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College isn’t just about career or credentials — it’s also about friends, formation, and, if you’re lucky, marriage

Washington Examiner

June 20, 2023

A few weeks ago, my college friends and I all got together for the weekend. We are seven guys in our mid-40s who have been friends for about 25 years. We drank beer and flavored seltzer and spoke about marriage, parenthood, artificial intelligenceMoby Dick, Homer, and faith, along with reminiscing about college days.

It was a truly glorious weekend, and it made me so grateful I had gone to college where I did and when I did. I know I mostly got lucky, but also I think that by choosing a discussion-based, Great Books-grounded college, I increased my odds of making lifelong friends who loved inquiry and camaraderie.

My oldest child is starting to look at colleges, and one factor we talk about is the likelihood of making great lifelong friends. Our friends who went to the University of Dallas and Catholic University seem to have had the most success on this score.

My wife and I see great lifelong friends as not merely a nicety. Having confidants who know and love you is a central element of the good life.

So, if we guided our children toward choosing a college based on where we thought they were most likely to develop great lifelong friendships, would that be considered odd by today’s standards?

As a culture, do we consider college to be just about career preparation and credentialism? Would you be OK if your son turned down MIT for a less prestigious institution that he thought would make him a happier and fuller person?

Yesterday I spoke with a young woman who turned down some more prestigious colleges to go to a state school in North Dakota. She knew the state school had a good Catholic subculture based out of its Newman Center. She figured that she wanted to raise children in North Dakota close to her extended family and figured that her best bet at setting up that life was going to state school and meeting a good Catholic college boy there.

She succeeded and got married last month.

Her story immediately struck me because her decision process for a college seemed sound, but I still had ringing in my ears the derogatory term “Mrs. Degree.”

In discussion about marriage and family with college men and women earlier this month, two different women told of women who go to college seeking to find a husband.

If you go to college solely to find a spouse, you’re doing it wrong, sure. But it seems off-base to chide those who hope and try to meet a husband or wife in college. It also seems stupid to chide someone for choosing his or her college based on the likelihood of finding a compatible spouse.

Whom you marry is incredibly important — more important than your choice in career. Of course finding a good spouse should play into your life decisions.

I think this is foreign to many people today because we are prone to see education as narrowly tailored toward career. That schooling can also be about character formation, spiritual growth, and community-building is lost on many of our elites.