During college, one is faced by an extremely daunting question: what do I want to do with my life? Attending the University of Michigan–a school with seemingly unlimited resources in every imaginable discipline–does not make this choice any easier. Even if this first question is answered, another question that is equally if not more intimidating arises: what means should be taken to achieve this end goal?
Now lets look at these questions in relation to my own life. I have one potential answer to the first question, as I could see myself being happy working in the business world. Regarding the second question, however, I am deeply conflicted. My greatest academic interests are economics and political science, and I find the study of these more intrinsically interesting than the study of business. On the one hand, as a student seeking intellectual engagement I am compelled to pursue a degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE), as such a degree will make me the best and most well rounded thinker. On the other hand, however, as an individual planning for a career in business, it seems that applying to the Ross School of Business would leave me most prepared to enter the professional sphere of business.
I must decide, what is the purpose of my college education? Am I here to become the most well rounded thinker possible, or am I here to prepare myself for a specialized professional career? The dilemma which I am facing is addressed by Louis Menand in his article “Live and Learn.” In this piece, Menand examines the issue of what college is for and puts forth three potential explanations. In his first theory (Theory 1), Menand asserts that college serves as a sorting mechanism, a sort of four year IQ test, in order to find out who is the smartest and thus most suitable for high paying jobs. In Theory 2, which Menand himself seems to favor, the value of college is that it produces well rounded individuals and thinkers. Theory 3 says that college provides for the specialization of knowledge and prepares students for their professional pursuits.
Essentially, when choosing between a liberal arts education (via PPE) and a preprofessional education (via business), I am choosing between which of Menand’s theories I subscribe to. Specifically, I am choosing between Theory 2 and Theory 3. I accept part of Menand’s Theory 1–college serves to determine which students are smartest and most deserving of employment–but I think this explanation is incomplete. If we wholeheartedly accept Theory 1, than college benefits potential employers more than it benefits students. Theory 1 assumes the student actually benefits nothing from their college education, something I find troubling. College must benefit me either by preparing me for a professional career (Theory 3) or by making me as well rounded and intelligent as possible irrespective of my professional life (Theory 2).
Fundamentally, Theory 2 and Theory 3 differ in their interpretations of how applicable a college education is. Theory 2 asserts this education benefits the student in all aspects of life whereas, in Theory 3, college serves exclusively to prepare on for professional life. Ultimately, I would rather have a college education that permeates all aspects of my life. I subscribe to Theory 2, preferring to be a well rounded person than a well prepared businessman. College is about more than professional preparation, it is about refining and enhancing the mind in such a way that benefits all aspect of life.