Is college really necessary? Should we be pushing our children toward bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees as a prerequisite to success in the career world?
I grew up knowing from the time I entered first grade that I was going to college and I was going to become a writer when I grew up. In the succeeding 12 years of school I neither varied nor wavered from that goal. As planned and expected, I graduated from high school and promptly enrolled myself into the Journalism department at San Diego State University. Two years later, following a serious car accident and four grueling semesters with a full load of academic “solids”, I needed to take a break. A year of selling cheese at the Swiss Colony and developing prints at the One-Hour Photo while I ventured into the world of professional photography convinced me that I needed to return and finish my degree. And so I did. Along the way I also got married and the day before our first daughter was born, I was awarded a B.A. in investigative journalism.
And then like nearly every good journalism student I knew, I went to work in the claims department of a major insurance company. While I was in college I had some great journalism jobs: I worked as an advertising copywriter for a local tourist guide, I was Girl Friday (yes, that really was my job title) for a Better Homes & Gardens Field Editor–my husband is still suffering the aftereffects of that job, and I was an editorial assistant in the curriculum production department of the nation’s sixth-largest school district. I also did occasional writing and photography for a monthly newspaper. But once I graduated, “real” journalism jobs that actually paid a living wage were nearly impossible to find. With an average of 300-500 applicants for every job opening, practicality eventually dictated the insurance company.
And then they offered me law school. They’d pay the tuition and I would join their legal team on graduation. Thinking better of it, I left the world of insurance and became a full-time photographer and part-time freelance writer. And I have never looked back.
Today it is a very different world. Having not so long ago observed my husband as he finished his long-delayed degree and watched my oldest child navigate the costly road of higher education and find work in her chosen field for the employer she always wanted to work for only to find paying both living expenses and student loans nearly impossible, I have begun to ponder on both the necessity and the viability of encouraging my other children to pursue a traditional educational path.
And after a lot of thought and a lot of study and a lot of listening to those successful in the business world, the answer I came up with is “it depends.”
Here are some of the things I think are critical to think about when deciding what type of post-secondary education or training you should pursue. For what it’s worth, I do believe that nearly everyone who is planning to enter the career world needs some kind of training or education in order to be successful in their chosen field. But the form that takes will depend on your answers to the following questions.
- What is it that you plan to do? Are you planning to enter the medical or legal professions or become a CPA or school teacher?
If it is any of those and certain other professional fields than at the very least, a bachelors’ degree is an absolute must. If you are planning to have a career where you work for someone else, especially in a large corporation a degree is likely to be required as a condition of entry. My degreed daughter works for one of the top 50 companies in the US by size and having a degree definitely was her foot in the door for her chosen field.
On the other hand, if you plan to pursue self-employment, a degree may or may not make a difference. Consider Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Both men revolutionized our world with their computers and neither have earned university degrees.
- Does your career field require specialized training or certification?
Some jobs require specific certifications for entry or for advancement. These certifications are generally obtained through study programs. These programs may be offered by universities, community colleges or training schools. When considering a certification program, check the reputation of the school you are considering and then weigh the cost-versus-time factors. Choose the school that best meets your needs. One way to determine whether a particular training program is up to snuff for your industry is to call a couple of the companies you might want to work for and ask whether they hire graduates of that school.
- Are there entry-level jobs available in your chosen field that include apprenticeships or on-the-job training programs?
Some career skills can be acquired through on-the-job or employer-provided training. If finance is an issue and you don’t want to incur the burdensome indebtedness of student loans, this is definitely an option worth looking into.
- What is your learning style?
Are you looking forward to four or five more years in the classroom beyond high school or does the thought of more papers, projects and exams make you break out in a cold sweat? Not everyone is cut out for the academic life. If you are more of a hands-on learner or perhaps an experiential learner, a traditional academic college may not be the right fit for you. It’s ok to be different. One size does not fit all, especially in the world of academia.
In today’s economy and business climate, a degree is no longer a guarantee of entry into your chosen field, nor is it a predictor of career success. Whether or not to pursue the time and expense of a college degree is something to be weighed and studied carefully and is a very individual decision.
How do you feel about higher education? Is it a “must”? Or is it something necessary only for specific careers. Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.