Dr. Bob Wright | April 2, 2019

What is the Purpose of College: Prestige or Experience?

The recent college admissions scandal that erupted in the news has many people thinking about the true purpose of college.

With the recent college admission scandals, many people are wondering what is the purpose of college? Is it about getting prestige or experience?

Is it about the prestige of getting a degree from a big name school, like these celebrity parents believed and were willing to pay so dearly to obtain?

Or is the purpose of college to gain experience and education? If that’s the case, then is a state school as good as an elite university?

Why Would Celebrities Pay So Much for College Admission?

If we analyze the recent college admissions scandal, it becomes truly absurd. These parents were lying, paying tons of money, and doing all kinds of questionable tricks, telling themselves it was all for their children’s future. Now it has cost them their jobs, fines, and a great deal of public embarrassment.

Were their actions simply based around a desire to “help” their children? Is an elite or Ivy League college the real answer to a good life? And does it make such a difference that it’s worth lying, cheating, and bribing to secure a spot?

What it really comes down to is a mistaken view of prestige versus what constitutes a truly great life. These parents were deluding themselves into believing that cheating their way into a special spot in line would give their kids a leg up in their future. Whereas, truly it was doing exactly the opposite and sending their kids a dangerous message that they could cheat or buy their way into an authentic college experience.

One of the kids had even posted a video online saying she didn’t care about getting an education at all. She wanted to party. What benefit were her parents’ dishonest actions to her? Her parents seemed to want to help her get in because they wanted to hand over anything she demanded, including college admission.

Where is the larger lesson in all of this?

The truth is, we all assign a certain value to a Harvard education or a Ph.D. from Columbia. How many of us brag or boast about our friends who attended an elite school? When we go into a business meeting, how many of us cite someone’s education as proof of their expertise?

The chances are high that these parents wanted to secure a spot for their children at an elite school because they believed it would set their kids up for later success. They hoped they were putting their kids on a path toward the future they wanted. But buying their way into a school does exactly the opposite. Instead of setting them up for success, they took away their ability to adapt, learn, grow, and build grit.

What is the Purpose of College?

So, what is the purpose of college anyway? If it’s to build experience, why do we all value elite degrees?

At the end of the day, college is about learning to think. It’s about seeing yourself as part of the world, learning a deeper understanding, and connecting to the world around you. It’s not simply about fast-tracking your way to a career, learning a marketable skill, or even earning a degree. College is about gaining valuable life experience and building connections. It’s about learning how to learn.

This is one of the many reasons why liberal education matters so much. Students need to learn history to understand where they fit within the thread of mankind. They need science. They need math so they understand quantum mechanics and emerging physics. They need sociology so they understand the movements happening in the world. They need psychology so they begin to understand themselves and each other. Then they can dig deeper into the subjects that interest them, with dedicated professors to challenge and guide them further along the path.

College is important because it opens our eyes to the world around us. Not everyone’s higher education path looks the same, but everyone of every age should be on an educational path.

It’s important we’re all learning throughout our lives. College is an important way to build up our love of learning and teach young adults how to learn. It opens their eyes to the bigger picture and gives them many options to explore.

Does this mean college is the only path for learning and understanding? No, of course not. But it’s certainly a direct path that opens a world of possibilities.

We worked with a gentleman who invested in financial corporations, turning around institutions and flipping them for a lot of money. Eventually, he reached a stuck point in his career. He’d stopped pulling the trigger on sales. He was going into his fourth marriage. His kids weren’t speaking to him even though he’d given them everything money could provide. The time had come for him to do some self-examination.

During our work, he had a significant turnaround. He realized money and prestige were traps—a big distortion of the American dream. There are a lot of people who want to live the American dream, but the reality is, it looks different for each of us. It doesn’t mean having the most money, a big house, or a fancy car. The true American dream is living a life of purpose and fulfillment.

We’re entering a time where kids are earning much more than their parents ever did. We have the opportunity to personalize our education and learning, choosing what we want to learn and from whom we want to learn it. The downside of this is many of us avoid encountering diverse attitudes or life lessons because it may upset our view. We prefer to exist in an echo chamber, but that’s not conducive to pushing ourselves toward new points of view and new lessons.

Living a Great Life Doesn’t Start with an Ivy League Admission

Living a great life doesn’t begin by getting into a top school or an expensive college. Living a great life is about understanding and following your yearnings. It’s about living a life of new explorations and assignments each day. It’s about taking on new endeavors and continuing to grow.

Education isn’t about getting a diploma. It’s not about following a formula or even completing a goal. Our education isn’t something prescribed. It’s a continuous journey we should follow throughout our lives each and every day.

What the parents in the college admissions scandal didn’t realize is prestige isn’t what will make life great for their kids. Prestige has nothing to do with what really matters.

Yes, there are advantages to attending an elite school, but in many ways, the advantages are simply based on the fact these institutions are built for learning. When students attend, they’re encompassed in a total learning environment, which helps them learn how to become better students.

But at the end of the day, it’s really about whatever experience you can explore. The point is to really allow yourself to learn, think, grow, and discover. It’s about learning how others think as well, and to learn from great thinkers throughout history.

There are many schools out there. The most important part of education is having quality teachers and professors who are dedicated. It’s also important to be surrounded by bright, interested, and engaged peers who continue to push students to keep learning and exploring. The additional networking and community that come as a college alumnus or alumna are valuable and nice, but it’s not really the full answer.

When people come out of an elite (or any) school, it doesn’t mean they’re imbued with creativity, originality, or an ability to interact with the world around them. The quality of a person is much more important than prestige, wealth, or an elite education.

A quality education can come from many places and many sources. The importance is in the pursuit of continued education and learning throughout our lives. It doesn’t end with graduation—in fact, that’s usually the beginning.

Students who haven’t faced adversity and struggle on their path to receiving an education may be ill-prepared to deal with the challenges of life once they emerge from the school doors and enter the real world. Growth is built from experience and, yes, even struggle. By eliminating the challenges from their kids’ paths to admission, these celebrity parents robbed them of the real purpose of college: an opportunity to grow.

For more on learning and growing throughout your life, please visit The Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training weekend, where you’ll learn ways to continue your learning and growth as you move toward your greatest future.

About the Author

Dr. Bob Wright is an internationally recognized visionary, educator, program developer, leadership and sales executive, best-selling author and speaker. He is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.

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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.