It’s not the training you need for a career, but instead it’s like a power-up for the rest of your life.
College is weird now. Maybe it’s always been weird. I’m not sure. Our (meaning my generation’s) parents told us that we should all go to college because that would secure a good job for our future and our lives will be great. It’s a good foundation for life. What the hell, parents?
None of this is true, except the foundation for life part. Many of us feel like idiots. We all went to college, maybe had a good GPA, and we graduated only to find that the weird kid in high school opted out, learned how to code online for free and then created a multimillion dollar startup that revolutionizes the way we… I don’t know, the way we purchase toilet paper. So Kevin from high school is a millionaire and we’re sitting here with tens of thousands of dollars in debt (if not more) stalking Indeed, LinkedIn, and ZipRecruiter for jobs that we find out pay minimum wage and require five years of experience.
Why is this happening? No one seems to know (or care). Barbara from high school took really good selfies after working out at the gym and therefore quit her job as a waitress, making money full-time by modeling LuluLemon on Instagram.
It’s everywhere. It’s weird. It’s people you know (At least, it’s people I know). You’re back at your old grocery store job bagging groceries while living at your parents’ house. Your best buddy Jake who stayed at home is your manager and only makes $3/hr more than you. Sorry, Jake. At least Jake is happy making “decent money” while he continues to live with his parents as well.
Molly and Sara, that exuberant lesbian couple from college, built their own tiny house and they’re riding around the country in it, working at various farms?!?! What?
Jill is so psyched about her realtor license that she didn’t need to go to college for and Angie just bought a house. How can Angie afford a house? No one really knows.
You don’t regret college though. It gave you something that’s hard to put words to. It gave you a sense of enrichment. You are a better, wiser, more “woke” (as they say) person. You give a shit. You know shit.
What does a college degree mean today? Is it a waste of time? Is it a waste of money? Should you bother at all when so many others have created successful careers without a college degree?
College teaches you how to learn. If you weren’t excited about learning before, college makes you excited. You choose your classes. You choose your major. Even within those general education requirements, you have some room to pick which classes you want to take for those.
You decide your own education in college and that is also what you do in life.
Since graduating, I have explored many topics on the side. Business was the first one I studied on my own time. I did not realize just how important knowing business tactics can be. It infiltrates everything! If you’re a writer, a doctor, a flimsy little up-and-coming production assistant like I was, you need to know how to navigate business. I learned how to network, how to navigate budgets (including my own), and how to save the hard way. Maybe if I had majored in business, I could have had the tools needed to get me on my feet and running much faster than it took me learning on the fly.
I’ve also picked up books on interior design, organization, and graphic design. Your space that you live in is so important to your health that it impacts your every day life. I’m learning this now. Having shitty roommates can suck, but you can be the problem too! Having a clean and decluttered space can make an enormous difference in how you think and how you spend your precious time. I had a roommate once who would start cleaning and decluttering as soon as she entered a room. I wouldn’t even notice the clutter, but it affected her on such a deep level that she could not be present sharing the space with unnecessary clutter.
Without college, I probably wouldn’t have matured as quickly or figured out “how to job” as quickly. It’s like when you enter high school after elementary/middle school and you find out that everything is different, but yet still kind of the same. You’re learning the same topics (math, science, literature), but now you’re learning subtopics (calculus/algebra/geometry/statistics, geology/biology/chemistry/physics, shakespeare/global/creative writing/poetry). You have lockers instead of cubbies. You walk to different rooms for classes instead of sitting in the same room all day. It’s different, but it’s the same. The same goes for college, but once you graduate, how college relates to the real world gets a bit more fuzzy.
How does anything I just learned have anything to do with the real world? Different majors mean different things, but rarely any of them lead to a definite job. You could major in Economics, Biology, Sociology, Political Science, or English and any of those majors could lead to various careers… (politician, lawyer, economist, doctor, journalist, researcher, philosophical bartender) or you could get a job doing something completely different. You could major in Engineering, Accounting, Nursing, or Social Work and then your path narrows. Your major directly becomes a job. Regardless of what you choose, each major allows you to think about
life/the world/society everything from a different perspective.
An English major will look at the world through the lens of a story:
- Who is the person behind the information I’m receiving? (researching the biographies of writers -> learning about sources of information/news/etc)
- What perspective is this person coming from and how does it relate to the information? (reading between the lines)
- Remaining open, looking at the bigger picture (book reports, theses, etc)
- Asking questions (but WHY)
Whereas a physics major will look at the world from a very concrete, direct, and logical perspective. Someone with a Nursing degree will notice things that someone with a Biology degree will not. It’s all relative and no major is better than any other.
Society doesn’t think that way though. Before my generation entered college, we as kids were told that society values some paths over others and that we should give in and pursue those paths because the other ways (that might make us happier – art, teaching, writing, etc) will make life very difficult. It’s hard to find jobs/they pay like crap/etc. Shortly before we entered college, they used to tell us that it didn’t matter what we majored in as long as we had a degree.
In hindsight, I think both of those things are correct. No matter what form of higher learning you choose, the end result will make your life much more valuable and help you grow as a person. Higher education is fucking awesome.
However, you can get a Bachelor’s in Engineering and start out making $80k, but only make $50k with a Master’s in Social Work. You can get a Bachelor’s in Business and make an average of $30k to a few million dollars….or you can get an MBA and have the same result. You can get an arts degree and make nothing or you can become famous and get rich. I decided to get an Art degree and English degree (“It’s financial suicide!” Generation X screamed from the depths of their boring desk jobs) to make $200/day getting people coffee on film sets and eventually getting paid more to organize background actors on film sets.
Not all majors equal a set job and if you don’t major in one of those fields that literally hand you a high-paying job after graduation, that doesn’t mean you made a poor choice. Demand for different jobs change all the time. Right now, tech and big pharma are in the lead. However, there are also important journalists and actors making leaps. When technology takes over, we may not need certain careers, but others that were formerly considered less worthy are in demand.
My point is that you can’t predict the economy even if there seems to be a clear path and you follow all the rules. We were told science fields were good, but I know a ton of underemployed science majors who can’t find jobs. Good science is slowly becoming defunded. Some people with engineering degrees can’t find jobs.
Here’s the thing though: your major doesn’t define what you do to pay your rent. It helps you further explore the world in a specific way. So maybe you majored in Psychology and started your own dog hotel. Maybe you majored in English and started a greeting card company. Maybe you majored in Biology, but you decided that you actually really love Marketing and then you figure out how to break in without having a related degree and THEN you decide you want to start a business based on educating others on how to do that. I’m looking at you, Austin Belcak.
You just figure it out. Your job does not define who you are. You define who you are and if you don’t like what you majored in or what you’re doing to pay your rent or who you’re sleeping with, you can change it whenever you want. The world is your oyster, little crab. Dive in.
What does a college degree mean for you? Let me know in the comments below or email me.
- 8 Myths About College | Jay Colby
- How Taking Myself Too Seriously Ruined Me | Twenties + Adulting
- How To Measure Success | The Barefoot Aya
Photo Credit: my beautiful alma mater, Binghamton University
1 thought on “What Does a College Degree Mean Today?”
Neither of my sons went to university but were lucky enough to gain a 4 year engineering apprenticeship each and day release to college. Both of them have good careers now and my eldest son is now on the first rung of management in a national company. My other son is a skilled CNC machinist and supervisor. University is not the be-all and end-all.