Why you should study what you want to learn, and the reasons you won’t

For most, education is a large investment of time and money. When we choose what degree we will pursue we often hope that afterwards we will eventually recoup this lost time and money over our lifetime with the promise of a substantially higher salary. After all, we are told it is an investment.

Unfortunately we see many college graduates underemployed; working jobs that they would have been eligible for straight out of high-school. At the end of the day a job is a job; it’s what pays the rent and keeps food on the table.

The question then is, should we study what we want to learn? Or try to go after an in demand field in hopes it will land you a good job? You may for example have an interest in history, but will find it will open fewer opportunities than an engineering degree. This of course doesn’t always have to be a choice, you might already have an interest in what is considered an in demand field.

I chose to complete a computer science degree, an area I have always been interested in, and that is often said to be in high demand. To my “luck” I graduated in 2009, right after the world economy crashed. All offers were off the table, and my so called in demand degree didn’t seem to be getting me anywhere.

Time and Money

Whether it’s your own, you take a loan, or you get a scholarship, money will likely steer your decision into your choice of study. I had a scholarship for my Bachelor’s, which was great, but it did create its own restrictions on learning. The criteria to keep most scholarships creates a situation where in part studies turn into a game of points and averages. Classes are avoided, dropped, or swapped in order to keep funding and graduate on time. If you’re on a loan or using your own cash, you’ll likely set the same restrictions on yourself in order to get your education without over spending.

I eventually decided to head off to Finland to ultimately complete a Computer Science Master’s degree. Education is free in Finland. Not only is it free, but there are few deadlines; exams can be taken at any time throughout the year. Without the pressure, you need to have strong initiative to complete your studies. If your own university does not provide a similar course, you are given the opportunity to take courses at any Finnish university. This creates a sense of true freedom in the Finnish education system.

Who has the time?

This is a valid concern. Even if you are at the point that money is not a concern, time often is. If you have a job on top of studies you may find it impossible to find the time to take that additional course of interest. Otherwise you may just be in a rush to complete your degree on time, with little time to focus on anything else. All I can say is to try to make the time if you can. Even if you don’t think you can, just try anyway. Otherwise you may see the years go by while you postpone the things you would like to do.

There was a point during my studies that I was working both a night and day job while keeping up with my university credits in order to meet the Finnish residence requirements for education and savings. As if it wasn’t already crazy enough, when I found out that I could take any courses at any University here, I signed up right away.

I had always had an interest in computer animation and modeling, and now was my chance to pursue that interest. You can imagine how great of a student I was, coming into class after sleeping for only an hour after work. I would often fall asleep often during class, and generally act zombie like. Then back to work, Master’s studies, sleep, work, and repeat for a year all while also fitting a bit of social life in there.

Do it!

As busy of a year as this was, it was well worth it. I had learned an immense amount about the animation process, and ended with a short rough animation of my own. In the end it may not be an industry I get the chance to work in, but I’m glad I made the time to learn about it a bit more.

If you are a full time student in the US you may have the option to take additional courses on top of your 15 credit hours. If there is a subject that interest you, just take it. If grades are an issue, ask if there is an option to opt for a pass/fail grading option, or even if you can simply sit-in the course.

The point is, regardless of what study path you take, take the time to study something a little different. If for nothing else, simply to gain an appreciation for a different area of expertise.

In the end not everything is about money, so take the time to delve into a subject you’re interested in.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Robert A. Heinlein

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