College as a platform for failure

From the 20:10 mark of this interview with Seth Godin (it’s worth listening through the 22:25 mark to hear how Seth approached college):

"The problem with most colleges is that they are high school but with more binge drinking.  High school is a series of tests that prove you fit in more than everyone else, that you have done what you are told.   And anyone who goes to college trying to do more of that—because that’s what got them into college—has failed.  The entire purpose of a good university is to give you a foundation to fail, not a foundation to get an A.  And if you graduate from college with straight A’s, you have to do some serious soul-searching as to why you chose to spend your time doing that."

The quote will make some people uncomfortable.  It’s scary to hear that a 4.0 doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be successful in today’s world.  

Seth's point isn’t that you should go to college, blow off your classes and celebrate the ensuing failure.  He’s arguing that if you go to college and spend four years keeping your head down and getting A’s in a major you picked because someone told you it will help you get a job, you didn’t get nearly as much as you could have from your four years.  You could have learned things that had nothing to do with your major, too.  You could have pushed yourself to discover what you enjoy and are good at.  You could have studied abroad, started a business, built websites for non-profits, TA’d for a professor, led a student group, worked as a resident advisor, run a fundraiser, or organized an intramural sports league. 

Sure, trying things that challenge you means you’ll probably fail several times along the way.  But that’s what successful people do. That’s how people get smarter, better, and less afraid of taking on scary challenges.  You’ll never have another time in your life when you can learn or try just about anything like you can in college.  Why not use that four-year opportunity to the fullest?

Best of all—you can do those things at any college, not just at a prestigious one.  So stop worrying about whether or not a college makes the U.S. News list.  Instead, find the right school to spend four years pushing yourself and, yes, occasionally failing.