Students: How to Think About Preparing for the Future!

Source: American Interest, Sep 2011
(though US-centric, these insights apply to Malaysian students too)

1.  The real world does not work like school.

Life in school is life in bureaucracy.  You follow the rules, do what you are told, and rewards follow.

From age six or even younger, students are immersed in a predictable world that runs by the rules.  Then you get out of school — and expect that this pattern will continue.  If you go to a good law school and do well, you will become an associate at a successful firm.  Do your job well, work hard, obey the rules and wash behind your ears and in due time you will make partner.

That’s the old system; the new one won’t work that way.  Creativity, integrity and entrepreneurial initiative will pay off;

As you go through college, think about ways you can fight the pressures of institutionalization.  Work or volunteer — not just for money, but to keep your hand in the real world.  Live off campus.  Start a business.  Shake things up.

2.  Most of your elders know very little about the world into which you are headed.

3.  You are going to have to work much, much harder than you probably expect.

Your competition isn’t sitting in the next library carrel.  Your competition is in China and India.  Your competition is working hard, damned hard, and is deadly serious about learning.  There’s nothing written in the stars that guarantees Americans a higher standard of living than other people.  Those of you who spend your college years goofing off in the traditional American way are going to pay a much higher price for this than you think.

4. Choosing the right courses is more important than choosing the right college.

choose your courses carefully and seriously.

5.  Get a traditional liberal education; it is the only thing that will do you any good.

Following this advice will be hard; a liberal education is no easy thing to get, and not everybody wants you to have one. … Use your college years to ground yourself in the basic great books and key ideas and values that will last.

Becoming educated is a lifelong project; you can’t turn your mind off and stop reading books when you finish college and expect to get anywhere.

Second, study the basic ideas, debates, books, people and events of the western world – with special attention to the Anglo-American subset of the western tradition.  You can’t understand other people’s cultures and traditions until you understand the one that surrounds you.  Art, literature and music are part of this.  Don’t neglect them.

Third, study the United States: its history, regions, culture, politics, literature and economy.  You would be surprised how many highly educated people have never seriously studied (or traveled much in) their own country.  Don’t make that mistake – and study the parts of the US you don’t know.

Fourth, study at least one language and at least one culture that is alien to you.

Fifth, learn to write well.

Finally, unless you are following up on an interest that is already a deep and passionate one, try to take courses taught by great teachers.  The main purpose of an undergraduate education isn’t to polish up your knowledge and finish your learning.  It is to launch you on a lifetime quest for wisdom and understanding.  You want professors who can help you fall in love with new subjects, new ideas, new ways of investigating the world.  The courses that end up mattering the most to you will be the ones that start you on a lifetime of reading and reflection.

6.  Character counts; so do good habits.

Life is going to be scary; sometimes it will be hard.  Where will you find the strength to keep going when the path ahead looks dark?  How will you be able to renew the optimism, the ability to take risks, and maintain your self confidence and stay creative in a world of rapid and sometimes unfair change?

Seek out the people, the communities, the experiences that can help you grow.  College should be a time of spiritual as well as intellectual and career development and growth.

7.  Relax.


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