When I enrolled at San Francisco State after graduating high school, I do not think I realized just how valuable the next 4 years of my life would be. I attended college because my friends were going to college. It just seemed like the natural progression after high school.
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Five decades after graduating with a bachelor’s degree, I re-enrolled in college this semester. I am taking a course called Introduction to Digital Imaging at Cañada College in Redwood City, California. Going back to school is reminding me what I gained – perhaps without fully realizing it then – as an undergraduate.
I left San Francisco State with more than an art degree. I gained an education that prepared me for life.
Ask someone why she attended college, and she probably would say she went to earn a degree that would allow her to get a job.
It’s true that college helps us do that. But there are so many other aspects students gain from the experience.
Those lessons proved valuable not only in navigating life’s challenges, but also in shaping my shooting career.
Rewards are not always immediate in college. You must work several years to get a degree. Along the way, you might have to take courses in subjects you are not particularly interested in before you can focus on your area of interest. Projects and research papers can take months to complete.
All of that teaches patience and commitment. Gratification is not always instant.
Understanding that came in handy during my shooting career. Shooting improvement did not occur overnight. Only after months of practice could I expect to see my skills grow.
Throughout your college years, you will have to work hard, too. Students must be dedicated and disciplined in their studies. Some students must juggle classes with a job or extracurricular activities.
I have never been one to shy away from hard work. Throughout my shooting career, I always thought that I might not be the most naturally talented competitor, but I can outwork anyone. A strong work ethic helped me in other ways, too. I balanced building a business with my husband while being an attentive mother and wife.
College teaches a person how to think. Life is full of problems and surprises. A lot of young people do not realize the hardships that they might later face. We all encounter situations where we must think our way through. While in college, you learn to think through problems. You must navigate coursework while living on your own for the first time.
You also are exposed to people with various viewpoints. You need to learn how to interact and work with such people. When you enter the workforce, it is a good bet that not all of your coworkers will share your perspective. And that’s a good thing.
Being exposed to people of various backgrounds with different opinions and beliefs helps broaden our scope. Their dreams, perspective and opinions might rub off on you. You can learn from them. Perhaps you will not fully embrace their viewpoints, but exposure to various outlooks increases your perspective and allows you to make better, more informed decisions.
So much of today’s communication occurs over the Internet. There are advantages to that. It is easier to communicate across distances than it has ever been. However, I still believe face-to-face communication is valuable. At college, you will have those interactions. You must learn how to communicate with professors and peers, and you can absorb information through observation.
I did not have the upbringing that many Chinese children did, because my parents did not place heavy educational demands on me. There was no expectation that I earn straight A’s or attend college.
I did not know English when I immigrated to the United States at age 12, and for several years, I leaned on my abilities in art and math to help me get by in school.
I also did not demand that my 3 children attend college, although, thankfully, all of them attended and graduated.
I do not recall loving school while I was as undergraduate. I do now. I become immersed in my homework. I might sit down planning to work on an assignment for an hour. The next thing I know, I look at the clock and 3 hours have elapsed.
As an undergraduate, I enjoyed some subjects, such as Physics, Astronomy and Art. Many others I found boring, and I did not have an appreciation for them. I did not have the sense of wonder or inspiration from a college campus that I feel now.
Mostly, I wanted to stick to my plan. I had my college years mapped out so I knew exactly how many hours of coursework I needed to take each semester to graduate in 4 years. I had a plan for how I thought my life would go. I would graduate and then work for a few years while traveling the world. Then, maybe I would get married around 27 or 28.
Of course, it did not play out that way. I married Carlos 6 months after graduation, and life came at us fast. Some challenges were hard to manage, but I know we were better prepared for them having each gone to college.
College is an investment. It can cost 4 years of your life. Often, it costs a lot of money, too. But you are investing in your future, and in the scope of your life, 4 years is not that long.
Those years offer a chance to learn what you want to do, discover your true self and perhaps meet lifelong friends or a spouse.
Inside those college gates, it is like heaven. You are protected from the demands of the outside world. Once you leave that campus, there is no escaping life’s challenges. But what occurs in your 4 years inside those gates will help you be better prepared to meet them.
Vera Koo is a first-generation Chinese American woman. She’s a wife and mother, author, entrepreneur and retired competition shooter. Along with Vera’s fantastic memoir and life story, "The Most Unlikely Champion," she writes her column, Vera Koo, at "Women’s Outdoor News." View all posts by Vera Koo