Torskion OP wrote
What would you do differently if you could go back? And what is your opinion on AA's?
I went to junior college during high school, and for 2 years after I graduated (with a 6 month break directly after high school). Community/junior colleges are excellent institutions. Much more affordable, typically higher quality of education because of class sizes (just less marketing/branding). Only issue is that they typically don't bring in that level of community you expect from larger institutions if that's what you want.
I highly recommend doing general education and exploratory courses at a JC/CC while it is cheap. If I did it over, I would have done a lot more experimentation there before deciding on a major and pidgeonholing the next 10 years of my life.
The hardest part is probably just shutting out all the outside noise about how fast you should be going and societal expectations and all that.
I work in academia so am perhaps a bit biased. I know college isn't for everyone and each university has its own culture, but I think the idea of going to college remains a significant value. Universities are ultimately institutions driven, mostly, by the "bottom line", are extremely hierarchical, and heavily influenced by crafting an "experience" for youth defined by idiotic societal norms and practices.
One can easily allow those aspects of college to define their own experience and you will feel it will be a wasted time. However, within the university there does remain individuals, spaces, and programs that in fact allow high degrees of experimentation, real learning (non-grade/exam based memorization), and alternative politics. It can be a place to question and challenge - though one has to find those spaces.
Universities are under attack from a variety of forces including the conservative right in the US for being "liberal", from state governments for being unproductive, from students who just want to be trained for a job and binge drink on weekends, from research dollars ear-marked for advancing and protecting particular economic and political norms. It is thus important that alternative spaces, creative learning, and meaningful research be forged and that we don't cede the university to such conservative forces.
The battle for free, critical thinking within universities has probably already been lost, but there still remains alternative possibilities...
Torskion OP wrote
Do you have any idea if those alternative thought places tend to congregate in specific higher-ed institutions over others? i.e. Junior College vs Graduate programs or etc
Admittedly, I am not too familiar with junior colleges. The basic idea of community colleges though is to provide particular training and skill sets and thus tend to be more oriented towards learning for a job. Again though, I know in different states the community college systems are quite different, in some they are pathetically bad, in others they are in fact places of quality education.
As for liberal arts colleges (granting BAs and BSs mostly) and universities (that offer graduate degrees, MAs, MBAs, JDs, PhDs, etc.) there is such a huge diversity of possibilities and programs. A place like Evergreen in Washington state is one of the few that holds to a liberal education where you can design your own major and participate in self-made study programs. Private liberal arts colleges tend to be super expensive, but you can get an amazing education with all kinds of opportunities. Some however, like Bowdoin college are for pampering rich kids who didn't get into Harvard. I would avoid anything and everything in the NE except NYC. A lot of the midwest colleges are in extremely boring places, but have some amazing programs with highly committed and engaging faculty.
State schools offer the most diversity and possibilities, but also the most rigid and bureaucratic of experiences with a lot of the student body not even interested in learning. If you can avoid those or overlook them, you can find some fascinating things going on. Much of the BDS movement is driven by university students, BLM has huge networks across universities, and many universities are struggling to support various LGBTQ movements and spaces.
Ultimately, think about what sort of things you want to study, the type of activities you want to be engaged with, where you think you want to be in 5 years and beyond, and what is practical - admissions, costs, location, etc.
I went to college with a warped mind thinking I wanted to go to law school (which fortunately I was saved from by a thoughtful professor!), decided to major in economics, rejected that and ended up majoring in Asian studies so I could travel and study abroad! In graduate school I became more focused and disciplined, but that was also some years after completing my degree, traveling and working abroad, and realizing what I wanted to do.
College should be a place opening up opportunities, not closing them off...
I went to college, majored in SEVERAL things before settling on Economics and International Relations. I loved learning new things, I loved it so much that I didn't critically question a lot of the stuff I was learning...It took me a few years out of college to start to question a lot of what I was taught and begin to understand how the world actually works and not just the neo-liberal framing in which education takes place.
I went to the least party school in the United States (BYU), so my experience was probably a lot different than many others would have been. No drinking, drugs, or being alone with someone of the opposite sex in your dorm, obviously no sex or anything like that.
Basically what I'm saying is if you go to college, make sure you go in with your critical eyes open, don't go to a church school, and make sure that what you're learning is worth the cost in time, opportunity cost, and actual real fucking money.
Yes, got 2 degrees (BA and MS) in various social sciences. I wish I knew myself as well as I do now back then, I would've completely had different majors and career path, if I had gone to school at all.
College classes were easy as hell. In favt, the more credits I took at once the better I did. If I tried to just take a couple classes, I was too disinterested to apply myself. Had to use the pressure of too much shit to do in order to really try. And it was more affordable that way too...I had to take loans and pay out of pocket.