Tory Reiss and The True Value of Northwestern
The following is a short essay I wrote for a friend to share with the high school class he’s currently teaching why I felt studying at Northwestern versus in-state was the right decision.
The concept that much of a college grad’s education takes place outside the classroom is not a new one. It’s something that parents and alumni can often be heard saying to eager eyed freshmen while reassuring them that their decision to study Psychology or English will have little bearing on the number of job possibilities available to them after college. I was always skeptical about this claim and even found myself halfway through college regretting my decision to not pursue a degree in engineering, which forced me to test this claim firsthand. I spent my four years studying subjects that ranged as broadly as virtual intellectual property to neuroscience. Yet it was not until I graduated college and had some time to reflect on the true value of Northwestern University to “Tory Reiss the young professional” that I realized which experiences and lessons had shaped me the most. I’d argue that the value of Northwestern University to me rested on the formation of three pillars, and that my major had little to no bearing on my ability to find or work efficiently in my current (dream) job.
The first being workflow, or the process through which one effectively balances activities and organizes your time. Yes, this is the classic soft skill of time management and learning that delayed gratification (the parties can wait!) is of the utmost importance. The fact that Northwestern’s academic calendar is divided into quarters rather than semesters only intensifies the school’s demands on a student’s adaptability. You can hardly blink your eyes at the start of a quarter before you’re facing your first set of midterms/papers so if you haven’t been keeping up then you better start catching up, and fast, because before you know it you’ll be facing another set of exams. The added benefit of the quarter system is the ability to study a wide range of subjects, further enforcing the values of working efficiently and adapting quickly. Most students take 12+ different classes in an academic year as opposed to 8+ at most other schools. Developing a workflow, or framework, for approaching your academics is a must, but the good news is that this skill is just as critical to your success in the working world.
The next pillar is the unique Northwestern mindset that the university works hard to instill in its students. This mindset is of self-efficacy, experiential learning, and self-exploration are intrinsic to the Northwestern experience. Within the walls of Northwestern University, I was constantly pushed to explore subjects and areas of myself that I never would have normally explored. In both academics and extracurricular activities Northwestern ensures that its students are well rounded, by having broad distribution requirements, language requirements, and often hands-on work experience or self-guided study. Northwestern goes above and beyond to ensure that its students can develop their interests outside the classroom. Few other schools can compete with the 510 (!!!) student groups that populate the Northwestern campus. Whether you’re interested in African drumming or robots, there will be a group suited to you, or you can do what at least 510 others have done and form your own organization! Student groups formed an enormous part of my Northwestern experience, but hands-on learning also takes place in the numerous sponsored internship programs that run throughout every school in the university. Many students are able to get a taste of their dream job long before they graduate thanks to programs like Medill’s Journalism Residency or McCormick’s Design Thinking and Communication. Regardless of which area of study you choose, Northwestern forces you to acquire real world experience, which is a necessity that many other universities ignore. All this, and I have not even touched on the value of studying abroad, but rather than take off on another diatribe, I’ll leave it like this: if your course of study allows for study abroad, do it. When it comes to talking about the true value of Northwestern University to Tory Reiss the student versus Tory Reiss the young professional, the ability to constantly dip my toes into new arenas is one I strive to carry over into the real world.
The final pillar is so obvious and so endlessly harped upon that I’m reticent to include, however the fact that the social capital one acquires through working amongst brilliant minds really cannot be quantified. I was blessed to be able to surround myself with some of the most upstanding, bright, and ambitious people that I’ve ever come across during my 23 years on this planet during the four years of college. Never again will you have as much time and freedom to surround yourself with amazing people than you do in college, so please make sure you don’t squander this. By surrounding yourself with peers, professors, and mentors that are “better” than you in some regard, you can almost guarantee that you’ll work to bridge that gap. Whether it’s in terms of your health and fitness, academics, or professional pursuits; putting yourself outside your comfort zone amongst new people that challenge you can only lead to good things. Following in big footsteps can be intimidating at first, until you realize you can leap ahead and forge your own.
All in all, what you study does not determine who you are or what you can do. The true value of Northwestern University came from learning to establish a workflow, maintain a mindset self-efficacy while pursuing real world experience, and surrounding myself with people that challenge the status-quo. I wasn’t able to go into much detail around my specific experiences, but I extend the same offer to you that I extend to anyone I meet: feel free to reach out to me with any questions or thoughts and I’ll be more than happy to help in whatever way I can!