The REAL Value of a College Degree
There is no doubt that the value of a college degree in today’s job economy is immeasurable. It is invaluable.
That little piece of paper with some fancy signatures will open up more doors than most people can imagine. It will change the entire trajectory of most people’s lives for the better.
Earning the degree itself, however, is no easy task. There are YEARS of rigorous studying, tests, and assessments. The challenge of learning to navigate the politics and administration of higher education is also no easy feat. Toss in the fact that many college students have other responsibilities to balance like jobs, careers, and/or families and earning a college degree certainly becomes a challenging journey to embark on. Plus, the financial costs of college are nothing to scoff at either!
But of all these challenges to earning that all-important degree, there is one particular challenge that students just never fully understand. It’s a challenge and a frustration that I hear from my students in my career as an Academic Advisor like clockwork on a weekly basis. That challenge is…
“Why do I need to take all these stupid, unrelated to my major, courses to get my degree?! What’s the point!?”
This complaint, of course, is in reference to all those pesky general education or general core courses along the way to graduation. The Maths, Sciences, History, English, Arts, so on and so forth. So many students only want to take courses that directly relate to and prepare them for the careers they want to pursue.
This is important, of course, which is why degree programs always will have these highly specialized and relevant courses in the program. What students don’t realize is that all those seemingly unrelated courses have a lot of value. They just don’t know what that value is yet and it’s certainly not obvious.
Once you dig a bit deeper, you’ll often find that some of these boring, stupid, or seemingly pointless courses offer the greatest opportunities to grow and learn the most important lessons of all.
The Real Value of a College Education
As important as that college degree ultimately is, the real value of college is earned throughout your journey to graduation by the challenges and obstacles you overcome. The point of college isn’t necessarily to make you a subject matter expert in your degree area. That comes with time and practice, and college is just the first step that gets your foot in the door. The true value of college is making you a well-rounded professional who can process and learn information more efficiently and perform more consistently.
In my professional experience and observation, there is a significant difference in personal development and critical thinking/reasoning skills between college graduates and non-college graduates. It would be impossible to list all the differences, but college grads have a clear advantage in understanding how to learn new things faster, how to overcome adversity and challenges easier, and process and critically think about information more effectively.
They are often more resilient and perseverant, can see more possible solutions to problems, and possess greater soft skills in the realms of communication, collaboration, organization, and autonomy. This difference plays an enormous part in someone’s success in the working world in the college graduate’s favor.
This has nothing to do with being smart or intelligent or any other characteristic that can be more hereditary in nature. These are all learned behaviors that the pursuit of a college degree nurtures in individuals as they overcome the various challenges along the way. It’s the development of these skills that let college graduates stand out above the rest.
Now the interesting part. It’s all those general education and seemingly pointless courses that develop these skills the best.
What’s the Point of This Stupid Course?!
First and foremost, all the general education and other required generalized courses help ensure that college graduates have some basic qualifications that are unfortunately lacking for a large part of society. These skills include reading and writing the native language properly. The capability to perform basic mathematical calculations. The ability to understand the science our world is built on (so we don’t end up going down the Earth is flat route…)
You would think that most people would possess these skills but the truth is that many do not. There are hundreds of thousands of folks who don’t really understand the English language even though it’s their native tongue. There are folks who can’t do simple addition or subtraction in their head. That’s why college programs require these courses. It helps ensure that graduates have developed and acquired these basic skills of life, which ultimately leads to a higher level of thinking and development overall.
Discovering the Indirect Benefits
It goes beyond just the directly relatable skills you learn from the courses as well. These courses teach invaluable soft skills. They teach organization, communication, time management, resilience, critical thinking, tenacity, just to name a few!
The English courses teach you how to communicate professionally and effectively whether it be a simple email to colleagues or a CEO addressing their entire team. It can be the ability to effectively draft a business plan to investors or the ability to influence others effectively when in a leadership role.
Other courses can develop your ability to overcome difficult challenges that don’t have a clear goal or finish line. They teach you to be resilient to adversity and tenacious towards reaching your goals. It’s also the practice of your ability to process and learn new information even when it’s not personally interesting to you. Even if you find your dream job, there will be uninteresting and boring aspects you need to master!
One of my favorite aspects of these courses is that they can really prepare you for the reality of work.
That English paper you don’t want to write? That’s the boring report your boss wanted by 5 PM.
That Science course you can’t see the point of taking? That’s the incredibly asinine task your boss makes the team do each week.
That History course you absolutely dread? That’s the absolutely tedious and mind-numbing parts that exist in any job.
Even if a course’s material is not directly valuable to you, it’s these indirect benefits that will help you tremendously in your life and career.
The “Hidden” Benefits of College are Nearly Endless
I can go on for ages with various examples but overall it’s the ability to take yourself to this higher level of being.
It’s all about learning how to learn, understanding how to overcome challenges, and developing the soft skills that will lead to a highly successful life and career. Plus, you will be more knowledgeable in general and who knows when that information might come in handy? (Random Jeopardy appearance anyone? You never know!)
And One Last GIGANTIC Benefit of a College Education
It would be a shame to end this post failing to mention one of the most valuable benefits of the college experience.
The ability to grow your network and make important connections that can last a lifetime.
Many individuals don’t even realize the value this benefit contains… some may even neglect it entirely. However, it’s arguably the most important part of any college journey.
Your network is the one thing that will secure more jobs, opportunities, and success than all the talent or education in the world ever could. It’s not easy to grow your network, but thankfully, college offers some of the best opportunities to build it.
It serves you well to socialize. Every single classmate you meet can be a powerful part of your network down the road. Who knows where your peers might end up? CEOs, start-up entrepreneurs, positions of influence, and they might just want your help! At the very least, many of them will become managers or senior employees that can help you easily acquire jobs at the companies they work for.
Another opportunity for network building is college-sponsored job fairs and internship programs. Get your face out there and meet the recruiters! Perhaps you can land a great job opportunity that builds up your experience and helps you meet some new people in the process. Even if you don’t get a job on the spot, the connection with recruiters can prove useful down the road.
Lastly, don’t forget the value of your professor’s references you may obtain. Other folks in academia may be a help for you down the road, too. College offers lots of great opportunities for networking or even landing that first job in your field easily, but these opportunities can be easy to pass up. Make the most of it!
The Value is in the Journey
Earning your college degree takes individuals on a long and challenging journey. The degree at the end is very important, but the path getting there is where you’ll learn the most important lessons. It’s these lessons that prepare you for success in the real world. Sometimes even more so than your specialized training in your degree area.
It’s the combination of both these direct and indirect benefits that really let the college graduate shine. Be mindful of all the lessons you can learn and the value you can gain while earning your degree, and you’ll find success and happiness waiting for you in your career. Oh, and that little piece of paper, too.
– Mr. Happy Work