College: A Guide

How to Think about Education

When a person seriously devotes themselves to some form of training or schooling, the result of their work is knowledge. If a person utilizes that knowledge in a meaningful way, it may eventually become wisdom. Knowledge and wisdom should always be the goal of a person seeking an education; but what is an education, really?

To figure this out we need to first examine whether education is a product. It is a commonly held belief that colleges sell education, but this is incorrect. Colleges sell courses. A course - as a series of readings, assignments, discussions, and activities - is a product with no intrinsic value. In order for a course to have value, the student must engage with the material and use the provided exercises to practice their skills.

In that sense, education is a form of engaged practice which results in the student becoming knowledgeable about a subject.

How to Think about College

People go to college to buy a degree. This degree is proof that a student has completed a series of courses and, as we learned above, these courses are meant to provide the student with an opportunity to engage and practice with a subject. In theory, this means that every student is educated. However, not every education is equal. Some students do not put in the effort required to master a subject. Some teachers do not put in the effort required to engage a student.

As a result, teachers have come up with a way to grade students, and students have come up with a way to grade teachers. Students and teachers should pay attention to these grades, but they should not allow them to become more important than learning.

How to Think about Colleges

Some colleges have better reputations than others. For the most part, this fact is unimportant. Instead, one should consider the following:

Size: The size of a college campus is unimportant. However, the number of students allowed in a class is very important, and smaller class sizes are almost always better.

Teachers: You will learn more from teachers you like and respect. Try to learn about your teachers. Speak to them, and see what they can offer you in your educational experience.

Expense: Attending college is expensive, but the amount of money you spend should not be ridiculous. If you find yourself thinking about how many years it will take you to repay student loans, you should look at other options.

Location: Your roots are important. Therefore, it is usually better to be near family and friends. However, at times it is also important to leave your home. This is especially true when you have the opportunity to learn something new. Think very carefully about where you are in your life.

How to Think about College Degrees

For this example, we will examine the Associate of Arts and Assoiate of Science options offered by North Idaho College in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. This is the school I attended, although I spent most of my time in their outreach classrooms and not on the main campus.

Please examine the following tables. These list the various Majors -- areas of study you would like to concentrate on -- for both the Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees. If one sounds interesting to you, place a check in the little box. To clear the checks, simply hit the CLR button.

If you click on the name of the major it will take you to North Idaho College's catalog entry for that specific major. There you can find information about what courses are required to receive your degree, as well as the expected outcome of studying that specific topic.

Associate of Arts Transfer Programs (22)

Major Enrollment Non-Gem Core Electives Math
American Indian Studies Open 5 5 123
American Sign Language Studies Open 9 0 123
Anthropology Open 4 5 253
Art Open 12 0 123
Communications Open 6 5 123
Criminal Justice Open 6 4 123
Education (Elementary or Middle School) Open 10 2 257
Education (Secondary) Open 3 7 143
English Open 13 0 123
General Studies Open 0 8 123
History Open 5 4 123
Humanities Open 7 3 123
Interdisciplinary Studies Open 8 2 123
Journalism Open 9 3 123
Modern Languages Open 6 2 123
Music Open 26 0 123
Philosophy Open 7 2 123
Photography Open 7 3 123
Public Relations Open 10 3 123
Social Work Open 3 9 123
Sociology Open 5 5 253
Theatre Open 9 1 123

Associate of Science Transfer Programs (20)

Major Enrollment Non-Gem Core Electives Math
Biology, Botany, and Zoology Open 9 0 160
Business Open 10 0 123
Chemistry Open 12 0 275
Child Development Open 8 1 123
Computer Science Open 10 0 187
Engineering Open 14 0 370
Environmental Science Open 11 0 160
Forestry, Wildlife, Range Management Open 12 0 253
Geology Open 9 0 175
Mathematics Open 9 0 370
Nursing (Registered Nursing) Limited 20 0 123
Physical Education Open 8 2 123
Physics / Astronomy Open 9 0 370
Political Science and Pre-Law Open 3 6 123
Pre-Medical Open 9 0 170
Pre-Microbiology / Medical Technology Open 11 0 170
Pre-Nutrition Open 13 0 253
Pre-Physical Therapy Open 9 2 253
Pre-Veterinary Medicine Open 9 1 160
Psychology Open 5 5 253

Now, you may be wondering what the other columns are for. Allow me to explain:

Enrollment: In this case, Open enrollment simply means that you are not required to fill out a special application to declare this major. If your chosen major is marked Limited, you may have to wait for a spot to open before you are allowed to take the required classes. Speak to an advisor and factor this into your college plans.

Non-Gem Core: This is the number of classes you will take that will directly relate to your major area of study. Most degrees will require you to take General Education (Gem) courses such as Writing, Speech, and Sciences. While these classes will make you a better person, they often have very little to do with your major. Knowing how much of your degree will be devoted to your major is an important factor. In general, the higher this number, the more specific your degree will be.

Electives: Electives are classes you get to take that do not have to have anything to do with your degree. Generally speaking, if this number is low then you have a higher chance of experiencing burnout. However, if this number is too high you might not learn enough about your major to be considered proficient.

Math: I like math, but I understand that not everyone does. This number is the lowest level math class you can take and still graduate. You can read descriptions of these math classes on this page.

How to Succeed in College

College is difficult. However, succeeding in college is fairly simple.

First, you must approach all of your classes as if they are periods of intense, engaged study. Use tests or quizzes as a way to gauge your understanding of the material, and always strive to become better.

Second, you must learn to identify the three types of teachers:

Easy: Often very highly rated teachers are simply easy teachers. In many cases their their subject is not difficult, or they are simply not passionate about it.

Good: A good teacher may or may not be highly rated, but they are generally approachable and easy to speak to. Often their passion for their topic is tempered by their desire to see students succeed.

Hard: A hard teacher will typically be very poorly rated. This is a shame, as sometimes the difficulty of their class is the result of their intense passion for a subject.

Of course it is best to have good teachers, but you should not ignore the others. Sometimes it is great to be challenged by a hard teacher, especially when the subject is something you would like to truly master. At other times, an easy teacher can help you avoid burnout. Find balance.

Lastly, do not forget why you are in college. Think often about your goals and what it is you wish to achieve in your life.

How to Think Beyond College

Colleges design educational experiences for you. Therefore, it is typically easier to obtain knowledge inside the classroom. Some people, however, do not have the will or the means to attend college and they must find their own way to pursue an education. There are two main ways to do this:

Experience is applied practice. When we experience different situations, we learn what things do or do not work in a specific context. This not only allows us to gain knowledge, it also fosters a sense of situational authority which can lead to wisdom. However, you should keep in mind that not all experience is helpful. Reflect often on whether your experiences are helping or hindering your understanding of a topic.

Reading is a slightly easier way to gain knowledge in a topic, but if it is not combined with experience it rarely results in wisdom. If you have decided to learn through reading, you may have noticed that it is difficult to pick a place to start. In the following table you will find the areas of study offered by North Idaho College listed along with the sections of your local library that are devoted to this topic. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but you should consider it a good place to start.

Area of Study Dewey Decimal Library of Congress
American Indian Studies 897, 979 PM , F 786-951
American Sign Language Studies 419 HV, P 117-117.5
Anthropology 301, 390-399 H 1-99, GT, GR
Art 700-759 N, NB, NC, ND
Biology, Botany, and Zoology 570-599 QH, QK, QP, QR
Business 330-339 HB-HJ
Chemistry 540-549, 660-669 QD, TP
Child Development 155.4, 372 LB, BF
Communications 302, 384 GN, HE
Computer Science 004-006 QA 75.5-76.95
Criminal Justice 364-365 ASK
Education (Elementary or Middle School) 370-372 L-LC
Education (Secondary) 370-373 L-LC
Engineering 620-629 T, TJ, TK
English 420, 800-899 PA-PQ
Environmental Science 540-599, 630-639 QB, QC, QD, QE
Forestry, Wildlife, Range Management 570-599 QB, QC, QD, QE
General Studies 000-999 ASK
Geology 550-569 QB, QC, QE
History 930-999 CC, DU, E, F
Humanities 700-999 ASK
Interdisciplinary Studies 000-999 ASK
Journalism 070-079 AI, AN, Z
Mathematics 510-519 QA
Modern Languages 400-499 ASK
Music 780-789 M, ML, MT
Philosophy 100-199 B, BC, BD, BF
Photography 770-779 TR
Public Relations 070-079, 650 AI, AN, HF, Z
Nursing (Registered Nursing) 610-619 WY
Physical Education 610-619, 793-799 WY, GV
Physics / Astronomy 510-539 QB
Political Science and Pre-Law 320-329 JA
Pre-Medical 610-619 W, WA, WX, WZ
Pre-Microbiology / Medical Technology 576 QH, QR
Pre-Nutrition 610-619, 641.1 WY, TX
Pre-Physical Therapy 610-615 WY, GV
Pre-Veterinary Medicine 636 SF
Psychology 150-158 BF
Social Work 360-369 ASK
Sociology 300-307 H, GF, GN
Theatre 790-792 ASK

Good Luck!

Information written and compiled by MD, Fabled Farthing, 2020.

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