College, university, and trade schools are big business. These institutions poke at the fear of being left behind due to rapid changes in skills required by employers or at the fear of missing the college experience. There is no doubt that post-secondary education provides value, but is it worth it? Is it worth 1, 2, 4, or even 8 years of your life and thousands upon thousands of dollars in tuition and fees?
Well, like all things in life, it depends. It depends on who you are, what you want to do, and how far you’re willing to go to do what you want to do.
Let’s take a look at three examples.
1.) The Doctor — Degree Required
Suppose you want to become a doctor, like a heart surgeon. I can safely say that no matter what you’ll probably spend a lot of time in a classroom earning degrees. And if you’re set on this goal, you probably won’t care about the price tag. There are many reasons why professions such as the medical field require many years of schooling. The first is obvious, but it’s hard work. There are so many variables involved and the risks are so high in things like surgery, that society very much values the trained professionals over the “self-taught” doctors.
2.) The Programmer—It Can Go Either Way
Programmers make computers and technology do really cool stuff. You reading this is the result of the invention of the internet which is all about connecting computers. This field is wildly complex and there is a lot of specialization (like a lot of specialization). So much so, that universities and colleges cannot keep up so they simply make more generalized curriculums. As a result, you see more and more folks forgoing a formal education in pursuit of specialized certifications and hands-on experience. This profession is one of those lines of work where you can become successful with or without a college education. If you’re looking to be on the cutting edge of technology, I wouldn't recommend going to school for a technology-related major. These degrees generally provide a high-level overview of a field with technologies that are 3–5 years old.
3.) The Salesperson — No Degree Required
We’re going to lump sales into a single category here to include selling anything whether it’s a car, insurance, professional services, or lemonade. Becoming wildly successful in sales definitely doesn’t require a degree. It requires people skills or the ability to get people to like you. People tend to buy things from people and businesses (who are made up of people) they like. Being knowledgeable about the products or services you’re selling is important but also certainly not a necessity.
The point of those examples is to help understand that the job you want depends greatly on whether you need a degree. We haven’t even touched on the personal choice to pursue additional schooling.
From my perspective, I think college greatly helped me become who I am today. But not for the reasons you might think. Did I learn stuff? Sure, but everything I learned was mostly from a cookie-cutter curriculum with an associated textbook. If you’re strapped for cash, and simply want the knowledge, go to Google or Amazon instead of university. Google is literally the best professor. Ask Google a question and you get millions of answers with the most relevant answer at the top of the page. Amazon can have a textbook shipped to you and in your house in under 2-days and it takes probably a couple of months to read it.
If I had to boil down my college experience into the single greatest benefit, it would be the people I met along the way. The classmates, the mentors, and the fun with friends at 2 AM at the library. The people I met during my time at university have become some of my closest friends in a professional and personal sense. They understand me and continue to support me in my life’s endeavors. If there’s one thing to take away from this post, it’s to focus on building relationships. Whether you decide to pursue a college education or read books at the local bookstore, make it a point to get to know the people who are around you because that is priceless.