Thoughts on the Perceived Need for a Degree

Glasses atop open bookThis post is one that has been slowly forming ever since Karen Burns wrote a post on the Working Girl blog entitled Is College Worth It?

I love her post in that it doesn’t blindly accept that college is THE only route to success. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Michael Dell are commonly referred to as examples that support that idea. Another person who has been very successful in her career without a degree is Amber Naslund — her post on this topic is also a great read!

Despite some companies’ insistence on viewing a degree as some sort of “golden ticket” to be invited for an interview, I don’t necessarily think it should be the case. Like Working Girl said: “Who’s to say that people who go to college and do well there are just, by definition, people who would normally do well in life, whatever their formal education?”

I’ve met a few people who know how to succeed in school, but when it comes to transferring the lessons learned in the classroom to real life, they flounder. When you think about it, it is rather absurd — stick your nose in books for a few years and learn about all sorts of things (including many subjects that have NOTHING to do with what you will be doing once you get in your career), do a 12-week summer internship, and VOILA! You are ready to be successful in a career and life.

Really? How can that assumption be made?

A quote I found that fits well with this post is this one from Peter Drucker: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Think about it — to be the real trailblazers in an industry, you’re not relying on what you’ve learned. You’re paving a new way. That can’t be taught in a classroom because it hasn’t been created yet.

Now, yes, it may seem a bit odd for me to be taking this stance because I’m one who has dutifully played the game. I spent many a year in the hallowed halls of my university getting my BS in elementary education, and then, after being inspired to work for nonprofits, went back for my MBA.

For me, I am glad that I went because it provided me some crucial contacts that led me to my career path. It also helped give credence to many of the ideas I had rattling around in my brain and a confidence to trust my instincts. It was something I needed to develop professionally. And yes, I am fairly certainly that some doors opened for me because I had those three letters on my résumé.

But that’s the thing — not everyone is like me. Not everyone needs to take the same route I did to get to the same (or better) place.

To make sure that I am not misunderstood – I am not anti-education. In fact, I am a strong proponent of education.

Education and life-long learning grow the mind. Can it be part of a degree? Certainly that is an option, but it doesn’t have to be the only option. It could simply be a class that will help you increase your knowledge about an interest or hobby, or it could take the form of volunteering to do something that you previously haven’t experienced (because — guess what? — you learn how to do something new in that situation).

What are your thoughts on the need for a degree? Have you had a situation in which not having the requested education held you back in your career? Or doesn’t it matter?

Image courtesy of lethaargic

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