michigan. But I was extremely impressed especially with the fact that you didn’t consider Menand’s theories when you decided on Michigan, but rather because you felt at home and clearly, Michigan is the place for you.

    YES, you are getting the education of one of the most prestigious public universities in the world and YES, you will also get a well-rounded education and YES, you will have a job waiting, but the real reason why you chose Michigan was because you BELONG here. Besides getting a great education and being prepared for the future, college is the time for personal growth, mistakes, experiences, relationships, fun, and the best four years of your life.

    Everyone here should be extremely proud of their accomplishments and for choosing Michigan to be their home for the next four years. Yes, Menand’s theories apply to reasons why you should go to Michigan, but the real reason is because you deserve to BELONG here. Nothing can change that. Bleed Maize and Blue. WE ARE THE LEADERS AND THE BEST! GO BLUE!


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