Before I went to Steak ‘n’ Shake and ate too much food last night, I went with Leanne to a class on college and financial aid. I’m glad I went; I learned a lot of stuff that I needed to know for college, but I couldn’t help getting distracted during the discussion. Something was bothering me, but I couldn’t quite place my finger on it.
I realized what it was when I stopped to listen to some women behind me who were talking about their kids’ test scores. The SAT seemed like it was life or death to them. “Johnny did well on math, but not as well on reading, so I got him a test prep book and I’ve had him read it each night so he can improve his score.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with a mom taking an interest in her child’s education and doing what she can to help them succeed. That’s just good parenting.
The Rush for College
So what was it that bothered me? It wasn’t that the woman wanted her child to test well, it was why she wanted him to test well. College. That’s a word that strikes fear into my heart right now. The way the school tells it, it seems like college is going to make or break your entire life. Everything depends on where you apply, who accepts you, and what you study. If you make the wrong choice, you’re screwed; never mind the fact that you’re a seventeen year old who probably isn’t sure what you want to do for the rest of your life yet. Take your pick, and may the odds be ever in your favor.
I’m not worried about college personally. I make pretty good grades, so there’s a solid chance that I’ll be going to college after I graduate. I’m just worried about what our attitudes towards college say about us.
Let’s start with academics. Most people at my school have seen the infamous PowerPoint that explains the GPA, SAT, and ACT requirements to get in to various colleges. They vary across Florida, but you’d be hard pressed to find a university where the average GPA acceptance range dips below a 3.0 weighted GPA. That means a B average in general classes, and a C average if you take exclusively AP classes (which most of us don’t). Most acceptance ranges are closer to a 3.7 to 4.3, meaning that you have to maintain a mostly A-B average in a mixture of general, honors, and AP classes. Not too difficult, right?
Then you have the SAT and ACT. I haven’t taken the ACT, and I’ve only taken the SAT once, but I can attest to the fact that they aren’t much fun. Standardized tests never really are, and they don’t do a very good job of measuring capability either. Full disclosure here; I got a 2220 out of 2400 when I took the SAT last year. I’m not complaining about that, and I definitely hope that I can get some scholarships for it, but I can’t help but feel bothered when I see how that test treats other people. People I’m friends with – people whom I know are intelligent – get scores that suggest that they’re no better than “average”.
They’re not average. These people are smarter than me in plenty of areas, and they have things to offer this world that I could never do. They put a lot of time into preparing for that test and improving their skills just to get shot down anyway. They could use a college education to further their talents and make a profound and positive impact on this world, but some of them won’t because the SAT decided that they were “average”.
Why We Care What the SAT Thinks
It seems strange that we would care so much about the results from a single test, but we do. A good SAT score is a ticket to college, and that’s something that most students desperately want. We claw our way to the top of the class rankings, we stay awake at night thumbing through the last few pages of our test prep books, and we give everything we have to keep our GPA afloat. Why put ourselves through hell like that? What makes it worth it? Well, we want to make money, and people who get college degrees tend to make more money. The logic is as simple as it is flawed.
Anyone who’s seen this website or our YouTube channel knows that I have a hard time making up my mind. Some days I wanna dress up like a rich guy and say dumb things in front of a green screen, other days I decide that I want to write about mental health and try to help those who are struggling. Sometimes I even decide to rap while wearing my rich guy costume even though I’m bad at it. Why do I do these things? I enjoy them. They’re fun. They make me feel better on days where my depression makes it feel like someone has repeatedly kicked me in the throat.
When it comes to a college major, however, it’s a lot easier to make my mind up. I want to be an engineer. I know engineers tend to make a good bit of money (and it’s well deserved, engineering is hard), but I want to be an engineer because I like figuring out the best way to solve a problem. It’s like solving a puzzle, except it’s a bit more complicated.
I’m not going to lie though, a big factor in choosing my major is also money. I want to be able to provide a comfortable life for my family in the future, as anyone would. I can’t deny that I think I would enjoy writing or helping people with mental illness just as much if not more than engineering, but financial stability comes first. It’s a rough world out there, and providing a good life for my future kids is the most important thing to me.
Questions With No Easy Answers
So, with all of these things floating through my mind as I learned more about how to pay for an astronomically expensive college education, I was forced to ask myself some questions. For the first time in a few weeks, I thought of the people I had met during my hospital stays. Those nurses, counselors, psychologists, and doctors are all part of the reason that I never committed suicide. I’d say that’s pretty important (to me, at least), but I know that the only people in those mental health hospitals who make a lot of money are the psychiatrists, and some of them did little more than throw medicine at me and see what worked.
Counseling/psychology is among the ten least paying college majors, which makes it a very unattractive option to many. I am grateful to those people working in that hospital who chose to pursue counseling and psychology anyway, because without them I might not be alive today. These are people who I consider to have saved my life, as they have saved countless others. Saving lives is an important profession, but apparently it isn’t important enough to warrant a decent salary.
That realization brought me to the questions part. Why do some jobs earn so much money while others earn so little? Is it because they’re more difficult? Or is it because we have our priorities mixed up? Why do the majority of high school students push themselves to the breaking point just to get to a college where they can study a major they don’t enjoy so that they can earn a lot of money? Is money worth more than happiness now?
We Could Change, You Know
I know that not every job is fun or happy. For society to function properly, we need people who will do the hard work, even when it’s not enjoyable, so we use money to motivate ourselves. It’s a decent enough system, but I can’t help but think that it’s beginning to go too far. We care more about money than we care about ourselves, and certainly more than we care about each other. We may have a passion for something, but if it doesn’t pay well, it isn’t worthy of our time. I’m guilty of such behavior already, and I haven’t even gone to college yet.
We’re putting ourselves into a routine that doesn’t even make sense. Every person on the planet is unique, and that’s what makes life so interesting and wonderful. Yet we don’t celebrate this uniqueness. From an early age, we put students through a “one size fits all” education and testing system, and then use the results to decide who deserves to go to college and who doesn’t. Then, after the selected students make it through college, we use their degrees to decide who deserves more money and who deserves less. We’re not even good at making those decisions; teachers – people who make sure that the next generation (who will be running the world one day) is educated and thoughtful – receive some of the worst salaries in the country.
I’m not saying that everyone should just do whatever they want and get paid for it. Nobody should be paying me to make dumb videos of presidential candidates, even if I enjoy it quite a bit, but if I want to do something that actually helps people, like counseling psychology, I shouldn’t have to suffer financially for it. I’m not going to pretend that a grocery bagger like me deserves to make as much money as a doctor, but if there was a bit less disparity in the amount of money everyone makes, we could all spend a little less time worrying about our test scores and college majors and a little more time doing things that we enjoy, so long as we continue to contribute to society in the process. Call me crazy, but that doesn’t sound too bad to me.
Maybe that opinion makes me a socialist (which I’m sure will upset quite a few readers), but I stand by it. And I feel sorry for those who fear words like “socialism”, “taxes”, and “welfare” because they feel like their money is being taken away and given to others. If all you worry about is making sure that you have more money than the next guy, you really only have two options in life: you either work your way up to becoming the richest person in a world of over seven billion people (you don’t have very good odds there), or you remain forever unhappy because there is always someone out there who has more money than you. Those aren’t good options. If we all want to make good use of our all-too-limited time on this Earth, I suggest that we focus less on making sure we get as much money as we can and focus more on doing things that make ourselves and others happy. Even if it means sharing the wealth a little bit more evenly, I think the pros outweigh the cons on this one.