Why My University Degree Wasn’t a Waste of Time and MoneyJuly 12th, 2012 by Michael Kwan
There are ongoing debates about the value of a college education. Many people say that the piece of paper you get at the end of your four or five years isn’t worth much anymore, because nearly everyone has one. All you get is the burden of student loan debt, coupled with a crowded job market where that piece of paper really promises you nothing.
While there is some truth to that argument, to an extent I feel that a university education still holds its merits. I come from the perspective that while a bachelor’s degree doesn’t guarantee you any kind of career–you need other attributes and “selling points” to land a job too–the college experience holds intrinsic value. You can go to a trade school and learn something practical, like how to be a plumber of dental assistant, but a more academic post-secondary education is quite different.
For me, it wasn’t really about the specific facts that I learned in psychology class as much as it was about developing my soft skills and, as cliche as it may sound, building character. Allow me to explain.
Organizing My Thoughts
Whether I was writing a paper on English literature or discussing the connection between borderline personality disorder and compulsive gambling, all of those jumbled thoughts had to be put together into a cohesive argument. Today, as I make my living as a freelance writer, this skill set is utilized extensively.
Developing Creative Problem Solving Skills
Finding the connection between academic pursuits and real world application can be a challenge. I don’t really use calculus and trigonometry in my day-to-day life, but that doesn’t mean that my college education in mathematics went to waste.
Instead, it is through classes like these that I was able to develop stronger critical thinking skills. I am presented with a problem and then I have to figure out how to solve it. Through classes like sociology and anthropology, I further developed a greater sense of skepticism. As David Suzuki once said, the most important lesson that science can teach is skepticism. It may sound simple, but I learned how to question everything and to develop my own opinions.
Persevering Through Adversity
Remember how I mentioned “building character” at the top? While these kinds of life lessons can also be learned elsewhere, I gained a profound understanding of perseverance from looking for my first job placement as part of the Arts Co-Op Program. I recognized that my academic degree would benefit from real-world work experience and that’s why I signed up.
However, for that first round of hiring, I submitted over 50 applications for a wide range of positions and went to more than a dozen interviews, only to come up empty. It was discouraging, to say the least, and I started to value as a potential employee. But I stuck with it, eventually earning a very rewarding position with United Way.
Thankfully, the ensuing rounds of hiring went much more smoothly, requiring far fewer interviews and applications. I learned that you just can’t give up, but you do need to adapt. Recognize what went wrong and do better next time.
Is It Worth the Expense?
A university education isn’t for everyone. There are many successful people out there who never graduated from college, but taken as an aggregate, those with some form of higher education tend to fare better than those who do not. It’s up to you to decide whether it is worth the financial burden and the time commitment. There is absolutely an opportunity cost to be considered here.
For my part, I graduated free of debt. I was able to earn some scholarships along the way, supplemented by part-time jobs and my full-time co-op placements. It also certainly helped that I was still living at home, minimizing my living expenses. I recognize that not everyone has that kind of opportunity. For me, even though my university degree doesn’t have a direct connection to my current career, I am very glad that I attended college. I wouldn’t be the same person without that experience.