Having trouble deciding whether college is right for you? Scared about the expense and the uncertain opportunities?
For most of my life, I thought that a college degree and an education were the same thing. For my undergraduate degree, I did whatever the professors wanted, earned my A’s, and later regretted not learning everything I could have. I took some “easy” classes instead of concentrating on subjects that interested me and could have benefited me. I was less interested in applying knowledge and more interested in passing exams.
Those A’s meant a lot to me at the time, but as I started my graduate degree, I realized I cared less about the grade and more about the experience. After all, I was paying for it. A true education might have served me better.
To help you avoid the mistakes I made, I am going to help you compare the benefits of a college degree versus an education.
First, we must look at what employers (and society in general) expect of job applicants:
– A proven ability to analyze problems, conduct research and produce solutions
– A proven ability to learn complex, difficult subject matter
– Proof they are motivated and have drive
– Proof of intelligence
– Better interpersonal skills
– More credible qualifications
The common understanding is that a university education immediately fulfills all of these requirements. As I explained above, however, this is not always the case. In fact, all of these characteristics could equally describe a person with a college degree or a person with individualized experience. So how do you decide whether to pursue a college degree or whether or pursue an education?
When would you want a college degree?
– When a job requires it (my case for both my Bachelor’s degree and my Master’s degree). Many employers use a minimum university degree as a way to screen “unqualified” applicants. If a job description states a Bachelor’s degree as a requirement, there is often no way to substitute other qualifications or experience.
– When you’re trying to prove how smart you are to someone (including yourself) (I could say that was also a motive for me.) A diploma looks nice hanging on my office wall, and the fancy frame immediately puts some people at awe without knowing anything about the quality of my curriculum.
– When you want access to an alumni network. At certain universities the strong connections and networking opportunities derived from the alumni network are worth the price tag of a degree.
When would you want an education?
– When you need specific knowledge related to a subject
– When you want to improve your understanding
– When socialization and networking are beneficial
– When quality is better than quantity
– When you want to learn from someone who has done it
Can you get a degree AND education?
Yes, but you might be bucking against the system.
If the university and professors are more interested in the grades you receive than the information you learn and share, you’re going to get a degree.
If you’re not willing to ask questions about what you really want to know, you’re going to get a degree.
If you’re not willing or not able to apply what you’re learning, you’re going to end up with a degree.
How can you get an education without a degree?
1. Ask people questions. Every time you encounter someone new, learn something from that person.
2. Read their books. If you are interested in an MBA-quality education, John Kaufman presents a great reading list at Personal MBA.
3. Watch their videos. Review the free, inspiring talks on TED.com.
4. Get a mentor. You can locate a business mentor at score.org.
5. Be a mentor. Volunteer for a youth mentoring program or start your own. Find opportunities at mentoring.org.
1. Create a plan. If you want to write a business plan, check out the resources at the U.S. Small Business Administration. If you are more interested in a life plan/personal development plan, review the tips here.
2. Try your plan. Take action.
3. Review and edit your plan.
4. Try your new plan.
Whether you pursue a college degree or an experience-related education, you know that life is about trial-and-error. Don’t be afraid to try something new and see if that method works better than your old way of doing things. By determining whether a college degree or a life education (or both) fits your needs, you can then determine a course that will maximize your success.
Good luck, and good learning!