🔥 Seeking Clarity No.3

Learning After College, Tightening Feedback Loops, and Asking The Right Questions 3.21.21

Hello friends! Welcome to Seeking Clarity. My name is Sean Cheng and I’m a student at Swarthmore College. Each month, I bring you a thoroughly researched essay on an interesting topic along with insightful reads from around the Internet. Let’s seek clarity together.

All my past essays can be found here.

Follow me on Twitter @seancheng_

Photo by Tom Gainor on Unsplash

✅ What’s Inside:

  1. Monthly Essay - Learning After College: How to create community, find accountability, and maintain direction after leaving school.

  2. What I’ve Been Reading - Article on shortening feedback loops to generate more motivation to do your work

  3. Twitter Find of The Month - Asking yourself the right questions when it comes to skill development

🔎 Learning After College

Last week, I expressed frustration to a friend about college academics and how I finally understood why some students choose to drop out of school. My gap year sparked this epiphany when I experienced a complete decoupling of my learning from external pressures.

I’m a pragmatic person. I want to learn about topics addressing questions impacting my daily life. This becomes easier when I am in control of what I read, not the course syllabus. If I have a subject I am curious about, I search up what readings are highly rated in the particular field and read them. If it turns out the material I start reading isn’t relevant, I throw it aside.

Swarthmore is notorious for its immense reading workload. On more than one occasion, I’ve skimmed articles for their main points without diving deeper into the nuances and examples presented. I still did well in school, but it came at the expense of true learning.

While on leave, I’ve had the luxury of slowly absorbing what I consume. I re-read passages multiple times and even conduct outside research on books for context. I’ll watch YouTube videos of the authors discussing their ideas and pick up on the small details they only bring up in interviews. All of this has made for a greatly enhanced learning experience.

The lack of grades and tests has also resulted in more mental clarity and academic exploration. Only when you’re out of school do you realize the amount of mental real estate the stress of exams takes up. I’ve experienced a noticeable relief from the persistent low-level anxiety plaguing many students.

I’ve also learned skills like data analytics and web-development, interests I never would’ve explored had I been evaluated for a grade. To its credit, Swarthmore does acknowledge how grades can stunt intellectual curiosity. The school gifts freshmen a first-semester of pass-fail to fully pursue their interests.

I brought up all these points to my friend but he still felt like college provided the structured learning environment he needed. College forced him to constantly read and the professors there served as guides to the most important and foundational literature in each field.

These counterpoints all made sense. Despite the recent advancements in education technology and the rise of platforms like Udemy, Coursera, and edX, college, it appears, still has three advantages when it comes to learning: Accountability, Direction, and Community.

Tests and grades hold you accountable for understanding the material. Professors identify the foundational texts and concepts of the field for you and answer any questions you may have. Meanwhile, a community of peers in your classes forces you to wrestle with and articulate your ideas to others, aiding in understanding. There’s also something undoubtedly special about learning together with other individuals.

I don’t plan on revolutionizing college education when I return. But after graduation, I’m going to chart a better path forward for my learning, incorporating the freedom I experienced during my gap year along with the community and accountability of school. Here are a few ideas on how I plan to do this.

Read The Rest

📚 What I’ve Been Reading

  • Work, play, and motivation - Why constructing tight feedback loops in your work increases motivation and makes work feel like play

🐦 Twitter Find of The Month

🙏 Thank You

If you enjoyed Seeking Clarity, it would mean the world to me if you shared it with a friend or two.


Feel free to also send me your thoughts on my writing or any interesting reads you’ve come across as well! You can reach me by replying to this email or by DMing me on Twitter.

Wishing you the best,