Emily Stein
Winston Churchill High School
Potomac, MD
12th Grade
Third Place Winner, Maryland

Beyond the Degree: A College Education and the People Behind it

Although many people claim that college is unnecessary for success with all the resources now openly
available through the internet, I believe that a college education is incredibly important to my future
success. A college education, in my opinion, is much more than what can be encompassed by a degree. I
believe that a college education will provide me with a strong foundation of personal, intellectual, and
professional experiences that will prove invaluable to my future success. The most influential aspect of
my college education will no doubt be the people I will meet and the types of interactions that I will have
while in college.

The experience of being in the actual classroom will, I hope, be a transformative one. As I visited college
campuses throughout the past year, I loved engaging in the high level of critical thinking and analyzation
that was alive in the discussions. In an American History course I attended, students debated with one
another and their professor about the possible reasoning and viewpoints that Abraham Lincoln had while
writing and delivering the Emancipation Proclamation. I sat in on a course about African American history
in the United States and was able to listen as students drew incredible connections between centuries old
works of literature and current day stigmas. I was able to see the intricacies of how race and sex both
contributed to the treatment of people, and how different factors of identity could not be isolated.

My most valuable classes in high school have been the ones where the atmosphere promoted critical
thinking and discussion, which is just not possible in the same way through listening to a podcast or
watching a recorded lecture. Debate with the other students, as well as with professors and teaching
assistants will allow me to be an active participant in my own education, to think about and form my own
opinions and observations, and to reach my own conclusions.

The diversity of perspectives and experiences will go far beyond a binary of peer versus professor. I can
take economics classes with professors whose views sit on opposite sides of the aisle, I can learn about
artificial intelligence and neural networks and then learn about human philosophy and different schools
of thought. Furthermore, my peers will have vastly different backgrounds. Already through Class of 2022
Facebook groups I have “met” people from places ranging from a city in Morocco to a small town in
Louisiana. There’s a student who helped introduce bills to city government that have become laws, and
another student who spent the past year in Greece working on his non-profit organization that helps with
refugees fleeing Syria. My peers will open my eyes to new points of view and I’ll contribute my own
perspectives as well.

College campuses are curated communities with admissions officers choosing students in a way
described as putting together a “puzzle” (Applestein). The other students down the hall and sitting next
to me in freshman seminars will have different areas of expertise and I’ll be able to learn from them,
explore their passions and show them mine. These other students will be my co-founders and will push me to think innovatively as they share their experiences. Many great companies come from co-founders who have met on college campuses, or are started on campuses as the environment is conducive to students working together to turn ideas into realities. Had Mark Zuckerberg not been at Harvard University, he would have never met the Winklevoss twins whose idea for a campus based social network at the very least contributed to his development of the idea for Facebook. He also would never have met Eduardo Saverin, who co-founded Facebook with him. Had Sergey Brin and Larry Page not been together in PhD programs at Stanford University, they likely would not have created Google - or BackRub as it was originally named (Hartsman).

Not only will the diversity of the student body make for a transformative classroom and help me to find
co-founders and people to launch ventures with, but it will also make for fascinating late night
discussions of philosophy and dining hall chats about current events.

Being on campus, I’ll have access to office hours with Nobel Laureates and will seek their input on my
ideas or questions about their fields. I’ll also be able to partake in cutting edge research, learning about
technology or developments in medical research that I otherwise might not know existed. I’ll be able to
join clubs and collaborate with other students. There will be a whole host of opportunities outside the
classroom unique to being on campus.

Another great element of being on a college campus will be the broad exposure to knowledge from many
perspectives and academic disciplines which I will receive. I’ve been pretty settled on my plans for a
career in business and entrepreneurship since I was in elementary school, but in college I can explore
different subject matter, and develop deep understanding of diverse problems facing society. I can take
time to brainstorm and discuss innovative methods for using business to solve such problems. While in
college I will explore diverse disciplines and indulge my intellectual curiosity in classes ranging from
Egyptian history to theoretical physics.

In college I can learn with the mindset that the knowledge I soak up will find a way to be useful to me,
rather than having to focus on only learning that which is immediately and obviously necessary for a
degree or other relatively narrow professional goal. In his 2005 commencement speech to Stanford
University graduates, Steve Jobs discusses how what he learned from exploratory classes at Reed College proved useful despite its importance being distinctly unobvious at the time. Jobs specifically talks about taking a calligraphy class, which despite having no, “hope of any practical application,” at the time,
ended up giving him the insight to include, “beautiful typography,” (Jobs) when developing the Mac
computer. As Jobs says, “Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in
college. But it was very, very clear looking backward 10 years later.” I’m sure that freshman writing
seminars with topics like space exploration and elective classes I may take about topics such as greek
mythology will enrich my life whether or not I find they have a direct or immediate practical or
professional application. I don’t believe that any other environment but a college campus would allow me to do as Jobs did in following my curiosity without regard to necessary practical application, that I have
no doubt will pay off at some point.

I believe that it is certainly possible to be successful without having gone to college, but nonetheless I
see a college education as an incredibly valuable asset and an experience that will contribute greatly to
my future success.

Works Cited

Applestein, Eliot. “Solving the College Admissions Puzzle.” The Washington Post, 26 Oct. 2000,

Hartmans, Avery. “The Fascinating Life of Google Founder and Alphabet CEO Larry Page.”Business Insider, Business Insider, 4 Jan. 2017, www.businessinsider.com/larry-page-google-alphabet-life-photos-

Jobs, Steve. “Text of Steve Jobs' Commencement Address (2005).” Stanford News, 14 June 2005,