The Chief End of College


College is not about getting a job.

I know.

At worst, it sounds sacrilegious. At best, it sounds financially irresponsible.

I know, it sounds like an excuse to major in Bagpiping or Recreation and Leisure Studies (yes, those are real majors at real colleges).

But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

I am not, in fact, majoring in Bagpiping or Recreation and Leisure Studies, but I am majoring in Biblical Studies and English. Upon revealing that fact, I am almost always met with the question, “What are you planning on doing with that?” Or, more aggressively, “What are you planning on doing with that?” These questions, in their usage of the word “doing,” clearly refer to vocation.

They are valid questions, and not bad ones, but they stem from the underlying assumption that the main reason for spending four (or three, for you overachievers out there) years at a collegiate educational institution is to gain the credentials with which to procure a stable, well-paying career.

I am here to assert that this assumption is false.

I am not saying it is not entirely false; getting a job is certainly important, and if you come out of college with thousands in student loan debt and no prospect of work, you should probably ask yourself some penetrating questions (or should have earlier, most likely). What I am saying is that this should not be the main reason for getting a college education.

As a Biblical Studies Major, I am a big fan of the Westminster Catechism, and its first question and answer hang on the wall of my dorm room: What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. I strive (sometimes more successfully than others) to make this one of the guiding principles of my life.

When thinking about the purpose of college education, then, my mind can hardly help but frame it in those terms. What is the chief end of college? College’s chief end is to get a degree that leads to a high-paying job, find a spouse, get married and have 1.5 kids and a dog?

No, I can’t help but think that the answer should remain the same: College’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

It is difficult to nail down exactly what this means on a practical level. I do think, however, that it means getting more out of the college experience than a degree, and putting more into the college experience than the busywork necessary to procure a diploma.

I think it means treating college not simply as a means to end, a snack-dispenser-like machine where work is put in and a diploma is spat out.

I think it means treating the college years, or the right usage of them, as an end in itself.

It means choosing a major based not solely on salary, but on your gifts, passions, and calling as a member of the body of Christ.

It means approaching classwork with the goal of actual growth and learning, rather than that of simply getting a passing grade.

Sometimes it means caring more about spending quality time with people and less about maintaining a pristine academic record.

Sometimes it means caring less about spending quantity time with people and more about doing your work with excellence.

It means realizing the divine blessing that is the opportunity to attend college, and responding with gratitude by making the most of it.

In the classroom setting, it means realizing the inherent goodness and value of truth. Learning is a good thing for its own sake, not simply because it equips you for the workplace. It means seeking to know, enjoy and glorify God through better understanding who he is and how he has revealed himself in creation. It means loving God with your mind.

The more I consider it, the more I think the college years should be a reflection of Romans 12:1-2: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The college years are not simply valuable because they get us a degree, but because they are a time when our minds are renewed and we are molded into the image of Jesus.

College, then, is less about what degree you get and more about what person you become.

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