When I was little, I used to play a game we called The Never Ending Game. It sounds a lot more intense than it is. It was just a game of Make Believe where my friends and I always played the same characters and picked up where we left off playing the last time. We would play that we were in college or high school because we could never remember which one came first in an older person's life. (I blame Boy Meets World... sometimes they were in high school on reruns, sometimes they were in college and they always had the same principal/administrator/whoever Mr. Feeney was). We'd have lockers and always hung out at them. Because that's what you do at College High School. You hang out at the lockers. But like many young suburbanites, college was never not an option for a kid like me. Both my parents went. Their parents went. It's what you did.
College today is a lot different than when my parents went in 1904. It was cheaper, for one. It wasn't rare to NOT go to college, which meant that what you studied made you a smartiepants in that field, which meant you got a job more easily. I knew this going in. I realized I was going to be in a lot of debt, I was going to be one of millions with degrees in my field, and getting a job was going to be pretty hard. I went through a great program where the other students were super competitive and everything but humble about their internships and published works.
It would not be fair to categorize college students into those who are selfish and those not. There are so many different kinds of people attending university every year, and thanks to hundreds of student organizations, they can be passionate about all different kinds of things. It's never quite accurate to classify people into two categories (cough, politics, cough), but I'm going to anyways.
And to be fair, I think the act of going to college in itself, is partially selfish: I AM the one attending college in hopes to better MY life, to better MY opportunities, to become a more educated human being. I struggled with this for a while.
My freshman and sophomore year, I spent a lot of time feeling bad. Feeling bad because there were people who didn't have the opportunities to attend college, and here I was having an amazing time, meeting amazing people, getting excited about discussions in my classes (I am that girl). I wanted to help others and college seemed like four years of putting that off.
But the reason I did it was the idea that, without it, I could only do so much to help others. With an education, my opportunities would be greater to do something bigger for others down the line. And just because I wasn't starting a Non-profit-world-saving-hunger-fighting-disease-curing organization right after high school graduation didn't mean that I couldn't do things to help the people I was around. That's the beautifully brilliant thing about helping others: It can be done regardless of where you are or what you're doing or what your job description says.
College was hard for me. When I was in high school, I never studied and I never did my homework, but I got good grades because I got grades on tests to make up for my laziness in other areas. Then I got to college and learned material more complex than memorizing a lecture on the first try and I actually had to study. But it quickly became apparent to me that I would be doing far more learning and living outside of the lecture hall. I met people from very different backgrounds than mine. And I fell in love with them. Being a good friend to them meant more to me than an A on a paper (although writing papers was my strong suit). I learned that Athens, Ohio was but an island in the middle of a rural area, struggling with things I hadn't experienced much as a kid. I became a mentor to high school students in the area through a thing called Young Life, which meant more to me than shmoozing a bunch of visiting news executives to hire me. I fell in love with exercise and adventure and learned that I could push myself to do things I'd never have even considered-- getting over my fear of heights rock climbing and backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. Inspiring others to get healthy and active meant more to me than setting the curve on an exam.
[sidenote: Don't think what I'm saying is that working hard in classes doesn't matter because you're learning more important things elsewhere. It isn't right to put off your studies and cheat yourself out of a good education because you're busy having fun. My parents worked their asses off to get me through college and I respected them enough to maintain a substantial grade point average. But it wasn't the only thing that mattered.]
When I was in the classroom, I made a point to know the people in my class. They mattered to me. They weren't competition. I'd give people my notes when I noticed they had been absent, I made conversation with them about their lives that consisted beyond what they did that weekend.
Outside the classroom, I made a point to care about people. Because I did care about people. It wasn't very hard.