Of course, a college degree will matter! But the real question should be “Should everyone get a college degree?” The obvious – and the real world – answer to this question is “Of course not.” Far too many people hear the someone in authority say we need more college graduates and they automatically nod their heads in agreement. No deep critical thinking occurs. The word “lemmings” comes to mind. For the most part the media fuels this thinking. It’s an easy story for the sound bite crowd. College degrees for everyone, rah-rah. It has a nice ring to it. But there’s more to the story. And those commentators who say degrees don’t really matter are as bad as the college-for-everyone crowd. We need to come to our senses, look at what’s happening in the real world with real people and real jobs.
A successful high-profile investor like Pete Thiel says drop out of or don’t go to college and I’ll spot you a hundred grand to start a business. Other dropout stories abound and we hear them repeatedly. Zuckerberg, Gates, Jobs, et al. Did they need a college degree? Obviously not. But there are a lot of people like that who have made millions starting a company. There are also a lot of people who have made millions playing lotto. These rare birds are poor role models and like the lotto winners, a bit of luck surely played a part in the success stories. For you and I, these folks are bad examples even though the media love them.
But a college degree certainly matters if you want to be an accountant, or a nurse, or a teacher. If you think a liberal arts degree doesn’t matter much there are a lot of people who will agree with you, this writer among them.
Too many high school kids, and let’s not forget their parents, grow up with the thought ingrained in their head that they have to go to college. Everyone who wants to be successful goes to college, or that’s what these kids and parents delude themselves with. Bunk. There are, in this writer’s experience, two key elements of success, neither of which is a college degree, although a degree will probably not hurt. The first element is the makeup of the individual. If they’re lazy, inconsiderate, lack curiosity or persistence, or have no empathy they are likely to have a miserable life and be unhappy and probably fail in their career. On the other hand, if they have these qualities and are blessed with even average intelligence, they will be much more likely to be successful. And happy. The other key element, I think, is being “aware.” Aware of things that lurk beneath the surface, like trends, opportunities, intangibles, and importantly, warning signs. This is the opposite of taking a passive role in life, allowing things to affect you that shouldn’t, or shouldn’t for very long anyway. College degrees are not part of this secret sauce at all.
Practically speaking, a kid – or adult – who discovers what they are good at, hopefully leading to satisfaction and contentment, need not obsess with college. That person might have a talent for things mechanical or may have a unique spatial aptitude. There are thousands of well-paying jobs – or companies waiting to be started – where a person can, as the human culture expert Joseph Campbell explains, “follow their bliss.” That bliss may or may not include college and the guesswork selection of a degree program. Statistics show at least half of all college students change their field of study at least once before graduation, and that’s only for those who graduate. But there are those who select a field of study and stick with it. Hopefully, life proves they made the right choice. For them a degree is important. Even though it might take them six or more years to get one. Six or more years of forsaking income and probably accumulating debt.
So who’s right? Depends on whether we’re talking generalities or examining a specific person and his or her unique situation. Generalities are great if you’re a statistician but not so much if you’re an individual. So let’s not follow the lemmings and generalize but look at each situation for what it is. Then, all things considered, decide whether or not a college degree matters to you.