Today’s column is addressed to my younger readers and listeners. It might also be useful to those of us who are older and have children entering the university system in the next couple of years. It carries an important message that everyone needs to hear. A college degree will not and cannot guarantee you a good job or a good career. I don’t believe that has ever been true. In the end, your career depends on you, your skills, your desires and your hard work. University is simply one way of gathering knowledge and skills to help that endeavour.
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First, a college degree does not entitle you to a great job with great pay. If you were told this by college advisors, or even intimated it, they were wrong. They left you with the idea that creating a lucrative career was simply a matter of paying your money and putting in your time. Sure, there are some unscrupulous sales people at various colleges and tech school that might actively try to deceive you, but unfortunately, in many cases, we also fool ourselves. We want to believe that simply checking all the boxes on the college rubric will lead us to great (and high paying) jobs. We want to believe it is all easy and straightforward, like getting our first Driver’s License. We pass the test and get our license. Careers, however, are nothing like that.
When building your career, it is better to believe that you are entitled to nothing, that you have to earn everything you get. You have to earn every job along the way. You have to earn the pay you receive. You have to earn your raises, your promotions. Sometimes life will be unfair and you will be denied them even when you feel you are entitled to something better. Whether you believe you are entitled to them means nothing and only leads to deeper frustration. In a case like that you need to redouble your efforts to earn those rewards or make a change to a company that better recognizes your talent and skills.
What is college for?
Attending university isn’t some grand panacea for all your career worries. It is place to learn, to grow, to explore possibilities. You will learn a lot of different facts, but more importantly, you will learn a lot about yourself. You will start to discover what type of person you are. You will learn how to work with (and sometimes simply tolerate) other types of people. You will learn your career likes, dislikes, goals, and dreams. What you won’t get is a license that allows you to walk into any business and demand a job. It just doesn’t work that way.
Yes, in many ways, businesses have come to see college degrees as a license — a basic confirmation of your viability as an employee. Careers for those without college degrees can be difficult to find and develop. While college degrees may be important in that way, they are also important for what you learn during your education. You may be getting a degree to fulfil some basic business requirements, but what you learn in school and what you do there, is all about you and your career. If you miss this aspect of university life, I think you are missing the largest and most important part. Your college time is about you — plain and simple. It is as much about building the career you deserve as your first — or 20th – job.
Is it worth it?
I think a college education is greatly important for a variety of reasons. As I mentioned above, I think university is a time for learning many different things in many different ways in a relatively safe environment — an opportunity you may never have again. If you see it as a life learning opportunity and not as a “license to career”, I think it can be worth every penny you pay. If, on the other hand, you attend university simply thinking you will then be entitled to a great job, great pay and a wonderful career, you will be sadly disappointed. University is what you make of it, just like your career. You get out of it what you put in and in some cases much, much more. University is the start of your career and it should be treated with the attention you hope to apply to your future work. Learning can be difficult work and is, in a great sense, your “job” for those 4 years – and for the rest of your life. Constantly be thinking of what you can be doing to get the most out of your college education. Don’t expect the doors of opportunity to swing wide just because you have a diploma. You will soon find out that it is up to you to open those doors on your own.