"Extracurricular activities galore," declares the George Washington University's Web site. The medium sized private university gloats that 92 percent of the seniors have "been involved in at least one employment or internship experience while attending classes."
Brandeis University, a small east coast college, similarly boasts that its 3,158 undergraduates can choose from 175 clubs and organizations. Colleges around the country use statistics like these to woo prospective students.
But are these really numbers to brag about?
Mark Twain's famous words – "I never let my schooling interfere with my education" – have become the mantra of college students across the country today. As a group, we are not just allowing classes to interfere with our broader education, but we are pursuing this varied experience at the expense of our schooling and ironically, in the process, narrowing the broad experience we seek.
Students are drawn to certain schools for specific reasons. Whether it's the partying and Greek life at big state universities or the professional opportunities and internships that often surround urban private colleges, the result is the same – a campus filled with people that play their "fulltime student" roles in their spare time, between internships, club meetings and other activities.
My sense is that this is a fairly accurate description of the collegiate academic experience for many students around the country. I attend a private university in Washington, D.C. and numerous friends that attend very different sorts of schools – everything from private suburban schools in the South to large state colleges in the Midwest – agree with my impression based on three and half years of study: College just is not a very academic place.
Conventional wisdom tells us, "All work and no play make John a dull boy." This familiar saying alludes to the importance of balance, a concept that seems totally forgotten amongst my generation's quest for comprehensive life experience.
While I think we do an excellent job at understanding the limitations of "armchair observation" and the Ivory Tower as primary means of understanding the increasingly interconnected world, perhaps we've downplayed traditional education's importance too much. Maybe we are missing out on some "stuff" in the midst of our quest.
That "stuff" is academic rigor. I suspect that there's probably something to be gained by spending some time struggling to understand and explore Kant's Categorical Imperative – but since this is something that everyone (myself included) seems to lose out on, I can't say for sure. The campus environment too rarely caters to people that want to just learn for the sake of intellectual curiosity.