The problem with college is not how much it costs or how long it takes! Many personal financial bloggers talk about the value of going into debt for an expensive private university. The real value of a university education may or may not relate to where you go or how much you spend. In fact, it may have nothing to do with how good your grades are! What is the real value of a college education?
I just polled a high school senior mathematics class about what they were going to do this fall. Before I will tell you the results, but I should provide some details regarding the school and the students. It is a large urban socioeconomically low performing school. Despite that, girls outnumbered the boys and they were all going to (community or 4 year) colleges. Their interests varied from nursing to computer science. They are no different than other young people!
The difference is they may not be as well prepared for college work. For many students, college is just an extension of school. Freshmen in high school think it is just an extension of middle school. When they see their first report card, they realize it isn’t! Universities go out of their way to step it up. The expectations are much higher and you will either step up your game or not. So you work real hard and manage to graduate in four (4) or five (5) years with a lot of debt. Now what?
Grades are not the only measurement!
Good grades will allow you to get a good job! Then why are there so many recent college graduates unemployed? Is it their degrees in liberal arts, mediocre grades or the economy? You can blame the economy because there are fewer entry level jobs and it is very competitive. High technology companies like Google, Yahoo and Apple have at least thousand applicants for each position. If you are one of the lucky ones who can get an interview, you go through days of interviews just to be considered.
Grades may have helped you get the interview, but it is what you did with your education during college which is even more important. Simply achieving good grades is not enough! Part time and summer jobs demonstrate your skills and an opportunity to apply your education. For example, English majors may need to write for the college newspaper or do free lance writing for various publications, if they want to show their skills. A variety of experiences will enhance your education much more than just good grades.
College alone will not get you a job!
The benefit of a liberal arts education is; it is a broad education. A university education used to mean a broad education in the classics or a liberal arts education. A college education is not supposed to prepare you for one job or career, but prepare you for multiple careers. Your degree is not the problem, but what you do with it! My boss had an English degree that learned marketing. At another company, I remember a director of software development who had a physical education degree.
Take your interests and turn it into a career
Many professions such as lawyers, accountants and engineers have figured this out! Yes, they have technical degrees, but they pursue their interests. Liberal arts majors should think about the same strategy. The strategy requires more of the liberal arts students because they must market themselves as the solution to businesses when it may not be as clear. English majors can write and communicate which is necessary in a business environment.
What can you do?
- Part time and summer jobs are not enough! How can you distinguish yourself in a crowded field? Good grades can help, especially if you want to go to graduate school. If you think back to when you applied to college, you had grades, extracurricular activities (including sports, leadership & clubs), out of school activities and part time experience. Employers evaluate the applicants in a similar way. After all, they are trying to figure out if you fit with the company’s culture and the team.
- Internships carry a lot of weight because it demonstrates your skills. You may need good grades for an internship, but your performance is what really counts! Most companies will hire you after a successful internship. Even if you change your mind, you can use the internship to help you with other employers. Even if you cannot qualify for an internship, you should talk to your professors and look for leads with alumni or networking with a variety of people.
- Start early and plan your career when you start college. What experiences or skills will enhance your application or resume when you complete your degree? I call this doing you resume backwards. It does not stop when you graduate either! You want to constantly think about what skills or experience you want to accumulate for that next position. Network with your professors, students and employers. Opportunities come from everywhere, but you have be ready for it.
- Get interview skills! It is probably one of the most nerve racking time of getting a job. The key to a good interview is connecting with the interviewer, If you are one of the five (5) best candidates, you have the skills to do the job, but you have to market yourself by connecting with the interviewer. There is no easy answer, but look for things you have in common. Remember they hired that person to talk to you. Next find ways to market your skills to match the job description.
Believe it or not, a college degree does not guarantee success! It is up to you to take all that knowledge and skills to find a career and get hired! It does not matter what school you attended, grades or degree! A degree from MIT or Cal Tech in engineering may get you into the interview, but you need more than that to get hired. You need to demonstrate those skills in the real world. Employers respect a reference from another employer much more than good grades. The problem with college is it is not enough!
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The problem with college is it is not enough!