The Campus Experience:
18-24 Comes Only Once
Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo
University life is an important time for young people to make wise choices.
We confront crucial questions at the beginning and at the end of our campus experience. After college, the question is: should I go to the university, and if yes which subject is worth studying? Once the campus experience finishes, the question becomes: what to do now? The second question is more complex than it appears. A natural progression would be to enter the labour market in a sector where it is ideal to make a career. Between these two questions, an interesting phenomenon arises that is almost always overlooked.
Let us look at two fictional cousins- Smart and Not So Smart. Both are 18. Smart gets admitted in the department and university of choice. Smart is a classroom geek and gets good grades. Not So Smart fails to get a subject of choice, but goes to the same university as Smart. Five years later, the cousins leave the university with a Masters degree. The next year at the age of 24, Smart again finds a job of choice and is tailor-made for the sector. Not So Smart also enters the job market at the age of 24, but not in a sector or job of choice. Not So Smart does not enjoy what (s)he does, but does not complain. Life goes on for the cousins.
In the twinkle of an eye five years pass. The cousins are now 29- almost entering the third decade of their lives. Smart has received a promotion and is well-set to become a mid-level professional in the sector and job of choice. After five years Not So Smart wakes up from a Rip Van Winkle sleep and seeks a change of profession. Alas! At 29, Not So Smart is over aged to start afresh and also does not have necessary experience and training for a job in another sector.
Every university has a campus. The campus is an experience in life. It gives an education that goes beyond the boundaries of the classroom and the syllabus of textbooks. The campus experience includes studies, partying, networking, part-time jobs, and preparation for future jobs and careers. The campus experience also gives an opportunity to keep our eyes open for something out of the ordinary. We live in the 18-24 bracket. Choices and actions within this bracket influence the rest of our lives. Back to Smart and Not So Smart. The cousins find out they have a distant cousin who is of the same age and studies in the same university. The cousin's name is Dizzy Whiz.
Dizzy Whiz did well at school and college and was bright to enter the university and subject of choice like Smart, but is not enjoying his subject like Not So Smart. Dizzy passes exams with not so good grades, but what separates him from Not So Smart is that Dizzy is a street-wise geek. He notices his friends complaining about the catering in the canteens. Dizzy starts an online catering service that delivers food on the campus. He receives orders from his friends via his smart phone. He collects the food from shops within the campus and employs a handful of people to deliver for a minimum service-charge as profit. The online catering business grows while the three cousins are at university. At the end of 18-24, Dizzy finds that his fun project is now a small company. In the next five years Dizzy and his company expand to include all university campuses in the city.
The three cousins meet at a university re-union ten years after 18-24. Smart is well placed in his job with national and international acclaim. Not So Smart is going through motions in life. Dizzy has risen to dizzying heights as an entrepreneur whose ventures are diverse and reaching national and international markets employing countless people. All three cousins have come out from the same university, but different choices have lead to different paths and destinations in life.
The first question on whether to go to a university and if yes what subject to study is a one-way choice in life. Once that choice is made there is almost no scope for return. If, for any reason, one is not enjoying their studies at the university, it could be a wise decision to explore alternative avenues for a post campus life, but keeping in mind finishing university in 18-24 cannot be compromised because 18-24 comes only once in a life-time. After entering a job or profession, if you see it is not your cup of tea, the sooner you switch to something else the better. The longer you bide time, the more difficult it becomes to switch to a new profession or make a comeback in the afternoon of your life. The campus experience accommodates classroom and street-wise geeks just as much as the Not So Smart ones. If we choose to take the path of Not So Smart, we will probably be going through the motions for the rest of our lives.
Leaders in the 21st Century are going to come from the campus experience of 18-24. Fictional Smart and Dizzy Whiz characterise these leaders. The campus experience and 18-24 comes only once. You know which character you identify with. Seize that character and stick with it to enjoy a post campus life.
Influence: Peter Day: In Business of BBC Radio 4. “Do It Yourself Jobs”. First broadcast 19 Jan 2012 and available indefinitely at www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/radio
(The author teaches economic theory at Jahangirnagar University and North South University.)