The Vanderbilt Hustler

First-Year Focus: More than school

There's more to learning than the classroom

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First-Year Focus: More than school

Rachel Wei

College is school, and school is all about class, right? Wrong. Coming into college, I knew it would be different from high school. I had heard about and was excited for the “more than school” part of college; I was looking forward to cool clubs, lectures and events that high school didn’t offer. However, I was still very much focused on making classes my number one priority. After all, I was here to learn, right?

After almost a full year (gasp!) in college, I’ve developed a different point of view. Yes, classes matter, but the longer I’ve been here the more I’ve realized that so many other things matter. There is a plethora of opportunities around campus at all times. Whether it’s a start-up competition, a symposium, a lecture, or a sports game, there are endless events vying for students’ attention. At first, it felt overwhelming, and sometimes it still feels overwhelming. Many of us are told that college is the best time of your life, leaving us scrambling to try to make the most of it while we can.

With so many other ways to spend my time on campus, I’ve found it hard to find a balance between focusing on academics (i.e. classes) and learning from everything and everyone else around me. I still haven’t found the sweet spot yet, but I’m becoming more convinced that straight up academics may not be worth a front seat. Now, I’m not advocating for students to skip all their classes and ditch the classroom altogether, but I think it’s worth considering how else we can learn on campus.

Lectures, in particular, have struck me as opportunities that really shouldn’t be missed. I had a good friend tell me that she had also come into the year with the view that classes were her number one priority, and had put a lot of pressure on herself to load up on credit hours and try to challenge herself in every subject. Recently though, she said she would rather skip certain classes and attend an interesting lecture because she feels like she learns so much more from guest lectures.

Now many of us have had some great professors so far, but chances are, we’ve also had some pretty mediocre ones. It’s situations like these where it really may be more beneficial to stray away from the traditional learning setting (i.e. the classroom), and take advantage of other opportunities to learn on campus.

In talking to upperclassmen who sometimes scoff at how faithful most first-years are in showing up to class, many of them have also expressed the same realization; they say that they’ve learned the most not inside the classroom, but out. I’m glad that I have also come to realize that prioritizing other options of non-traditional learning is important.

A great learning experience can be putting off an assignment and spending three hours talking to a friend about everything and anything, and sharing different perspectives on issues instead. Having interesting conversations with people you never would have met unless you were both at Vandy, and who have experienced dramatically different lives up to this point, is a valuable opportunity we should treasure. It’s also a very uniquely college experience. Another great learning experience that isn’t part of a traditional classroom education is going out and listening to an author discuss their craft, or attending a lecture to learn about an issue you had always wondered about.

In the big picture of what college offers, I think classes are actually an arguably small part. Sure, we learn a lot in classes and have great opportunities to take unique courses. However, the majority of the material we are taught in class, we could technically learn on our own time. We can pick up a book on a subject of interest written by the best professor in the field and learn from an expert anywhere. Now, I’m not trying to discount the valuable education we receive here; Vandy is a great educational institution. I just want to point out that there’s so much else to college life and learning than the classroom. I want to encourage you to branch out regarding where you seek learning opportunities. Just look around you– look outside the classroom– and soak it all in.

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