For most males, adulthood really begins with college. Our society makes a sharp distinction between “kids” before high school graduation and “adults” after high school graduation. Whether or not that distinction is fair is a different issue which will insha’Allah be addressed in a later article. Here though, I wanted to begin a series helping young Muslim men navigate their transition from high school to college.
Get in the right mindset
College is your first big investment. In fact, it’s the biggest investment you’ve made up until this point, the biggest investment you’ll be making for a while, and the investment with the largest impact on your life.
Notice how I worded that? It’s an investment. I use that word purposefully. Sh. Muhammad al-Shareef gave a lecture once about tools for success. He mentioned how in the Qur’an, over and over again, Allah (swt) uses metaphors related to business. The sahabah, and the muhajiroon in particular, were businessmen and ran their lives like businessmen. Many ahadith give examples and parables using business terminology. If you want to emulate the sahabah, you have to view your life with the same business mindset that they did.
Here’s where that mindset begins.
Would you ever invest in something without knowing what you want to get out of it? For example, dropping $20,000 on a Bloomberg terminal without having any clue what it does? Of course not, you’d think anyone who does that is an idiot.
College is no different. This is going to be a massive investment of time and money and you need to very clearly know what you want to get out of it. We can broadly group the reasons why people go to college into four things (while realizing that there will always be a combination of these factors):
- To become educated
- To enjoy the social scene
- To gain the qualifications/satisfy requirements needed to get a job
- To go along with the crowd, college is the expectation after high school
Now, we can all agree that four is not a valid reason to invest time and money. Let’s take a closer look at the first three though:
If your goal is to get educated, is college the most efficient way of doing it? I would argue that no, if that is your goal, don’t go to college. As you’ll quickly realize into your first semester of college, most of your learning will take place on your own. Without a doubt, professors are useful and with directed learning, you can progress more quickly than you would if you were wandering through a library on your own. However, with the age of the internet, there are many free resources online that will get you the equivalent of a college education without you spending a penny. Places like Coursera offer full college courses for free and you get the same education that you would if you were sitting in a college paying thousands of dollars in tuition.
The social scene is actually a stronger reason to go to college than to be educated. The social scene in college is almost impossible to duplicate outside of it. For a non-Muslim, this might be a compelling enough reason to go to college. As a Muslim though, this has the opposite effect. The prevalence of alcohol, hook-up culture, casual relationships between men and women (including Muslim men and Muslim women), are all strong negative aspects of college.
So we get to the third, and I believe strongest, reason to go to college and that is to gain the qualifications needed to get a job. There is a hadith narrated in by Anas (ra) that the Prophet (saws) said: Earning halal livelihood is wajib on every Muslim (al Mu’jamul Awsat of Tabarani). Getting a job is how you earn a halal income by which you will insha’Allah support a wife and kids, help your parents when they are old and retired, and give in charity to those who are in need. It is far better to be in a position where you are the one giving charity than the one who is in need of other people’s charity.
Your return on investment (ROI)
You are pouring time and money into this degree because you expect a return on that investment. With all investments, the less time and money you put in for an equivalent payout means you have a larger ROI. That’s your goal with college.
“Now wait,” you say. “My high school counselor has told me that I should choose what college ‘fits’ me best and to not worry about the cost because education is invaluable.” Or, “This is your education and is not the time to worry about finances. Don’t let money dictate your decision.”
While you should always accept advice from others, you are a man who makes his own decisions. High school counselors work for the high school, not you, and high schools have a vested interest in showcasing the variety and prestige of the colleges their alumni attend. You have to do what’s best for you, not the high school’s reputation.
In college, you are getting a degree in order to get a job down the road. Later in this series, I’ll talk about maximizing your education while in college and expanding your horizons, but don’t let anyone tell you that that is the purpose of college. The main and overriding reason you are in college is to be ready to enter the workforce when you graduate. Everything else you get out of college is secondary.
Approach college with the right mindset. View it as an investment both for this world and the next. When you have this mindset, you will be able to navigate college much more efficiently and graduate having excelled in all areas.
In our next article, we’ll look at ways to bypass certain requirements so that you can focus your time in college on courses which will be directly beneficial for you. In the meantime, if you haven’t read the previous article, check it out here: