This NY Post article has me razzled.  A 27-year-old graduate of Monroe College is suing her alma mater because she can’t find a job.  I’m sorry, Gradzilla, but a career services counselor isn’t your Fairy Godmother and a bachelor’s degree isn’t a magic wand.  Just because you went to college does not mean you are entitled to a job.

From a young age we are told that if we go to school, study hard, get good grades, and go to a great college, we can be anything we want to be.  Politicians and some well-meaning yet self-preserving educators alike pound the inflated-importance of college into our heads.

This message has a negative impact on just about every student.  The truth is that college is overrated.  Not every student can graduate in the top ten and get into a really “good school.”  Consequently, those students feel discouraged about the prospects of future success just because of their academic track records.  On the flip-side, those who do get the grades and get into “good schools” can’t rely only on their education to get ahead.   College isn’t the golden ticket to success.  It is a stepping stone.

Here’s my story:  I went to school.  I studied hard. But no matter how hard I tried, I sucked at math and sucked at science.  I’m not sure which one I sucked more at.  I clearly remember third grade, little Janet, scoring less than 50 percent on some addition/subtraction homework and sitting there wondering what the eff was going on when the teacher rambled about tadpoles and ecosystems.  Honestly, I still suck at math and I still suck at science; I always need a calculator to figure out what to tip and quite frankly I don’t always understand what they are talking about on the Weather Channel.  (So I smile and nod, flip my hair, and blog about it.)

No writing award or A in English or history class could overcompensate for the less-than-stellar grades I got in math and science.  My GPA was around a 90 percent.  It was decent, but wasn’t awesome enough to get me into my dream school.  In high school, I was surrounded by the idea that failing to get into *the* college (an ivy league or something close to it) was a self-imposed life-sentence to mediocrity.  Heading to your safety school?  Get ready for a lifetime living at home with mom and dad. Scored less than a 1500 on the SAT? You might as well sign up for welfare.

In contrast, many kids succeed academically.  Some have to work extremely hard at it.  For others, it comes quite easily.  Either way, we throw them up on a pedestal, toss academic awards their way, accept them into prestigious colleges, and fill their heads with a false sense of security.

Millenials are all-too-often criticized for their supposed sense of entitlement.  I think the alleged “you owe me” factor stems from a lifetime of homework, standardized testing, over-nighters and intense pressure to scholastically achieve – all leading to the allusive light at the end of the tunnel: graduation. Students come out of college, pockets empty, heads full of theoretical facts and knowledge, slapped in the face with the fact that getting good grades and getting a good degree from a “good school” just isn’t enough.  Everything you ever worked for doesn’t cut it.  That’s not entitlement you sense.  It’s disappointment.

To peel back another layer of the issue, I think there’s a point to make about the financials behind the frustration.  Many internships are unpaid.  Extracurricular involvement is unpaid. Membership in professional organizations and attendance at networking conferences usually costs money.  Personally, I was able to do multiple unpaid internships and be an extracurricular junkie because I got a lot of financial help from my wonderful parents.  They’re generous, and career-wise they are in a position to help.  But what about the students who are paying for college on their own?  Many students work full-time just to pay for the education.  How do they fit in anything other than class work?

I feel for students like this.  As for those in this situation, in my humble opinion, I would suggest going part time and taking an extra year or two to finish the degree.  Even if it takes longer, it seems to me that it would be a much wiser investment to come out with a degree and have the time to work, intern, and network – as opposed to rushing through and graduating with no industry experience at all.

Times are different for graduates these days.  A degree doesn’t give you an extra edge in the job market when just about everybody has one.  You need internships.  You need real world experience.  You need to network.  No one will hire you (legally) to write a term paper.  You need to gain skills that will apply in a setting outside of the classroom so that you can contribute something a company can pay you for.

When it comes to college, the old saying is true: It isn’t where you go – it’s what you do with it.

College is a business.  Businesses want to make money.  To make money, businesses market themselves to you to sell you a product or service.  Colleges want you to pay tuition, so they sell you degrees.  To get you to attend and pay tuition, they market their brand to you.  They brand themselves with promises of prestige, job placement, mentorship, challenge, fun, experiences, status, and success.  And you know what?  College can be fun, but you can’t have fun if you don’t go to the party.  College can be challenging, but you can’t be challenged if you don’t go to class.  College can offer status, but you can’t earn status if you don’t network with the alums. College can offer prestige, but that means nothing if you don’t leverage that reputation and apply for a job or an internship.

I’m a fresh graduate, and hindsight is 20/20.  What I know and feel about education becomes clearer every day.  By this time next year, I’m sure that my understanding and appreciation for education will change, and deepen.  But what I know for sure is this: I wouldn’t give back a single night that I cried over my math homework or a single sunny afternoon I spent after school getting extra help from my chemistry teacher.  It taught me that things don’t always come easily.  Because of my issues and inabilities with math and science, I’ve always expected that I would have to go the extra mile to get what I want – so I do.  It prepared me for the challenge, and sometimes failure, of searching for internships and jobs.  In the end, I don’t think I needed my dream school.

4 Comments on A Degree Isn’t a Job Guarantee

  1. Takeshi
    August 8, 2009 at 5:10 am (8 years ago)

    Great post.

    I think there is so much of a sense of entitlement because the importance of school is hammered into us since kindergarten, all the way to the expensive college that we have to go into debt to graduate from, only to find that isn’t enough to secure a job in the marketplace.

    Most schools tend to place too much of an importance on academics, with not as much focus on vocational skills, which is a shame given the promise that a degree will lead to a good job. I’m starting to feel like college isn’t necessarily the best option for a lot of students. It’s no wonder that some of the most successful entrepreneurs (think Bill Gates and Steve Jobs) never finished college at all.

  2. fisherjanet
    August 8, 2009 at 1:49 pm (8 years ago)

    Thanks for reading! I think you made a lot of great points, especially by bringing up the idea that college isn’t for everyone. Even today, there are a ton of professions that require certifications from vocational schools – and a lot of jobs that require a two year degree and not a four year degree. Unfortunately, these options aren’t really promoted to high school students. Instead, they receive all those glossy college brochures to schools that will surely land them $30,000 + in college debt, but cannot surely guarantee you a job like they say they can.

  3. Anon
    December 26, 2009 at 10:51 pm (8 years ago)

    Thank you.
    This just helped me get over my rejection from a university I had all my hopes set on.
    Truly, I thank you.

  4. fisherjanet
    January 3, 2010 at 10:35 pm (8 years ago)

    I’m glad it helped you! Keep your dreams big 🙂


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