To What Degree: How Much Education is Enough Education?

We’re told from the beginning; if you what to be successful in life and persue your dreams, you need a good education.

That all the doors to the best career paths and opportunities only open to those with the keys. In many ways, this is true – top paying positions in the sciences, mathematics, health services, and engineering are typically well beyond the grasp of those without a degree. But in some fields, positions are even being withheld from graduates with associate’s and bachelor’s degrees as employers are beginning to seek those with master’s and doctorate’s degrees exclusively, leaving many students with little more to show for their time than monthly payments.

So, what are you to do?

It’s starting to sound as if, as the demand for higher and higher level degrees outpaces graduate school turnouts, that a student may be left to take on the types of jobs one would expect a high-school graduate (or a drop-out for that matter) to maintain. This is hardly the kind of thing that college-goers want to hear; but the reality is that just because you have a degree doesn’t mean that hiring managers from fortune five hundred companies are going to come crawling out of the woodwork to find you. A degree is a fancy plate, but experience is the meal.

Speaking from experience, I can say that the majority of entry-level positions are anything but a glamorous millennial fantasy. Odds are that you’ll hate the first job you get out of college, but you have to keep it in your head that it won’t be the last job you have. Just like college, think of it as just another learning experience, only this time you’re actually making money being there rather than spending it. You take the experiences of that job to get a better job, and then a better job. Keep in mind as well that many companies reward loyally: Opportunities for advancement aren’t likely to be offered if your boss suspects you won’t be sticking around! It might take you ten years, but after all your hard work, patience, and networking, you will very likely find yourself where you want to be, and still only be in your 30’s!

Experience is the best teacher, and a classroom setting can only teach you so much. Too many students make the mistake of assuming that their schooling alone will be enough to land their dream job, and completely overlook the opportunity to gain extracurricular experiences through student-lead organizations, apprenticeships, or chances at professional networking through meet-and-greets, career fairs, or as a teacher’s assistant. Proving that you can do more than follow APA formatting rules or read twenty-six pages of a text book in two days is what separates the good students from the great ones.

This where many people who hold off on college have an advantage: Say you enjoy fixing cars. You spend your high school years fixing friend’s cars and get hired by a friend’s dad to work in his auto-shop. Five years go by and your job is really more of a career. The money is good and you’ve worked on every kind of car out there, but you don’t want it to stop there. You decide you want to be able to design an engine instead of just fixing them as an automotive engineer. Not only has that five years of experience likely made your schooling more of a breeze, but you have the money to actually pay for it! And some may decide they’re well-off enough that college would just be a waste of time, which may very well be the case. Who wouldn’t want that?

We live in a meritocracy: People who take on more work than the person next to them and can manage it all are going to stand out, get the job they want, and make more than someone who decides to produce simply what is expected of them. To be a success is to exceed your own expectations, not just those of the critiques and doubters. A lot of people get by on being “okay” at something, but they could be better – and they ought to want to be.

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