A Mindful Look at Higher Education

A Mindful Look at Higher Education

This is a guest post by Cori—a freelance illustrator and designer and full-time student of the world.

There’s a product which has been sold to each and every one of us as the be-all and end-all for securing a future of financial stability. That product is higher education.

Minimalism does not lend itself to only small amounts of physical possessions, but also to mindful, deliberate living.

However, due to the effects of the status quo, many of us are unable to live mindfully consistently. Higher education is just one example of this phenomenon.

Many of us think of college as just a natural step in the process of life and do not stop to realise that it is merely another well-marketed product. 

While higher education is not toxic to all people, it can be poisoning to some. In the same way that we must be mindful of what we eat, we also must be mindful of how we learn.

Education, after all, is something which you consume. In the end, being a dropout (as long as you’re the right kind of dropout) is actually a viable option.

What’s in an A+?

What does it take to achieve the ultimate grade? Too much.

According to a recent study implemented in the Fall of 2016 by the American College Health Association—National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA IIc), stress is the leading cause of negative impact on academic performance. Anxiety follows in second place and depression places in fourth.

According to the study’s findings, 50.9% of students felt things were hopeless; 86.0% felt overwhelmed by all they had to do; 60.6% felt lonely; 38.2% reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function; 60.8% felt overwhelming anxiety; and 48.4% of students described academics as being traumatic.

Success in academics is achieved at the cost of time, effort, and money. However, it can also come at the cost of your mental health. Many do not register this as a negative impact because society’s general consensus is that higher education is of extreme value and importance.

Because of this, many will willingly drive their mental health into the dust just because a consumerist culture claims that there is no other option.

Education vs. School

In my country, school is simply a process of memorising facts for a test and then turning around and forgetting said facts as soon as possible in preparation for the next test.

Information is rarely retained, and the student becomes a machine which is programmed to take input and give output in accordance with what the system wants.

This is not learning or education. This is regurgitation.

Real education happens when a student pursues knowledge as a way to better their life. It is a mindful and deliberate action made out of self-improvement or self-preservation.

It’s this inner motivation which will allow the student to not only retain information but also make the necessary connections needed to apply what they have learned to the world around them.

Can education happen in a school? Yes, of course. But not every degree or diploma is a result of education.


“Dropout” is a feared word with a lot of stigmas. However, being a dropout is really not that big of a deal—as long as you’re the right kind of dropout.

Dropping out of school so that you can nap on a couch and binge-watch your favourite television show is one thing.

Dropping out of school so that you can learn by living, build your life on your own terms, and launch into a career is a completely different animal. See the difference? One is a potato, and the other is a strategist.

The status quo claims that those without higher education are unfortunate souls who will have a harder life ahead of them.

Many will blindly follow this teaching, failing to realise that education is a choice as well; and where there is a significant choice at hand, mindfulness must be at the forefront of our minds.

I’m not advocating that absolutely no one should pursue higher education. If you have the will and opportunity to pursue a degree of your choice, by all means, go for it.

However, when done intentionally, becoming a dropout can actually be more educational than a degree from any institution of higher education.

When you allow yourself to learn and grow by being and becoming, your mental and emotional health and character can grow and flourish. In reality, you just remove the four walls of your school, and your classroom becomes the world.

Taking back control

Higher education is well-marketed, yes, but it’s still a product—one that can significantly affect your mental health. It is one of several children borne of a consumeristic culture and status quo which can be limiting when not carefully examined.

However, when we take the time to consider the hidden pockets of alternative routes in life, we can claim back a piece of our lives which was lost to the negative impact of our culture.

Have you ever felt disenchanted with the circus of hoops our society has labelled as a school? How have you mindfully educated yourself outside of a classroom? What other limits do you think the status quo imposes on our mindfulness as individuals?

Let me know in the comments below.

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6 thoughts on “A Mindful Look at Higher Education”

  1. In most cases, Undergrad is about regurgitating whatever is taught. However, Graduate School is a different beast in my opinion and teaches independent thought and logic. Therefore, I think college is valuable if it includes graduate school or a specialized skill such as medicine, law, science, etc. The skills I learned in Graduate School further increased my analytical, writing, speaking, and overall skills unlike Undergrad. I think the even bigger issue with college is the “why”. If folks go to college only because their parents, spouse, etc want them to go, then I think this potentially is a failure and the wrong reason to go. I did not complete my first college degree until I was 42 years of age and already working in the field I pursued my degree in. I was 48 when I earned my Master’s degree, and 52 when I finished law school. At these ages, I was mature enough to know what “I” wanted and this made higher education valuable. Education is not as valuable when we do it for someone else or because society says that we should. I did it because I knew further education would refine the things I already did well. So, again, I think it depends on “why” a person wants to go to college. As far as income is concerned, studies continuously show that those with higher education tend to earn more although that may not be true with a lot of the social media entrepreneurs earning millions. Not that money is everything, but even living as a minimalist and a Vegan, parts of my lifestyle can be costly and I knew this when deciding to return to college. In my case, I am realtively certain that the income I earn is directly proportionate to the level of education I have.

    1. Hi there, sorry we missed your comment. I agree with everything you said. No doubt there’s a correlation between higher education and income. But as you said, intentional living is not necessarily about money. More and more people are finding ways to downsize their life, whether it’s through career, location, dwelling size. I suppose it’s about discovering meaning, and sometimes that means leveraging tertiary education. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  2. Although pursuing degrees in higher education shouldn’t be an expectation for everyone, and those who do not wish to pursue it should not feel said pressure, this post makes it seem as though higher education is not necessary, and in fact detrimental, for many. Yes, institutions do acquire monetary gain from high enrollments and it is a societal expectation that all go to college (and it shouldn’t be), but the experiences you gain in college are not akin, or a symptom of, our consumer culture (education you gain from a degree does not = an extra pair of jeans). I have a couple of alternative views for some of the text given in this post.
    – Stress and anxiety are a normal part of life when pursuing something of value, which requires hard work. When studying for a test, or writing a paper for class, you will experience stress. It is part of the learning process (i.e., when you do not understand a concept, you must work hard and sometimes seek help to gain understanding). A more realistic issue is how to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression, not avoid it. Most universities have counseling services that can provide coping mechanisms for such an event, which will be beneficial for other experiences in one’s life.
    – Yes, academic success is at the cost of time, effort, and money. It’s worth it! The pursuit of knowledge and learning will empower you and allow you gain a better understanding of your world, and you will be more successful, personally and professionally, for it and hopefully spread your insight into those that you meet. You can educate yourself through community college courses or smaller state universities (don’t go out of state!) that are more affordable. There may be some courses that are taught by those that believe in memorization, but in many courses, you learn critical thinking skills by experts trained to teach such skills. This is an invaluable experience that you will likely not gain unless you come in contact with such an environment.

    I feel this was written by a person who had a negative experience in college and wanted to find reasoning for it. Please, do not advise our children to not pursue higher education as, from a person who has taught university courses, most people are capable of pursuing it, and it will enrich their lives, if they desire it. Good topic, but feel post is a bit misguided.

    1. Hello there! First of all, thank you for reading my words. It means a lot to me that you took the time to do so! I apologize for the late reply as I was a bit under the weather for a while.
      The point of this article was not to discourage everyone from going to a college or university at all. The purpose was simply to suggest that being a dropout is not necessarily a bad thing and support the notion with evidence that higher education can sometimes become so stressful that it is, in fact, detrimental (something that society tends to shove under the rug). Also, many people shame those who do not have a degree of higher education, and yet does that make them less educated necessarily? I do not believe so. Again, as I wrote in the article, I am not advocating that absolutely no one should pursue higher education. If you have the will and opportunity to pursue a degree of your choice, by all means, go for it. But there is no shame in dropping out if it is the right thing for you.
      Contrary to your hunch, I actually have attended college and had the opportunity to study under several knowledgeable and wonderful professors! School honestly did not treat me all that badly. I maintained perfect grades and tested well on the university entrance exams. I was accepted to honors in every college I applied to and offered substantial scholarships. I was never late with turning in my assignments, took copious notes in every lecture, and always scored at the top of my class. Had I wanted to, getting a four-year degree would have been a breeze for me. However, most of the classes and tests and exams taught me nothing that I could not learn outside of a classroom.
      Yes, university can be beneficial. But it can also be crippling. Everyone is different, and some people just don’t learn within the confines four walls. And that is okay, too!

      As for the two points you have mentioned …..
      Stress and anxiety are a part of normal life, yes. But there is a point where the amount of stress and anxiety you are experiencing may become toxic. It is highly inadvisable to remain in any toxic situation. Society’s standard of education has become toxic to many people because it is forced upon young adults (particularly in first-world countries) as the only acceptable way to live. Therefore, it perpetuates unnecessary accumulated stress because it focuses more on the diploma than the actual act of learning and the student becomes more robot than human, something which we were not designed for.
      Also, I do agree with you: critical thinking skills can be learned in a classroom; but only in a classroom that actually challenges you and is interactive. It is completely possible to learn these skills outside the classroom because such environments guarantee both challenges and interaction. You absolutely do not need to go to school to learn how to think critically. Spend enough time being both inspired and inconvenienced by the world, and you will learn such skills on your own.

  3. I couldn’t agree more. A college degree doesn’t necessarily equate to “educated”. I worked as a consultant for many years and a number of those I worked with, who went to the “best” schools, were some of the least intellectual people I have ever met. The concept of higher education should include certain certification programs and trade schools as well. An electrician who has completed a program and worked as an apprentice for many years before embarking on an independent career is arguably more educated than someone completing 4 years of nothing but lectures and theory with no practical experience. Very little in my 4 years of college prepared me for business. I actually feel that direct experience along with some of the continuing education classes I have taken over the years, have resulted in more tangible growth. I have told my own child that they may want to go to college if they have a specific career in mind, or they can explore other programs that could be more beneficial to the path they wish to take. Either way I want them to continue with their education post high school, but that may not need to be according to societal expectations. Great topic that more people should discuss.

    1. Hello there! First of all, thank you for reading my words. It means a lot to me that you took the time to do so! I apologize for the late reply as I was a bit under the weather for a while.
      I very much agree with you! I do believe that certification programs and trade schools are fully capable of becoming more valuable than typical diplomas of higher education as they oftentimes give more hands-on experience.
      I greatly love how you phrased your position of supporting furthering education but not necessarily under societal expectations. Your words are very succinct and hit the nail directly on the head! I wish both you and your child luck as you both further you each pursue your own forms of education whether in or out of the classroom.

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