When I ask older generations about what made their college experiences so great, the nearly unanimous consensus is always something about the community and intellectual immersion they went through during those precious and memorable four years. Living in the dorms, the deep conversations with fellow students and professors alike, the stimulating stress of intellectual challenge—these are the types of memories that get tossed around, what made their “good ol’ days” so good.
The student experience at community and technical colleges like Bellevue College aren’t like this however. Our parents and grandparents experienced what Bill McKibben describes as, “the four years in an American life when we live roughly as we’ve evolved to live,” working, eating, sleeping and goofing off, “more closely and intensely in a community than ever before or since.” BC students, by comparison, live and work much as they did in high school, or will do in the future in their respective careers. For many students, this isn’t a matter of choice—the demands of work and family have a pretty powerful restraining effect on their ability to really dive into campus life in a way resembling the “college experience” of previous generations. For others, however, it is an option rejected more out of apathy or ignorance. I would have counted myself among these until last month.
There are a number of ways to get the college experience out of our time at BC. For myself, it has been debate club. The social cohesion, camaraderie and challenges of trying to understand people throwing complex philosophical arguments at you at over 200 words a minute has been overwhelming at times, but has generally been an incredibly positive and engaging experience. It’s even given me the opportunity to utilize material from my other classes; I was able to use stories of the American industrial revolution and explanations of neurological processes in several practice debates and even one competitive debate. I really felt like I dove into the deep end of the intellectual pool, and despite some early spluttering and flailing, I’m beginning to learn to swim more proficiently.
Debate is, of course, not the only route to really get the most out of what BC has to offer. Various other clubs, tutoring programs, student government opportunities, sports teams and internships provide a similar potential for connectivity and academic growth. These sorts of extra-curricular activities have perks aside from just “the experience,” of course. Nothing plumps out a student resumé like a busy schedule, especially if you manage to land a leadership position. The learning potentials, be they in marketing, politics, music or just hacky-sack, are always a bonus, and simply occupying time in a social setting is an often underrated benefit. I have met countless high schoolers and college students who regret not getting more involved in side-activities, but I have yet to meet one who regretted doing too many.
At the end of the day, it comes down to what your tuition money is worth to you. You’re already paying money for your education, and the quintessential “college experience,” or something very much like it, is available to you at no real extra charge. In many cases it even pays. You may as well get the most value from your school. It will make you a better student, set you up with better chances for a quick start on your future and ultimately give you the chance of a lifetime to enjoy what are for most the best years of your life. Don’t squander them!