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Students should pursue university degrees without distraction

By Andrew Zaki

September 13, 2011 1:48 am

The worst piece of advice I ever received as a freshman was to enjoy “the college experience.”

It goes without saying that if you want a six-figure job, you need a university degree. Increasingly, even that isn’t enough. So, you would think students would pursue their degree with a sense of urgency. You would think all students would try to finish as quickly as they could.

Yet according to Kiplinger, only 67 percent of UCLA students graduate in four years, while only 89 percent graduate after six years.

The explanation is simple: Too many students start their first year pursuing “the college experience,” which entails late-night partying, energy drinks and cramming for exams. In the process, they forget their goal. They forget the reason they’re at a prestigious university such as UCLA in the first place. They forget the reason that they’re paying about $30,000 a year in tuition and fees. The reason is to get that degree, which leads to that job, which leads to that white-picket fence, fancy car and Bijan apparel.

Anything that deviates one from that goal will cost time and money ““ two commodities many cannot spare. The best thing to do is get your degree as quickly as possible. The value of your degree does not depreciate if you finish sooner. In fact, the value of a university degree is becoming increasingly scrutinized year after year, no matter how fast you earn it. In speaking with recruiters, I’ve learned that you are not perceived differently if you graduate in three years or six. So why fork over an extra $30,000 when you don’t need to? As more students enter college with A.P. credits from high school, it is feasible to graduate in three years.

I’m not saying you’re guaranteed a Bugatti once you get your degree, but it is important to have a degree if you want one.

Figure out what you want to do after graduation. Develop a plan to get there. Take the right courses. Graduate in three years.

“But, but, BUT!” some of you may protest. “It’s unfair to generalize and say that all college students have the same goal and are here just to get their degree and leave. I came to find myself and enrich my mind.”

My attitude: You’re in the wrong place if that’s what you came to college for. The fact is, today’s universities cater to professional students: those who go to college merely to be considered for jobs that demand a degree. As a result, students are consumers who, in fact, show less improvement in learning as years go by.

This year, University of Chicago Press released a book titled “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.” The findings, though not encouraging, were not surprising. According to the book, 45 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” during their first two years of college. Those who did improve tended to show very modest improvements. The study also found that students who spent more time in fraternities and sororities showed smaller gains than other students. Students who engaged in off-campus extracurricular activities had no notable gains or losses in learning.

The truth is, a person can spend four years in college and, depending on one’s major, not graduate with any substantial knowledge of politics, history, literature, philosophy, art, science or math.

In the fast-paced quarter system at UCLA, this is especially true. You learn a bunch of theories, get tested on them, and they are released from the mind faster than they entered it.

There is no deep sense of enrichment or broad knowledge. Rather, a random weaving of various courses that leaves a person adrift at sea without a compass.

This is why I maintain that a diploma is simply a means to an end.
The best thing to do is figure out what your end is (XYZ job) so the means by which you get there (XYZ degree) takes less than four years. To do this, knowing what your major will be (and sticking to it!) is crucial. Meeting with a counselor on a regular basis cannot be understated. Most importantly, the pursuit of a life akin to those in “Animal House” needs to be put on hold.

Don’t let campus activities and sporting events that are relentlessly advertised separate you from the little money you will have after paying tuition.

Save years and save money. Do you plan on graduating early? Email Zaki at [email protected] Send general comments to [email protected]

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Andrew Zaki
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