No matter how long you’ve been at JMU, you’ve most likely had to answer the question, “Why are you here?” at least once.
An answer that often comes to mind is “to get an education” or “to earn a degree.”
The Breeze asked three JMU students: “Why are you here?”
Bridget Kimball, a freshman, said she came for an education and a bachelor’s degree in computer science.
Sophomore Rachel Wall said, “I love to learn and I want a job that requires a college degree.”
Grace Dudley, also a freshman, said she’s at college “to pursue my passions and reach my career goals.”
Although obtaining a degree is the outcome of college, academic success isn’t the sole reason students take part in higher education.
To start, college is expensive. Students don’t pay thousands of dollars to achieve academic success. If earning a degree is truly the reason most students go to college, then community college would be the most popular form of higher education.
According to College Board, community college is much cheaper than four-year universities. But it doesn’t offer the typical college experience.
At a four-year institution, students aren’t just paying for an education, they’re paying for an experience: an opportunity to grow, discover their passions, deepen their understanding of the world, meet new people and more.
To apply academic success to these reasons is unhelpful. Discovering one’s passions might take failing a few math classes. Meeting new people might mean staying out late and sleeping through a test the next morning. This doesn’t mean a student is unsuccessful in college.
The reason students come to college shouldn’t be limited to a GPA or grades on a transcript. Everything that positively impacts someone’s college experience should be valued — a reason worth thousands of dollars.
College is hard. When facing burnout, exhaustion and loneliness, academic success isn’t what keeps students at college. In fact, it’s a harmful mindset.
Freshman Katie Runkle said the reason she’s at college is “to develop individually and academically,” but she still has a lot of time ahead of her and doesn’t think that reason is sustainable.
“I don’t think this reason would be enough,” Runkle said. “It could start this way, but deeper roots would be needed eventually.”
Because college communities cultivate a mindset that idolizes academic success, students believe their value is determined by grades. According to the Center for Communication, the more value students place on their academic achievements, the more it negatively impacts their mental health.
When facing hardship or failure, the pressure of academic success will cause students to doubt their worth. They also might prioritize reaching this status at the expense of their physical and mental health.
Students must discover what makes college worth it for them — especially through the hard parts.
College can prepare students to enter the real world, but students don’t have to be successful in one particular way to take advantage of this. Part of preparing for the real world is failing, problem solving and learning to work well with others. The hard parts of college are what truly prepare students for the real world — not just academic success.
So, maybe success is the reason students go to college, but it’s not academic. Everyone should have their own definition of success; by having a cookie-cutter definition of it, students will feel pressured to have the outcome of their college experience — or even their semester — look a certain way.
Professors could focus on their students as people and how they can apply what they learn in class to the real world, instead of focusing on their students’ academic performance.
Student organizations could focus on building genuine, personal connections and create opportunities for students to support one another,instead of being a way to build a resume.
Students should contemplate the real reasons they’re here before answering the question “why are you here?” with “to get a degree.” Doing this can make their college journey more fulfilling and impactful.
Mary Mabry is a freshman communication studies major. Contact Mary at email@example.com. For more editorials regarding the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the opinion desk on Instagram and Twitter @Breeze_Opinion.