If you read the title of this blog post, it would be a reasonable guess to say that I am going to tell you how grades are the most important thing in college and your main goal while being here is to get good grades. And while this is a good guess, I would ultimately tell you that you are wrong. While getting good grades here at USC or any college for that matter is surely important, it is by no means the reason that you are here in college.
“Let me get this straight, Zach” you ask me with a befuddled look on your face, “If getting good grades (i.e ultimately assuming this leads to a good job, pay, wife/husband & kids etc) isn’t the ultimate goal in college, then what is?” Well I’m glad you asked (insert name here). Because in reality, you can teach yourself anything learned in a classroom (albeit it will certainly be much more difficult on your own). You could buy the textbook for every class and utilize online resources such as MOOCs and learn basically anything you want to know. However, what you cannot simulate or get on your own are the different experiences from USC. Now I know as engineers this may sound like a bunch of hogwash (the Midwest in me is showing). We as engineers love the tangibles: data, facts, math, science. Metrics that can definitively be proven or disproven. While it is certainly a necessity that engineers learn all of the fundamentals of their major and excel in these classes, just having these tools will not be enough in the world, and you should not be satisfied with just obtaining these skills in college.
You’re coming to college to learn not only how to be a (insert major here), but also (and in my opinion more importantly) to grow as a person and begin to develop your identity and goals for the future. As engineers, we are tasked with solving some of the world’s most complex, interesting, and frustrating problems. Not surprisingly, these problems or say Global Grand Challenges, are incredibly interdisciplinary and impossible to solve with just engineering. And just having your basic engineering skill set does not even make you qualified to work on these problems. Even if you’re not looking to work on these problems, every single person on this planet faces the exact same problem/opportunity: making sense of life and figuring not only what you want to do in life, but also how to survive everything good/bad that it can throw at you and enjoy it as much as possible. While being an engineer certainly comprises much of my (and assuming your an engineering major, your) identity, it is by no means what defines me/you. More vast, varied, and powerful than the engineering tool kit that you will receive at USC will be the experiences that you gain. Drawing upon that design project you worked on with SC Racing or EWB when working in industry or remembering that insightful Polymath discussion on ethics you attended when faced with a difficult decision in your life are things that cannot be simulated in class or gained on your own.
Remember, you’re here not only to make good grades, but more importantly to understand yourself and the world around you more than when you entered college. Because when you graduate and you’re on your own without helpful professors or possibly even your family/friends ready to help at a moment’s notice, you’re going to need to know how to wade your way through this crazy thing we call life. And that is a problem engineering alone cannot solve.
So if you’re going to take anything away from this rambling and sporadic post, here’s the TL;DR:
Experiences, experience, experiences. Go out of your comfort zones, interact with as many different people (especially outside of engineering), and participate in as many different, exciting, interesting, weird, or random events as you can. You’ll never know how these experiences are going to shape/influence you as a person and what role they’re going to have in your life. Good grades should be a given and you shouldn’t be satisfied with coming away from college only with this. The invaluable and irreplaceable part of college are the people you meet and the experiences you gain in either your extracurricular activities or other outlets. 20 years after you graduate from college, what are you going to remember: 1) That weekend you stayed in and studied for a test that ultimately resulted in your GPA being a 3.65 vs. a 3.68 or 2) That amazing music festival that you went to with some of your best friends/The stimulating discussion you randomly attended led by that wacky fiction author
As always, thanks for reading and fight on!